Sapa has become an increasingly popular destination for travelers to Vietnam. Misty mountains 💨 surround a lush land of rice paddies and farmland. Adventure beyond the town to see why trekking in Sapa is one of the most remarkable experiences. Hike through the rolling hills and stay with the locals that call this place home. You’ll surely be able to find peace of mind 😌 in this serene landscape.
Sapa is located in the Northwestern part of Vietnam, a few hours from Hanoi. I lived in Hanoi for a few months and I was able to enjoy this area on my travels. Choosing to take part in a homestay was one of the best decisions I made. If you visit Sapa, I highly recommend forgoing a luxurious stay for an authentic experience with the local people. Below you can read all about homestays & trekking in Sapa.
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Table of Contents
Guide to Trekking in Sapa
How to Book a Homestay & Trekking Tour
Many people book homestays as part of their trekking experiences. Due to the increasing popularity of this area, you have to be careful when booking a tour. There are tons of tour options and some of them can leave tourists with negative experiences 😔. However, choosing the right one can lead to some of the most incredible memories 🤗. You can book your experiences through a travel agent in Hanoi, through a local guide in Sapa, or online in advance.
We booked our tour with Lily’s Travel Agency after we had heard positive reviews from many friends of ours. We booked a Trekking with Mao tour that included one night of a homestay, two days of trekking, and transportation to and from Hanoi. Lily was able to answer all of our questions over email and she made the entire process seamless. We were incredibly satisfied with our experience. Another tour agency that has received positive reviews is Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventures. Make sure to read reviews or get advice from other travelers before booking any guides.
Why You Should Choose a Homestay
Sapa is home to five of the most famous ethnic tribes in all of Vietnam (Red Dzao, Tay, Thai, Giáy, and Black Hmong). These tribe members have called this area home for hundreds of years and they are well known for their colorful clothing. If you choose to do a homestay, then you can expect to stay with a member of one of these tribes. We stayed with a Hmong family who were incredibly welcoming and warm.
Staying with one of these ethnic families will give you an inside look into their daily lives. These tribes have been living the same way for centuries and you will get to be an active participant. You will see how they prepare their food 🍚 and how their home life is structured. They may ask you to help them cook or talk to you about their life experiences. You will get to step into someone else’s shoes for a day and see how they live.You will not regret your decision to choose a homestay and get an ✨ authentic experience ✨.
What to Expect on Your Homestay
It’s important to remember that you are staying in another person’s home. Make sure to be respectful and follow the customs of the individuals that you are staying with. They may not speak English, so you may find yourself using hand gestures to communicate. Our family had a lot of children and we were encouraged to hang and play with them. I think most homestay hosts want you to feel that you are part of their family, but don’t get offended if they want their children to stay separately from you.
The families will provide you with delicious home cooked meals, which they will probably eat with you. After dinner, the hosts often offer “happy water” (rice wine) 🍷. Our host encouraged us to drink A LOT of “happy water” and we had a blast. Once your host starts to head to bed though, you should try to do the same. You do not want to keep your gracious hosts up.
Most of the homes in these communities are incredibly modest. They consist of a few open rooms that have very basic amenities. You will most likely find yourself using the toilet over a hole in the ground and sleeping 💤 on a padded mat with a thin blanket. In our home, the children in the family slept together on one large mat. Immerse yourself in this experience and prepare yourself for these expectations. This home was far different from mine back home, but I truly realized how little we need in order to feel sheltered and cared for.
What You’ll See While Trekking in Sapa
Trekking experiences in Sapa are unique. We booked our homestay and trekking tours as one experience, but most people will book tours with local tribe members. These locals know the mountains like the back of their hands. You may find yourself weaving along the rice paddy walls or walking up a mountain ⛰ with no path only to find yourself staring on the edge of the mountainside with stunning views.
My group had the lucky experience of walking through a crazy rainstorm 🌧, but I will never forget the laughs that we shared after falling numerous times in the muddy rain paddies. Rain or shine, trekking through these mountains is unforgettable.
Most of the tours will allow you to choose the level that you want to trek at, so don’t worry if you’re not an experienced trekker. The treks allow you to see the beauty of the area as you walk from farmlands to rice paddies to mountains. Besides from the trekking you will get to eat at local restaurants, learn about rice production 🌾, experience the local lifestyles, and purchase handmade souvenirs (beware of hawkers that will pester you to try and get you to buy goods). I believe that Sapa is a must see on your trip to Vietnam.
How to Get to Sapa
There are two ways to get to Sapa from Hanoi: bus or train. How you get there is up to you or the tour you book. Both of these options take a bit of time and effort.
You can take an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. When you get to Lao Cai you will need to take a short 30-minute bus ride to Sapa town through the mountains. The bus is often included in the reservations that you make with your tour. You can simply follow signs and guidance to get on the bus.
Again, you should make sure to have your camera 📸 ready to take some beautiful pictures of the rice paddies. The entire journey takes about 9 or 10 hours. There are various options for cabin-class tickets, but the beds are comfortable and will give you a nice night of sleep before trekking through the mountains.
The bus from Hanoi is about six hours and will cost you about $10. The last hour of the bus ride will take you through the mountains and you will get 🤩 breathtaking views 🤩 from the left side of the bus. However, even though the ride is shorter, it comes with risks. There are few regulations for drivers and there are very few rules on the road. You may end up with an overcrowded bus where people are seated in the aisles.
What You Need to Pack
Luckily, the local guides will cover most of your hiking needs. They will have water, food, and any other gear. So, that means that you can pack light for your journey to Sapa. All you need to bring are clothes to wear for the trek, good shoes, and clothes to wear at night. Although it is mostly warm, it can get cool at night so you will want to pack some light layers and rain gear. I recommend bringing a backpack 🎒 or small duffel for all your things.
Trekking in Sapa was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. Staying with the locals, meandering through the rice paddies, and enjoying a weekend in the serene landscape was remarkable. I hope you choose to explore Sapa on your next trip to Vietnam.
Let me know in the comments if you found this guide to exploring Sapa helpful!
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