Step by step we conquered one more hill, the view was stunning. The long walk and the beauty of Sapa mountains in Vietnam took my breath away. I was tired but in ecstasy. During our 2 days trekking in Sapa mountains we passed by the ancient rice terraces, discovered tiny villages, learning about minority tribes and their way of living. A dream trip that became true!
The birds and the sound of the water running into the terraces were the soundtrack of our morning walk. Peaceful! At 9 am, we met our guide at Sapa town and from there we began our trekking tour in the Sapa valley. The sun was shining, making the endless rice paddies giant mirrors reflecting the sky
After one hour walking I understand the difference between a good and professional Sapa trekking experience and the tour/trekking tour they offer on the streets of Sapa town. We left the city behind and there was no one in our way, we had the mountains only for us. In all the villages we passed by our guide give us a lesson about history, culture and the importance of responsible tourism in Sapa.
We were surrounded by nature, ducks, buffalos and rice fields. Sapa was revealing its beauty to us. We passed by kids coming from the school, people working in the fields, tribe women doing their embroidery work on the edge of those man carved hills.
1º Day Trekking in Sapa Mountains:
Lost among flowers and rice terraces
Rob and I are used to run, so long walks are fine for us. We started our sapa trekking tour at 9 am and we finish our first leg around midday. This was the longest walk of the tour, 9 kilometers in 3 hours. Time for our first break.
We stopped in a small and simple restaurant. The wooden house had two floors, on the ground floor the cook was preparing local food, upstairs the bamboo tables with an amazing view. The food was done fast, thank God, we were starving! Fried chicken with vegetables, pork, fried vegetarian spring rolls, tofu, omelet, and salads. Enough food for us and for the cat that was sleeping on the bench. The food was surprisingly good. Thumbs up!!
Tummy full, time to walk again. We pack our bags and hit the trail. I forgot to check the time, but I think we walked for more one hour until we arrive at a Hmong tribe village for some hands on Batik painting .
Rob was too asleep to try his skills on painting, but I decided to give a try. Zi, an artisan from the Hmong tribe taught me first. She showed me how to warm the wax, to prepare the fabric and how to create beautiful free hand drawings. Her 30 years of experience made everything look so easy, but when I got the wood pen in hands I realized how difficult the work is. It´s not only painting, is creating beautiful designs using your creativity and natural materials.
After drawing with wax, the fabric will be dyed in indigo for a few days, a deep blue color extract from a local plant. Later the fabric will be boiled so the wax can melt and leave the white gaps on the fabric, creating interesting and geometric designs. Everything is hand made.
I got the chance to practice just 1 part of the Batik process. Zi explained to us that her work starts by weaving the hemp [a local type of plant, that gives long threads], creating long pieces of fabric that will be sewn into skirts, tops, blankets or tablecloth. Then comes the Batik painting, the indigo dying, the embroidery, and at the end she still has to polish the textile. So much work! A beautiful craft that has been passed by generations to generations.
We learned the ancient craft and got to know more about Zi and her family. After almost 2 hours we left for the last part of our 1st-day trekking in the Sapa mountains. Time to discover more about the Hmong tribes, they way of living and how things are changing fast in Vietnam.
The sun was going down when we arrived at this cute house. We were greeted by Moo, a smiley woman with three kids running around her. We reached our final destination of the day, the first part of our trekking in Sapa mountains was completed. Time to relax, think about all the beautiful places we visited, people we met and smiles we have exchanged.
Moo was waiting for us with a foot bath. OMG!! That was everything I needed after a long day of trekking in Sapa. She placed our chairs facing the rice terraces, made an infusion with herbs and left us there relaxing our feet for an hour. We were interrupted only by the evening fog and the cold wind that started blowing. I was tired, by this time there were only three things I need: shower, food and bed!
Homestay in Sapa: an unforgettable experience!
I don’t have words enough to describe how unique was our experience at the Victoria Homestay in Sapa mountains. I was prepared for hard beds, mosquitos, no shower and a very simple place. The house was simple indeed, but everything was so organized, we had a huge and soft bed waiting for us, mosquito net, covers, bathroom with hot shower and amenities.
