Sapa is a mountainous area in Vietnam famous for its rugged scenery, cascading rice paddy terraces and local hill tribes. Situated near the Chinese border, Sapa will give you a taste of a completely different side of Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Trekking the Rice Paddy Terraces of Sapa Vietnam
The full day trek to the local village is a long one through muddy, hilly terrain but very doable. Take in the beautiful scenes, keep your eye one your surroundings and watch your step (you never know when a wild pig or grazing water buffalo will cross in front of you).
The trek can get very muddy and hiking boots are a must. Although you’ll be surprised by the Hmong ladies who will no doubt be navigating the many hills and bumps in their sandals.
The homestay was lovely. You will sleep in very basic accommodation but it is nicer than many of the hotel rooms which have problems with mould. Our bed was a clean, covered mattress on the floor with a mosquito net in an open area with the rest of our group.
The fire kept us toasty the whole night. I quickly passed out while some of the others played drinking games outside or kept warm with the family near the fire.
The Local Hill Tribes
There are many different hill tribes in Sapa including the Red Dao and the H’mong. The ladies above and all the villagers we met were from the H’mong tribe. During our trek the ladies made animals and hearts out of ferns for their children… and me!
The hill tribe women are very sweet however they can be very pushy. At the end of the trek, the women will show you their jewellery and souvenirs. If you show the slightest interest, you’re screwed. Once I showed interest to one lady, the rest of the ladies started whining “you buy from her and not from me. Buy from me.” It is nearly impossible to turn them away without buying from all of them at that point.
Men you’re not safe either. They have bandanas. But another word of caution, you will notice the ladies hands are dyed blue with indigo. They use natural plants to dye all their fabric. It is beautiful but it does run. Bandana wearers, beware.
Wifi & Coffee
If you need Wifi, you’ll find it. It’s fast too. That’s usually a good thing but I was genuinely prepared to go digitally free for 3 days. I emailed everyone telling them I’m going off the grid. Nope. No digital detox for me.
Strolling around the village in the morning, you will even stumble upon a village cafes to enjoy a hot Vietnamese coffee.
Booking a Sapa Trekking Tour
Being somewhat of tour-haters, we were initially determined to trek the beautiful rice paddy fields of Sapa Vietnam without a guide. This is definitely not a welcome practice and you’ll likely be harassed. After days of research, we caved and decided to book the cheapest tour we could find in Hanoi, where every other shop offers Sapa trekking tours.
What came up in my research was interesting and good to note. I found that with many tours, it is very likely that the Vietnamese tour offices keep most of the money without giving much to the H’mong hill tribe women and men. Alternatively, you can take a train or bus directly to Sapa and then organize a trek with the ladies once you get there. However, it will work out being more expensive than getting the all-inclusive tour from Hanoi (but with added adventure!).
Cost: 1-3 day Sapa treks purchased in Hanoi go for $35 – $85. We managed to get a 3 day trek including transport, hotel, local homestay, 3 days of trekking and all meals included for $45.
Where to book train or bus tickets: Book directly from here 12go.Asia. Or book from tour operators in Vietnam.
Where to book your Sapa trekking tour: There are a lot of warnings online about rip off tour operators. These tour operators take the name of a well-established company and make a look-a-like shop. Well, we did buy a tour from one of these and I doubt the tour was much different from the other operators. Just look around and pick the 1-3 day tour that seems right for you and your budget.
Best time to visit: Visit Sapa Vietnam from March-May for the amazingly vibrant green rice paddy fields. We went in the winter and you can see the rice paddy fields have browned. It can also get very cold in winter (we’re talking snow).
Tip: The Vietnamese will often sell you packages where their infamous sleeper busses will be where you spend one of the nights sleeping. After a night of terrible jerking, they will rush you out of the bus in the early morning (like 5am) and expect that you’re ready for your day. Honestly opt out of this or plan to sleep during the day in the hotel when you return.
Is Sapa Vietnam on your bucket list? Have you been? What were some of your highlights?