— “Do you want to go trekking in Sapa, Vietnam”?
Trekking? Again? Each time we think the hiking chapter closes, another beautiful destination pops up and we soon find ourselves ooing and ahhing over idyllic scenery right out of a postcard. If you find yourself in northern Vietnam, you shouldn’t miss out on trekking in Sapa, after all, it’s one of the most scenic regions in the country.
We arrived off our overnight train somewhat sleepy-eyed and couldn’t help but notice the gloomy skies that were right above us. It didn’t take long for us to realise, it was going to rain, little did we know, it meant all day. We gathered our belongings, packed our day back, waterproofed our belongings as best we could and set off to explore the beauty of Sapa.
The trek started off slow along the paved roads through the town and I couldn’t help but wonder how today was possibly going to go as the rain started only 10 minutes after we began.
We stopped at the first viewpoint and peered over the edge into the foggy distance. Thankfully, since our big trek in Nepal, we had durable ponchos that withheld 80% of the rain, but our friends were not as prepared and were soon drowning! It wasn’t long before we had our first full-on stack (trip). You just have to laugh… right? Sorry, Lindsay!
Despite the constant rain, we carried on through the stunning landscapes created by sweeping mountain views and lush greenery, past the hill tribes and through the tiered rice and vegetable fields. Every so often we would remember to look up and take in all that we were seeing, but our eyes would soon defer back to the ground to make sure our feet were avoiding those deep muddy puddles. One wrong step and you either fell flat on your face or sunk ankle deep!
Watching us from afar, we must have looked like bears on ice skates because the local women (some as old as 75) came to our rescue to help guide us down the paths, which we were all too happy to accept. Our shoes slowly but surely changing from the bright colours they once were, to a new colour of poo-brown mud.
By lunchtime, we were ready to stop, dry off and get eating. We opted for a homestay lunch vs the restaurant option, and strongly advise to do the same. It was far more authentic and absolutely delicious! We sat gathered around on small stools in the family home and watched him prepare our meal on the wood fire stove.
The local women who helped us down the mountain began selling their handmade goods such as bags, scarves, jewellery and coin purses. It’s very hard to turn these hard-working women away but thankfully, our 2 friends were extremely generous and bought a few things from each of them. If you aren’t interested in buying anything, it really doesn’t hurt to be friendly, just smile and politely say no thank you. We, however, tipped them purely for saving our asses down the hill!
Tip: Never answer a tribe person with a “maybe”, unless you really mean it. They will not leave you alone and it’s false hope for them.
Unfortunately, the rain still didn’t give up but it wasn’t too long before we reached our final destination; a very welcoming homestay for the night which involved a hot shower, a change of clothes and a comfortable mattress to rest our feet… PLUS fries at 5 (french fries at 5:00 pm is actually a thing) plus a delicious 4-course dinner and the fastest wifi we’ve had in the whole of Vietnam (go figure).
As you can see, these socks were not making their way back into our bag after today’s walk…
I wish we could have experienced a longer trek but unfortunately, we chose to cut our trek short due to the heavy rain. We were dripping wet, all our clothes were drenched and to be honest, we had no interest in falling flat on our faces any longer in the thick piles of mud.
We took the van back to Sapa town from our homestay and instead had a delicious lunch at Good Morning Vietnam – a little off topic, I know, but you must eat here and get the coconut chicken curry served in a coconut. And get a foot massage!
How to get to Sapa
There are 2 ways to reach Sapa from Hanoi. Overnight train or overnight/morning bus, both with their pros and cons as outlined below.
- Clean and comfortable with clean sheets, comfortable pillow and duvet. Chapa Express is the newest train in the fleet and was unexpectedly nice.
- The beds are completely flat providing a much more comfortable ‘sleep’.
- Power plugs to charge your camera batteries.
- The train station is located in Lao Cai, which is one hour from Sapa Town. Shuttle buses are at the train station or organise a pick up through your trekking company.
- Total travel time is 9 hours (including the 1-hour transfer from the station)
- The shaking of the train on the old tracks can keep you awake or rock you to sleep. One way or another.
- The train is significantly more expensive than the bus ($42 USD vs $10-$15)
- If you’re going in high season, book a return ticket in advance especially if coming back on a Sunday.
Tip: The VIP cabin on the train is not worth the extra $85 USD. The only difference is you get 2 beds vs sharing in a 4-bed berth cabin and some light snacks (Oreos anyone?). Save that money!
To book the train and see the schedules simply visit Vietnam Railways.
- The bus is far cheaper than the train ($10/$15 USD vs $42 USD)
- The bus takes you all the way to Sapa Town.
- More efficient – 6 hours door to door.
- There is no toilet on the bus (however, stops will be made halfway)
- If you are prone to motion sickness, the roads are rather curvy so sleeping could be a problem.
- The beds don’t go completely flat (tall people beware)
- Depending on the bus time from Hanoi, you can arrive into Sapa as early as 4:00 am and then what?!
Book a bus ticket with any travel agency in town or through this website here.
Our Recommendation: We recommend taking the overnight train to Sapa at 10:00 pm arriving at 6:20 am for a good sleep and then returning to Hanoi via the bus with Sapa Express at 4:00 pm arriving at 9:30 pm to Hanoi the same day.
How to choose the best company for trekking Sapa
Like any other touristic town, there are numerous companies offering 1-4-day treks in Sapa. If you want to be really spontaneous you can turn up to Sapa in the morning and book a day trek then and there, but to get the most out of your time we recommend booking a trek in advance with a reputable company and opt for at least a 1-night homestay in one of the villages.
We trekked with Sapa Sisters and found them to be very professional, efficient and well regarded. Sapa Sisters are Hmong trekking guides from Mung Hoa Valley, a village located close to the town of Sapa. What drew us to this company was the story behind their business. They are the only full female group providing customised treks to tourists in Sapa.
Photo Credit: Sapa Sisters.
Many of these women have come from hardship and by gaining a job with Sapa Sisters, they are treated with respect and provided a well-paying job that benefits not only the women directly, but also their families. The guides know the villages and trails inside out and back to front, speak fluent English and offer tailored treks to suit everyone’s needs and abilities. You can read more about their story here.
What to Pack for Your Sapa Trek
Remember, what you pack, you carry… whilst looking like a turtle. There are no porters to carry your hairdryers and 4 outfit changes. Pack lightly! These are the essentials:
- Hand sanitizer & toilet paper
- Waterproof jacket or light jacket
- Small umbrella during the rainy season (this really helped us from drowning)
- Extra shorts/t-shirts. If it isn’t pouring, you’re likely to be getting hot and sweaty and in desperate need of fresh clothes
- Spare socks and underwear
- Flip-flops to wear after your shower
- Pyjamas (or something dry to sleep in)
- Earplugs (you may have a snorer in your group, they’re everywhere!)
- Shoes with good grip (you can rent hiking shoes or Wellies/gumboots at Sapa Sisters)
- Water bottle
- Sunscreen and bug spray
Is Sapa Worth it?
Yes. Despite the consistent downpour of rain and the occasional ass-over-face in the mud, trekking through Sapa was beautiful and we truly believe it should be experienced by every traveller. In fact, it’s somewhere I wouldn’t mind returning to, to really experience the villages and rural life of Sapa. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. Remember to come prepared with waterproof gear and spare socks!
Married Days Survived; 845