Moo is an interesting woman, young, full of energy and determined. She speaks her tribal language, Vietnamese, and English, all learned by herself. Married, with 3 kids, she used to work in Sapa town selling her handicrafts and embroidery, also offering trekking tours in Sapa valley. She is an entrepreneur, a few year ago she started hosting people in her house and 2014 she signed a contract with Buffalo Tours to host travellers and share with them her culture, food and a bit of her life.
Her business grew, the house became bigger, with more infrastructure, but still keep the homey feeling. She did her best to welcome us, big smile, delicious food and love. When she discovered that I’m vegetarian, she changed the dinner menu so I could have more variety of local food to taste. Rob got a special treat, Moo´s husband arrived home with buffalo meat, that he stir fried for the dinner.
After the hot shower, the dinner was served. Outside the temperature dropped fast and rice wine helped us to keep warm. When dinner was over, Pa and Ze, the youngest girl and boy sat in front of the TV. Mi, the 10-year-old daughter sat under the light to practice her embroidery skills. She is getting older and she needs to learn how to weave, make clothes and cook. Hmong women need to master those skills so they can have a good marriage. She needs to learn fast, soon a boy from the tribe will kidnap her and take to his house, and her future mother in law will check how good she is, her abilities and if she will be a good wife. Moo passed by this when she was 16, and now she is preparing her daughter for the same future.
This moment I realized that doesn´t matter where you are in the world, or what culture you come from parents will be always worried about their kid and women still live under a social pressure. That’s the reality in Sapa mountains, same in Brazil and in many countries around the world.
At 9 pm we were sleeping. We had a long day trekking in Sapa mountains, my legs were tired and we need to recharge our batteries for the next day. The last thing I remember was the cat walking over the roof and then the mobile ringing. It was 6 am!
The morning weather was chilly, pancakes and hot coffee to wake us up. Mi left earlier than us, her school is far from the village, so we didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. Before we left one more photo with Moo´s family and we hit the trails again!
2º Day trekking in Sapa Mountains:
Bamboo forest and sweat!
Sapa mountains and the rice terraces are stunning during the morning, the sun rising and the fog between the hills creates a unique scenery. The second-day trekking was supposed to be faster, but the trails were quite difficult. We got muddy paths, ups and downs, steep hills and a waterfall. The landscape changed a lot, from rice fields with water buffalos to a bamboo forest, and river crossing.
It was a tough morning, we walked almost 4 hours and by midday I was tired, sweaty and hungry. The 2nd-day trekking tour in Sapa mountains came to an end. Our last meal was at Indigo, a nice restaurant in Sapa town with local dishes and cold beer. Cheers! We did the 2 days trekking in Sapa Vietnam, and it was an unforgettable experience, as good as I dreamed about. Our guide lead us with knowledge and passion. Moo’s family were so welcoming and kind. Nature and the mountains are stunning…
How to choose the best trekking tour in Sapa?
Our recommendations and Sapa travel tips!
There are many trekking tours in Sapa Mountains. Some officials, some illegals, one day, two days, with or without homestay, with local guides, with Hmong tribe guides, and so on…
1º Recommendation: be aware of what you choose and check if you are helping and supporting the local community. I know, this talk about responsible tourism can be boring, and many travellers don’t care about it. However, the tourism in Sapa valley is growing fast, and unfortunately not in a very organized way. So do your share and help to preserve the town, the tribes lifestyle, and nature.
We did the Sapa trekking experience with Buffalo Tour, a company that operates local tours in Vietnam and in many other countries in Southeast Asia [like the trekking in Chiang Mai, Thailand we did and was awesome]. Why we choose them? Because we knew the trekking in Sapa would be well organized, private, and that we would be helping the community by staying in a homestay and eating in family restaurants.
What make this 2 days trekking in Sapa mountains so special? Nature is gorgeous and the people welcoming. Most of the trekking route was empty, no tourists, only us and local people. We had the chance to see and experience Sapa on our pace. The guide is a local guy, he speaks the tribe’s language and knows their history. He took us to interesting places that wasn’t on the Sapa tour itinerary, like visiting the house of a shaman that leads one of the tribe community.
» When is the best time to visit Sapa mountains and the rice terraces?
