Before travelling to Vietnam, we created a Jam-packed itinerary that included the best things to see and do that we could squeeze into our one month adventure there. Visiting Sapa and staying in a local homestay was one of them.
Sapa is a little mountain town on the Chinese border just north of Vietnam. Plunging valleys of lush green rice fields surrounded by towering mountains make up the epic scenery of Vietnams premier trekking base. Thick mist fills the sky but even when it’s cloudy, Sapa still oozes character and colour made apparent by the local hill tribe people.
In recent years, Sapa has become a popular tourist destination for travellers around the world who hike through the dramatic countryside of cascading rice terraces and quaint hill tribe villages. Once you step foot off the bus in Sapa town you’ll soon see why. We booked our trip through our hostel ‘Central Backpackers’ in Hanoi. There are several different places to book this around the city but even if you are not staying in this hostel, I would still suggest booking it here. The whole journey was seamless and you are guaranteed to meet lots of other backpackers doing the same trek, making the experience even better.
We opted for the two-day-one-night homestay trek which cost us $60 each. This included transport, accommodation, food and an English speaking guide. You can purchase packages that include three or four days trekking depending on your timelines and preferences. We were tight on time, but what’s good about this package is that you can decide on the trek if you want to do extra days. If you opt for extra days you simply pay $15 per day thereafter.
Our sleeper bus departed from Hanoi for Sapa at 9pm. After a very bumpy journey we arrived in Sapa town at 3am. You were allowed to stay and sleep on the bus however until 6am. Make sure you take full advantage of this, sleep is precious and you need every ounce of energy for the day ahead!
Day 1 in Sapa
We were collected at the bus station at 6am and brought to a nearby hotel in Sapa town where we could shower and have breakfast. The breakfast was a choice of eggs, pancakes, omelettes, fruit or noodles. Make sure you eat loads! As I said, energy is really needed. The weather was not our friend on Day 1 unfortunately, in fact it couldn’t have been worse haha. It absolutely poured down and we could see little waterfalls forming on the street. There was no way that my non-waterproof runners were going serve me well on this trek. Luckily you can rent wellies in the town for $1 a day. My first thoughts were if wellies were really necessary, but after stepping outside the hotel I soon realised that they really were. Even people who had hiking boots were switching to wellies. However this is all weather dependant of course. I would aim to bring hiking boots and if the weather is bad you can rent the wellies there. Runners are not ideal, but again if you are lucky enough with the weather then they might be ok. You can make the decision when you are there. We didn’t leave the hotel until 8am so you have some free time to explore Sapa’s morning market before the trek starts.
At 8am we made our way towards Muong Hoa Valley. The conditions were not ideal to say the least. It was raining A LOT and the track had completely turned to muck making it extremely difficult to climb. To say I slipped would be an understatement! Haha. The thick rain clouds were masking the magnificent landscape views that we could barely make out. I was really disappointed. However, although the rain didn’t stop completely, it did slightly clear up throughout the day and when it did…WOW. The scenery really was something else, I can only imagine how it would look when the sun shines. We continued trekking through the terraced rice paddies and minority villages where we met the local Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai people. The local people are known for their extremely intricate embroidered handiwork. They all dress head to toe in beautiful, colourful handmade dresses, skirts, headbands and jewellery. So ornate and I loved it, I thought they looked so so cool! Some of the locals will accompany you and the guide on the trek. Women young and old (and even pregnant!!) and children will offer to help you down the steep and extremely slippery mountain hills and in return they ask you to purchase some of their handmade crafts. It sounded like a fair deal to me considering I probably wouldn’t have made it down in one peace without them! Haha.
As we continued along the Muong Hoa River we were greeted by wandering cows, mountain goats and pigs. We trekked until we reached a large suspension bridge leading us back onto a road towards the Zay village where would stop for lunch. Despite the rain and muck, the day really did pick up and we got to see some really spectacular views which made it all worthwhile. We trekked 8km to lunch and then continued trekking another 6km before reaching Ta Van, where we would stay in a local homestay for the night.
The homestay was AMAZING! The Zay family prepared a very impressive home cooked traditional meal on a wood fire and we all sat down for our family meal. The views from the homestay were unbelievable! The weather was beginning to pick up and the clouds cleared to reveal the most impressive sight of rice fields spreading for miles in all directions. We all slept upstairs in a loft room where we had our own individual mattress and duvet covered by a mosquito nets. I can honestly say it was one the best night’s sleep I’ve had! The whole night in general was just good craic. There was a big group of us there (all from the same hostel where we booked the trip) and we all enjoyed a few beers over some drinking games. By the end of the trip we were all best friends! Felt like we had known each other for ages and not just a day haha. If you start your Vietnam trip in Hanoi, then this tour is so good for meeting people that you can end up travelling with for the rest of your trip. In general people are either starting or finishing their time in Vietnam here.
Day 2 in Sapa
The next morning I enjoyed my coffee outside overlooking the mountainous countryside. It was defiantly one of those “pinch me” moments. Seriously spectacular. It was also sunny outside so I was very excited about that!! I had enough rain to last me the rest of the year haha. The Zay family yet again prepared the most delicious feast of homemade pancakes for breakfast. Around 10am we began our trek towards the bamboo forest. The conditions from the last few days meant the trek was still VERY mucky and VERY slippery. Wellies were still very much needed. The local hill-tribe children were on hand selling bamboo sticks to help you down if you needed.
The views today were MUCH better and I was over the moon to be able to take full advantage of the amazing scenery. We made our way through the bamboo forest (which was so cool!) towards the Giang Ta Chai waterfall. This was so beautiful! Local children were splashing around playing while hikers took a well deserved break to take in the unbelievable surroundings. Next we made our way across a rattan suspension bridge into the Ginag Ta Chai Village which is inhabited by the Red Zao people. The women wear traditional clothing and are known for their red scarf headpieces. Here we got to experience their daily life, with particular interest into their handiwork of embroidered clothing and arts and crafts. So talented!
Next we made our way up a mountain to Supan village of H’mong people where we enjoyed a traditional noodle lunch. The mini bus then picked us up to bring us back to Sapa town where we could shower before taking the bus back to Hanoi.
It was an unforgettable few days in Sapa. What started out as somewhat bleak (the crazy rain!) ended on an absolute high full of adventure and cultural experiences. I would highly recommend visiting Sapa and experiencing this for yourself. The spectacular scenery and unique sense of community was inspiring. We also ended the trip with many new friends who we went on more adventures with!
What to bring
If you book through Central Backpackers then you can leave your big rucksacks/suitcases there in a secure room. All you need is small bag that you feel comfortable to trek with. What I would suggest bringing with you are the following:
- Hiking Boots
- A good waterproof but light raincoat
- Plenty of spare clean socks and underwear
- Light gym gear if the weather is hot (shorts, t-shirts)
- Warm clothes for if it’s cold (jumper, leggings)
- Sun cream
- Mosquito repellent
- Camera/ GoPro
- Lots of water and snacks
We had mixed weather. It was very wet and slightly cold on day one and then sunny and hot on day two, so luckily I packed for both occasions. I do believe that we were particularly unlucky with the weather but check the forecast in advance to be sure.
Hope you enjoyed reading my Sapa post and found it helpful. I 100% recommend you put it top of your bucket list when visiting Vietnam!
Thanks for reading,