The surroundings of Sapa in Vietnam are known for the beautiful mountains with the most amazing rice terraces. And of course you have to do a great trekking in Sapa with the Hmong people. I have to say, that I saw the most beautiful rice terraces ever during the trekking!
Before visiting Sapa in Vietnam, I was in Laos. I traveled from Laos to Vietnam by land via the towns of Nong Khiaw, Muang Khua and Dien Bien Phu. It was one of the most authentic experiences of my travel.
During my Vietnam itinerary I was very much looking forward to the trekking in Sapa. I heard very positive stories about it and everyone recommended it. So you can say that my expectations were high.
When I arrived in Sapa I wasn’t that enthusiastic anymore. Is this that cozy town that everyone recommends? I found it gray, dirty, cold and uncomfortable. It was full of hotels and flashing neon signs. That was a switch. Here I had no intention of staying long. Fortunately, I was warmly received at my hostel and left for the mountains the next day for a two-day trekking with a local. Away from the city!
Trekking in Sapa
If you go to Sapa, you really have to do a trekking there with a local! It’s the best way to see the beautiful rice terraces, nature and the villages in the mountains. The trekkings are done by mama’s: women who live in one of the surrounding villages. Usually these women belong to the Hmong people who walk around in colorful clothes. I also did a two-day trekking with a mama and slept in her family’s newly built homestay.
On the first day, Mama Su Linh was ready for the hostel early in the morning. A small lady with a big smile in her mid 20’s; my age. She spoke pretty good English which resulted in nice conversations. We quickly went out of the city towards the mountains and within half an hour we were in a beautiful area with a fantastic view over the rice terraces.
I had heard beforehand that it can get incredibly cold in Sapa, so I was well prepared; I was wearing multiple layers, long pants and sturdy shoes. In hindsight, all those vests weren’t necessary at all. After only 20 minutes I walked in my t-shirt. It is very important to apply sunscreen well, because in Sapa you burn in no time. Of course you can also use an umbrella, as most locals do.
During the entire route we encountered many children: local children who are sent by their mother to sell homemade things to the tourists. Often there are warnings in hostels in Sapa not to buy things from these children, because this way the problem is maintained. Would you like to buy handmade items? Then buy it in a shop in Sapa or on the way in one of the villages.
After a few hours of walking we arrived at the homestay of Su Linh and her family. Her husband wasn’t working and Su Linh was the breadwinner. In these villages it’s quite normal for women to work in the tourist industry and men to do the housework and take care of the children. Often only women speak English.
In the evening we helped make the food and had dinner with the whole family.
The next day, after a nice breakfast with pancakes, we left again in the mountains. We trekked through the mountains, through a bamboo forest, past the rice terraces and past a large waterfall. We were followed for a long time by children who tried to sell us their belongings at rest time. There were also a few more tourists.
We ended the trekking with lunch in a local village and from there were brought back to town by motorbike on the back of the motorbike. We drove on a very bumpy dusty road, sometimes along the abyss with many oncoming traffic. Eating dust on the back of the bike is part of the adventure of course.
Price Sapa trekking
You can book a trekking in advance, like me, or with one of the many mamas in colored clothes that are located on the main square in the city. Prices differ depending on the size of the group and the type of trekking. Prices for a two-day trekking are roughly between $ 20 and $ 50 p.p.
Best time to visit Sapa
Sapa can be visited all year round, but some months are more beautiful than others. The rice fields are at their best from June to September. Then it’s rainy season in the north of Vietnam. Most rice terraces are harvested in September and October, but even then the surroundings of Sapa are very beautiful.
November to March are the driest months, but also the coldest. Certainly in December, January and February it can cool down a lot and you’ll need a hat and gloves.
I visited Sapa in early December and the weather was fine. Clouds and sun alternated and it just remained dry throughout the trek. I even walked in my t-shirt. But a few years ago it was necessary to wear a coat around that time. Nothing is as changeable as the weather.
I didn’t really like the city of Sapa, but it’s useful to stay overnight if you want to do a trekking. A great place to stay is without a doubt Little View Homestay on the edge of town. You have a very nice view over the mountains and in the morning you can see with a bit of luck during breakfast how a blanket of mist covers the mountains.
How to get to Sapa
Hanoi » Sapa: From Hanoi to Sapa you travel by train via Lao Cai or directly by bus. You have the choice of a local bus or a comfortable sleeper bus. These sleeper buses leave both during the day and at night.
Laos » Sapa: It’s also possible, like me, to travel from Laos to Sapa. I traveled from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, Muang Kua and Dien Bien Phu. You then take the bus from the city of Dien Bien Phu. From here you travel to Sapa in about 8 – 10 hours. There are several departure times including 6:30 AM 9:00 AM, 11:30 AM, 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM from Dien Bien Phu.