Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa is an experience not to be missed when visiting Vietnam. Sapa is located in the north of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. To get there we took an overnight train from Hanoi which departs around 9 pm and arrives early, around 4 am. Depending on what organization you trek with, a bus will take you on the hour drive from the train station at Lao Cai to SaPa town. There are many trains but we used the Fansipan Express and paid a bit extra for only two people in the cabin. Totally worth it! I had no problem sleeping but you may want to pack some sleeping pills just in case. When you arrive in Sapa you need to be ready for an adventure!

Trekking in Sapa


 Read More:  Things to Do in Hanoi


We booked this trip with the Sapa Sisters. This company is one of the few owned by local female guides from the Black Hmong Tribe and you can rest assured that the girls are authentic tribal guides and that your money helps them greatly. Many women have no source of income or independence other than peddling handicrafts in the towns. This company pays them better than many other tour companies and the guides seem happy with their jobs.

Trekking in Sapa
Sapa town

Day 1: Trekking to the Red Dzao Village

Upon arrival in Sapa we located the Graceful Hotel, the home office of the Sapa Sisters. We were served breakfast and given a place to change clothes, shower and store the things we wouldn’t take. I recommend only a backpack at this point. Our guide, Ker, met us here and together we decided on details of the three day trek based on places we wanted to see and the difficulty of the terrain.

We opted for a moderate difficulty trek but at times it was extremely difficult for this reasonably fit woman! I wouldn’t recommend this for those with poor balance, heart condition, or bad knees.

Trekking in Sapa

We started our trek to the north of Sa Pa town. We were soon joined by three other local tribeswomen, two Black Hmong and one Red Dzao. They spoke a little English and were pleasant to  chat with along the walk. I didn’t realize it until we stopped for lunch, but they spotted us in town and came along hoping to sell us handicrafts. I didn’t mind because I knew the items were  handmade by those particular women plus they were great company. However, after buying some things (and my backpack was full), I made it clear to others that there would be “no shopping” (even those that don’t speak English understand these words).

Trekking in Sapa

Two of our trekking companions/saleswomen. Red Dzao to my right and Black Hmong to my left.

The scenery here is astonishing and you never have a moment without a stunning vista.

Trekking in Sapa

We trekked first to the village of Ma Tra and had lunch…and shopping. After successful sales, the other ladies left our company and Ker, my friend and I carried on. I actually really love the bags I bought from them.

Trekking in Sapa

Typical rice terraces of the region

We eventually came to our destination for the night, Ta Phin, a Red Dzao village. Here we stayed at a homestay operated by La May and her husband Phu. We were the only guests at the homestay that night and it was a wonderful evening. We hung out in the kitchen drinking beer and chatting with La May and Ker while they prepared dinner. They let us help with the spring rolls, which were delicious. I have since made them for my family and they were a big hit!!

Trekking in Sapa
La May’s Homestay

Trekking in Sapa

The guest sleeping quarters with comfy mattresses and mosquito nets

Trekking in Sapa

La May chopping veggies

Trekking in Sapa

Dinner is served!

We had a huge delicious family dinner and afterwards La May prepared a special Red Dzao herbal bath. This is a traditional medicinal bath made with fresh and dried plants and bark collected that day from the forest. They are brewed in a huge pot of boiling water over a charcoal fire for several hours then poured into a wooden barrel. It is meant to soothe aches and pains and cure things like the common cold as well as treat some chronic illnesses.

Trekking in Sapa

I’m getting in there???

Trekking in Sapa


Loved it. After 12km of trekking I needed some muscle soothing! We fell asleep SO early that night. Not hard to believe after the train ride and trekking.

Day 2: Trekking and Shopping

La May prepared a  breakfast of  crepes, bananas and local honey served on the balcony with of course, coffee. There isn’t fresh brewed coffee at these types of places but these packets called Nescafe 3 in 1 with milk and sugar already mixed in with the instant coffee are everywhere. They are actually good!

Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa
Traditional Red Dzao design handmade by La May
Trekking in Sapa
Saying goodbye to La May. Now I am sporting both Black Hmong and Red Dzao bags

We said good bye to La May after buying some of her beautiful traditional Red Dzao items. I bought a little bag perfect for holding a cell phone!

We took motor bikes back to Sapa and then trekked south this time towards the village of Lao Chai. We had lunch at a Black Hmong family restaurant.

Trekking in Sapa

A typical handicraft store. Featuring dyed indigo hemp fabric.

I really liked the indigo scarf I had seen everywhere but I wanted it with a twist. I saw a blanket that had a pretty purple hand knitting on the indigo and loved it, but wanted a scarf. It just so happened that I had stumbled upon a woman who was known for exceptional sewing skills and she offered to make a scarf for me in same design as the blanket. As I waited and drank tea for 15 minutes, she made it. Extraordinary!

Trekking in Sapa

Best seamstress in town

Trekking in Sapa

We stopped in the village of Ta Van for the night. This village is more frequently touristed than Ta Phin and our homestay for the night had several other guests, which was really fun. This village had some pubs and small spas and we opted for a massage before dinner.  Dinner was family style with the other guests who were from USA, Australia, France and Germany.

Day 3: Bamboo Forests, Waterfalls and a Special Lunch

On this last day we hiked through a bamboo forest which ended at a stunning waterfall. Of course more gorgeous rice terraces everywhere.

Trekking in Sapa
Another breakfast of crepes and bananas

This was some steep trekking for my little legs but Ker who is shorter than me, barely broke a sweat as she trekked and knitted at the same time

Trekking in Sapa


Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa

Finally we arrived at Ker’s home village of Su Pan where we went to her home and met her family. She prepared lunch and we ate with her and her husband, children and brother. This was such a special treat as we had become very fond of Ker and were honored that she would have us in her home.

Trekking in Sapa
Outside of Ker’s house with extended family hanging out

It was very interesting how all the local homes have open fires over charcoal inside the homes. They fry in pans over the fire.

Trekking in Sapa
Family’s chickens peeking inside
Trekking in Sapa
Ker preparing lunch

Even in humble surroundings with no fancy equipment, a huge delicious lunch is made in a short time.

Trekking in Sapa

Ker with her daughter and husband

Trekking in Sapa

After lunch, another slightly frightening motorbike ride back to Sapa where we had a tearful good bye with Ker.

Once again back in Sapa at the Graceful Hotel, we showered, changed, felt human again, collected our luggage, grabbed a bite to eat then took the bus back to the train station in Lao Cai and again boarded the Fansipan Express for the overnight ride back to Hanoi.

Don’t miss this region when visiting Vietnam! A special and unique experience I will never forget!Trekking in Sapa


A couple of tips if you do this:

  • Bring a change of shoes for after your trek as those shoes will be muddy
  • Bring a pair of flip flops for places where a shower available
  • As for clothing, there are four climates in one day, but the only time a jacket was needed was in the evening outdoors (this was in November).

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Trekking Sapa Vietnam

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


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  2. Hans Feekes | 20th Dec 17

    Hi, Redhead, loved to read your story. I was there last November (2017) and notice dramatic changes in Sapa e.g. the square with the whitewashed hotel: the view on the mountains is now totally blocked by enormous new build, the streets and traffic is very busy and chaotic esp to and from the CatCat village which is a real tourist trap. Luckily not everyone is fit enough to make the whole walk around this area. Unchanged is the view south of Sapa and the girls/women cheerful as ever with their special ‘friends’ welcome. In Sapa however there are too many women trying to sell. One feels really uncomfortable to have to say “no, thank you” all the time.

    • csaradar | 20th Dec 17

      Oh sad to hear about these changes. I didn’t go to CatCat village…had heard the same about it. All the women selling is tough to deal with as a tourist. I also feel bad saying “no” so much! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

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