There is no best time to travel to Sapa mountains, it all depends on what do you want to see. We were there by the end of March, the rice terraces were being filled with water, warm weather and sunny days. If you want to see the terraces full of water and people working on them the best time to travel to Sapa is April and May, the flowers will be blooming and the weather is pleasant.
For green rice fields, June is the best time to trekking in Sapa mountains, but be prepared for rain and hot weather. July and August are not so wet but still hot. September is the best time to see the Sapa Mountains changing colours, on the terraces you can spot all shades of green, yellow and golden. The weather is nice, but town and mountains get packed, this is high season in Sapa.
December to January is winter with heavy snow. Nature and mountains are beautiful, but it’s hard to enjoy the outdoors.
» How many days to visit Sapa Mountains in Vietnam?
It’s hard to say how many days you need to visit Sapa, it all the depends on what you want to do and how many days you want to spend trekking in Sapa Mountains. To be honest, apart from the trekking experience there aren’t much more things to do in Sapa. The hotels and food are overpriced [comparing to other touristic cities in Vietnam], in town people are very pushy trying to sell you all kind of stuff and tours. Unless you are a trekking lover and plan to explore the mountains during several days, I would say that two or three days in Sapa are enough.
If we go back to Vietnam, I would plan my trip to Sapa in a different way. I would spend more money in a nice and more comfortable train trip, book the 2 or 3 days trekking tour with Buffalo, ask them to pick me up early in the morning at the train station, and after the tour I would catch the train from Sapa to Hanoi. I rather spend more on the transportation and on an outstanding tour, than staying in Sapa town itself.
» How to get from Hanoi to Sapa mountains?
You can get to Spa Mountains by bus/car/motorbike or by train. There is a new highway that connects Hanoi to Sapa, so in 3 hours you reach Sapa by car [a bit longer by bus or motorbike]. I don’t recommend you to go to Sapa by bus, you might not be able to sleep or rest during the trip. The drivers are crazy and they honk the horn all the time, every minute, and a three hours ride can become a noisy nightmare. Believe me, I have traveled in Vietnam by bus and it’s not pleasant!
We choose to go by train from Hanoi to Sapa and no regrets. It was a night train with comfy beds [for Asian standards] and a fair price. We paid 335 thousand Dongs per person in a shared cabin for 4, with air con and clean bed sheet. The trip itself was ok, the train didn’t shake too much and we slept well. You can check the timetable of the trains from Hanoi to Sapa on the official website.
The only downside is that the train arrives in Lao Cai station early in the morning, you need to get a van or a mini bus to go from Lao Cai to Sapa town, so one more hour on the road. Negotiate the price of the ride before jumping on the bus, they normally charge between 40 to 50 thousand Dongs. We had a problem with a driver that tried to charge us more than what agreed on the train station, so we ended up with an argument in the middle of the street of Sapa. Not a nice way to be welcomed. Not a nice first impression of Sapa. 🙁
» Where to stay in Sapa Mountains? Homestay or Hotel?
There are many hostels and hotels in Sapa. The city itself is a big construction site, with hotels popping up in every corner. We choose a small guesthouse called Aseana and we don’t recommend it! The room was spacious but too dirty and with a bed harder than a rock. We slept there only one night, and it was horrible.
The best websites to book a hotel in Sapa are Agoda and Booking.com. They have many options of accommodation in Sapa and you can choose by your budget, type of room or best reviews. You can also sleep at some ethnic minorities villages like we did during our Sapa trekking tour.
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Now you know everything about trekking in Sapa mountains. The unique experience you can have in a homestay, how to choose the best trekking tour and how to get to Sapa. Hope we have inspired you to travel to this beautiful part of Vietnam.
If your Vietnam travel itinerary includes Ho Chi Minh City, have a look in the post we wrote about the top things to do in Saigon. We also visited the picturesque Hoi An, where we did a Vespa Tour, plus some incredible days exploring the attractions in Hanoi and some local experiences. Looking for tourist visa information? We have you covered with a guide on how to apply online for the Vietnam Visa on Arrival. Don´t forget to book your hotels in Sapa through the links below, it´s a nice way to help Love and Road.