Vietnam is beautiful, the nature in Vietnam is stunning and diverse. Vietnamese food is in the top 3 of the world cuisine I would say. Vietnam is very affordable. That is probably why it is so crowded. And I don’t mean crowded with locals, I am talking about the tourist crowds. Those crowds are very well able to soil your Vietnam experience. You might get a little bit disappointed on your holiday or travels to Vietnam. And that is a pity. That is why I am going to give away my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam. To indulge in Vietnam’s treats, and avoid those crowds.
Most people visiting Vietnam, or North Vietnam, tend to automatically include Sapa in their itinerary. Because it is famous and supposed to beautiful, especially thanks to the steep rice terraces surrounding the village. But I think you shouldn’t.
When you ask; “should I go to Sapa?” My answer would be; Sapa is not worth your visit. Sapa used to be a little paradise on earth. It is not. Anymore. Vietnam has got so much more to offer than crowded Sapa.
It is a shame! But is true. Sapa has been crushed by her unique beauty and popularity. The streets are full with tourists and sellers. Hawkers are hunting you all the time. The authenticity and serenity of the village are gone, unfortunately. The local people are not that friendly anymore, very understandably by the way. You could consider this tip – to skip Sapa – as my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam. But it is not, so hang on.
Alternative for Sapa
There are two main reasons for travelers to visit Sapa. The first reason comes in the form of the stunning rice terraces I already mentioned. The second reason is the well known colorful market that is visited by the local hill-tribe people for selling and buying their goods. For both reasons there is a great alternative.
Alternative for the indigenous market in Sapa
Luckily it is very easy to avoid the market in Sapa, and visit a great market anyway. We loved the big bustling market of Bac Ha. Especially the first hours after opening are very special. It is just you and the local-tribe people. We saw men trading their water buffaloes. We saw women selling local dresses and chickens. What did we see not? After a few hours the day trippers from Sapa come in and the magic moment is gone, although we found it still very nice. So set that alarm clock early!
And the market in Bac Ha is not your only option. Can Cau is supposed to have a nice (Saturday) market, as do Lung Phin, Coc Ly and there are many more I assure you.
Alternative for the rice terraces of Sapa
If you have time and are adventurous minded, I recommend to visit the Yuanyang rice terraces in South China. Just a one day bus trip away from the Chinese – Vietnamese border (cross at Lao Cai, not too far from Sapa). They are marvellous and still unspoiled. Don’t forget to arrange your visa to visit China before you are near the border 😉 And don’t forget to go soon, because they are working hard on opening an airport.
If you want to stay in Vietnam to see rice terraces, this tour agency recommends three other rice terraces.
And OK, I would like to nuance my firm statements about Sapa a bit. If you are the kind of person that doesn’t really mind big crowds, or at least can handle them without getting too frustrated, it could be a good idea to visit Sapa anyway. Stay over the night in one of the accommodations in Sapa, and make sure you get out of the village as early as possible to go hiking and admiring those special rice paddies. That advice works everywhere. If you want to avoid the masses? – Get up early.
What you should do when you are in North Vietnam..
I am moving towards my cliffhanger. Finally the moment is there to reveal you my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam. When you follow up on this tip, you know:
- You will be free
- You will admire granite outcrops and limestone pinnacles
- It will be easy manageable for you
- You will have a sense of adventure.
- You will have an impressive glimpse of what local life in the mountains is like, how it is like to live in tough (weather) circumstances
- There are good opportunities to stay over in cute home stays
- You will have an impression of low developed and ‘true’ Vietnam
Here is my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam!
I highly recommend you to rent a motorbike in Ha Giang, and from there make a several-day motorbike tour visiting several villages and driving into the most stunning views.
You need at least three days and two nights for this road trip, but I recommend to take it a little bit slower. So you will have time to really suck in what you see, and make some de-tours. For example to the most Northern point in Vietnam, very close to the Chinese border.
This is how you can organize your motorbike tour in North Vietnam yourself
So, do you like my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam? Let’s make sure you know how to organize everything.
- No need for a tour operator
- Rent a motorbike in Ha Giang from a local. We paid 7 USD per day for a good manual motorbike. Since you are going to tackle steep slopes I recommend not to drive with an automatic motorbike
- We like to share one motorbike, so we get to talk underway and it is warmer. Decide whether you want a bike for your own or want to share
- Make sure you get helmets
- As you can see in the pictures, it can get pretty cold in the mountains. Especially when driving in the clouds. Don’t underestimate how cold it gets and bring warm clothes.
- It is nice to travel light luggage wise. So try to arrange that you can leave a bag at the place where you rent your motorbike. We were so lucky to deal with a very friendly and trustworthy local guy (he didn’t have an official shop) that even mastered English
- Officially you need a frontier area permission to make this loop. Your guesthouse in Ha Giang can help you with arranging one.
- Drive and enjoy!
- You can visit the indigenous local market in Bac Ha before or after your motorbike tour. Just get in a bus to / from Bac Ha – Ha Giang (and make sure you buy your bus ticket IN the bus, and not outside the bus, because that means your are being scammed)
These are your directions for your multi day bike tour in North Vietnam
- From Ha Giang drive the 4C to Yen Minh
- You can stay overnight in Yen Minh
- Continue your journey from Yen Minh to Dong Van via the 4C
- Dong Van has many nice and cheap homestays to spend the night
- From Dong Van a stunning road leads to Meo Vac, “yes, your are supposed to take this road”
- From Meo Vac you take a smaller road via Lung Phin back to Yen Minh
- Either you extend your road trip with another stayover or you continue to Ha Giang in one day
Make sure you don’t miss this motorbike adventure in Vietnam. In this blog I gave away my ultimate tip for your trip to Vietnam, so you will encounter the true, and unspoiled Vietnam. Please let us know in the comments how you liked this trip or tip!
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