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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!!
The guest sleeping quarters with comfy mattresses and mosquito nets
La May chopping veggies
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.
I’m getting in there???
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.
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!
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.
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!
Best seamstress in town
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.
On this last day we hiked through a bamboo forest which ended at a stunning waterfall. Of course more gorgeous rice terraces everywhere.
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
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.
It was very interesting how all the local homes have open fires over charcoal inside the homes. They fry in pans over the fire.
Even in humble surroundings with no fancy equipment, a huge delicious lunch is made in a short time.
Ker with her daughter and husband
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.
A couple of tips if you do this: