Travel to Sapa
Traveling to Sapa is not the easiest journey from Hanoi. Your options entail an overnight train, a 5 hour bus, or a pricier private car. Your travel style and budget should determine which option you choose. I took the 'luxury' overnight train one way (~$70) which was tolerable but by no means a luxury experience. Let's just say I woke up to a cockroach crawling over my pillow next to my face! The train is also very old and very loud so if you are a light sleeper like me you really won't get any sleep. Kyle had no problems with the experience though with ear plugs and an eye mask. We took a private car ($240) to return to Hanoi from Sapa which ended up taking the same time as the overnight bus ($14) - so ultimately I recommend the overnight bus.
It is no wonder this sacred place is so far away from larger cities given its natural beauty. The bright green mountains are tiered with endless rice paddies peaking through the misty Vietnamese sky.
Sights and treks
If it is not raining in Sapa, you are in luck. Countless hiking trails and paths exist among the green mountains from village to village. There is no need to book a guide or tour in advance - just show up or ask your hotel for the best trails around. Everywhere you look is beautiful.
The bright and colorful villages of Sapa are fun for people watching and shopping. From the colorful textiles to the bright green produce your eyes are in for a treat. Just be careful while walking along the busy streets! I get so distracted in places like this I'm constantly stumbling around. The Cat Cat village is a popular walk through a charming town with a view of the rice fields and fun little shops. Sin Chai is a short walk from Cat Cat with more breathtaking views of the rice fields.
Where to stay
The most important piece in planning your stay is to find a hotel with a view from your room. I absolutely adored our hotel, Sapa Paradise View, because the service was phenomenal and the views incredible. Just be sure to book the suite with a view of the mountains! At roughly $70 USD a night, this place is a steal.
Healthy traditional Food
Ash roasted sweet potatoes, boiled pumpkin, local steamed rice, and warm bamboo sprouts will leave you warmed and revived in the mountains of Sapa. The weather was cold and foggy when we were there and these grounding vegetables left us feeling incredibly cozy and warm. The best restaurant was The Hill Station Signature Restaurant in the main town of Sapa. I ate here almost every meal! The food was beautiful and space was clean. The open fire kept us warm in the midst of one of Sapa's regular blackouts too. Get some ginger tea or try (try!) the intense local rice wine to ease digestion and warm you up even more while overlooking the gloomy rice paddy mountains.
Fun fact on cinnamon:
Most cinnamon in the U.S. is highly processed and often cut with flour to prevent it from caking. It is commonly taken from the Cassia plant which by some is not considered "true cinnamon". In fact, it is difficult and expensive to buy "true" cinnamon in the U.S.; also known as Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) - a breed found in Vietnam with seemingly better health benefits. Cassia cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia, is a different plant species with higher levels of courmarin - a naturally occuring plant source that can be toxic in large amounts. If you are a cinnamon lover like me it is best to avoid cassia cinnamon if consuming in large qualities. Ceylon cinnamon is of the finest quality (when organic). It is known as the one true cinnamon and purely provides all the health benefits of the spice (blood sugar regulation and inflammation reduction) without the high levels of courmarin. What a treat it was to find fresh ceylon cinnamon barks from their local source!