When researching what to do in Vietnam, the town of Sapa came up constantly. Known for its valleys of rice terraces and trekking, I knew I had to visit.
I did an organized tour through my hostel in Hanoi, which was a 3 day/2 night homestay, plus a night there and back on a sleeper bus. The trek starts in Sapa and you go into the valley between the mountains, visiting villages along the way.
Sapa is about 250 miles NW of Hanoi, up in the mountains and actually pretty close to the Chinese border. The elevation of the town is around 5,000 feet and it’s the starting point for all the treks.
The trip didn’t start off on the best note, but it quickly turn into my favorite place I’ve been in Asia.
We took a sleeper bus leaving Hanoi at 10pm, and we were to arrive in Sapa at 4am. All the buses are supposed to let you stay and sleep on the bus from 4am to 6am and then your guide meets you at 6am. Our bus driver was a speed demon and we arrived in Sapa at 3:30am. He then kicked all the tourists off the bus, despite us telling him we were told we could sleep on the bus. Thankfully I was doing a group tour so I was with 3 other people, but we had to wait in the freezing cold at the bus station from 3:30am to 6am! I didn’t sleep at all and I vowed I’ll only take overnight trains from here on out!
Needless to say, we were exhausted, but the day quickly turned around. We went to a hotel and had breakfast, and then met our guide at 9am.
She was from a local village nearby and is part of the H’mong tribe. All of the villages have their own tribal language, so they use Vietnamese as the common language if they want to speak with someone from another village.
The guides amaze me – they wear their traditional clothes and sandals, plus our guide carried her baby the second day!
The first day we walked about 7 miles, wandering through rice terraces, over rivers and throughout the valley.
The views were so gorgeous – it felt great to be back in the mountains. The scenery was really green, and even though it’s not the season for rice (they start the planting in June and harvest in September), all the terraces are still intact.
We had lunch river side, and then kept trekking to our first homestay.
Most houses in the villages have added on one big room, so they can have tourists stay.
The cooked us an amazing dinner – rice, tofu, beef with peppers and onions and fresh spring rolls (which we helped make). You eat everything family style here and I’m getting pretty good at chopsticks.
After banana pancakes for breakfast the next morning, we were off for another 3 miles before lunch.
This trail was a bit easier and we went through a few smaller villages, plus a bamboo forest.
For lunch we had pho with eggs on top (we got fed really well – all meals were included in the price), which gave us energy for the 6 miles ahead to our next homestay!
Our homestay the second night was a bit bigger and right on a river.
Our third day we walked to a tiny little village and visited a local school. I was really surprised to see schools (elementary and middle) in almost all of the villages. The only high school is in Sapa, so if kids want to go, they stay at the school Monday – Friday because it’s too far to walk each day.
Hopefully I can get a bit more hiking in before Nepal!