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[NATURE] Everything you need to know for trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

[NATURE] Everything you need to know for trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

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Almost everyone that sets foot on Vietnamese soil dreams of visiting the Sapa Mountains in the northwest region of Vietnam. It’s a popular area with backpackers, trekkers and for those souls searching away from the crowded streets of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.

In Sapa, it’s the terraced rice fields that do the talking, providing nature lovers with guided walkways and spectacular views of the undeniable striking scenery. Sapa holds a real charm that can only be defined by stepping out into the creeping valleys and lush mountainous backdrops.

Sapa Valley in Vietnam

Sapa Valley in Vietnam

It is a location that stands out from the rest of Vietnam for its rich culture and hill tribe traditional communities so it makes for a great addition to your Vietnam itinerary.

If you feel like getting cultured on a tour Sapa will be the place for you. For those who want something even more challenging, the Ha Giang motorbike loop may be an even more adventurous option.




Day 1 to Sapa, Vietnam

Singapore to Sapa

There are lots of companies offering guided tours of the Sapa Mountains that start with a pick-up in Hanoi. Guided tours in Sapa are advisable, as they know the best places to take you off the beaten track. You will not really know of all the various things to do in Sapa without a guide.

Buffalo Tours offers a 2-days private trekking tour of Sapa Vietnam (medium level trekking) from Hanoi. During this 2 days tour, you will get to experience trekking in Sapa through the mountainous regions and you’ll get to visit ethnic communities and sample some authentic cuisine. Price starts on SGD 200.

Trekking in Sapa through the rice fields

Trekking in Sapa through the rice fields

The tour company offers a package including transport on a train from Hanoi to Sapa, or private drive. For those going by train the pick-up time is usually around 8pm and you will commence the journey via an overnight (9 hours) sleeper train to Lao Cai. You will sleep in a comfortable 2 or 4 person(depending on your booking), air conditioned cabin. Don’t forget to bring some snacks for the trip, there is a restaurant car but with limited selection. The schedule for those going by private car is more flexible.

Either way, you can arrive and head straight to Sapa or spend one night in Hanoi.

Day 2 in Sapa, Vietnam

Lao Cai  – Sapa – Sin Chai

Your overnight train will arrive at Lao Cai early morning at around 5.30am. From there a chauffeur driver will take you to your hotel in Sapa Vietnam where you can enjoy a filling breakfast. Once your trekking boots are on you will begin your trek through Ban Ho Valley visiting rural villages, including Thanh Puh Village, which has its own unique charm.

Have your camera ready for some outstanding shots. The trekking route will pass by flower fields, forest, rivers and, of course, the beautiful rice terraces. You will rest for lunch at one of the villages along the trek. To end the day you will stop at a village called Sin Chai where you’ll get a chance to kick back and interact with the local folk of the village.

Red Dao people of Sapa

Red Dao people of Sapa. Photo cred: Aranha

The most amazing part of the day will be spending the night at a homestay in Sapa with a local family from the Red Dao people. It’s a simple house but you will have a comfy bed on the second floor of the house.  This will be a culturally rich experience and like nothing you have ever experienced before. Cook with the family, try local dishes and learn about their way of leaving and beliefs. This is the perfect combination between culture, nature and adventure.


Day 3 in Sapa,Vietnam

Sin Chai – Lao Cai – Hanoi

Coffee with panoramic view in Sapa

Coffee with panoramic view in Sapa

At around 6.30am the breakfast will be served, warm pancakes, strong coffee and a pristine view of the rice terraces. Time to go back to the trail and head to My Son village where you can meet the Xafo ethnic group, one of the smaller ethnic groups in northern Vietnam. After the visit to My Son village, the walk continues for about 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the Naam Toong village, home of the Red Dao people.

The friendly Xafo locals of Sapa Vietnam

The friendly Xafo locals of Sapa Vietnam

Then descend to the La Vie waterfall where you will be able to cool down a bit. The trekking will end at the Ban Ho village, at around 5pm you will meet with your driver. Depending on your arrangements he will take you back to your hotel in Sapa before driving to Hanoi. Or head back to Lao Cai station once again to catch your overnight train to Hanoi from Sapa.

Stunning rice paddies while trekking in Sapa Vietnam

Stunning rice paddies while trekking in Sapa Vietnam

A tour like this is wonderful because everything, from start to finish, is sorted out for you. It’s stress-free so all you have to do is enjoy the trip and let someone else do the hard work of planning for you.




How to get to Sapa

Village women in Sapa

Village women in Sapa

Sapa does not have its own airport. The closest one is in Hanoi, which is roughly a 5-hour drive away, this shuttle can be arranged with the tour company.  A flight from Singapore (SIN) to Hanoi (HAN) takes 3 hours and 20 minutes flying direct. Airlines operating flights include Vietnam Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Return flights average in at around SGD 318.00. If you are taking the train to Sapa the best flight is with Singapore Airlines at 3:20pm.  In case you are heading to Sapa by car you should take the flight with Singapore Airlines at 9:20am

There are a few different options of reaching Sapa from Hanoi. Firstly you could take the overnight sleeper train. These sleeper trains depart from Hanoi main station every evening at 20.35, 21.10 and 21.50. Total journey time is around 9 hours to reach Lao Cai and the last leg of the journey will be via mini bus or private transfer. Depending on which bed type you choose, ticket prices can range from SGD 40.00 for a soft berth or SGD 106.00 for a VIP berth. What’s the difference between the two? It’s comfort. The higher price you pay, the more comfort you’ll have and the softer your bed will be.

There are two trains from Lao Cai to Hanoi, one at  8:20pm and another at 9:50pm, the return journey takes about 7 hours and 30 minutes. It’s possible to catch a flight back to Singapore straight away!

Return flights to Singapore are available with Vietnam Airlines 8:05am & 10:50am  and Singapore Airlines 12:35pm & 6:35pm.

Read more travel tips to Vietnam.

Where to stay in Hanoi and Sapa

Here are our top picks of places to stay in both Hanoi and Sapa.

AreaHotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
HanoiMay De Ville Legend HostelBudget4S$13

HanoiHanoi Charming HotelBudget4,5S$22

HanoiSkylark HotelMid4,5S$69

HanoiLa Beaute de Hanoi Hotel Mid5S$80

HanoiMelia HanoiHigh4,5S$140

HanoiSofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi High4,5S$300

SapaSapa Local HouseBudget5S$32

SapaSapa Centre HotelBudget4,5S$39

SapaSapa Dragon Hotel Mid5S$60

SapaBB Hotel SapaMid4,5S$75

SapaVictoria Sapa ResortHigh4S$142

SapaSilk Path Grand Resort & SpaHigh4,5S$158

Where to stay in Hanoi

Affordable

Hanoi Charming Hotel

Hanoi Charming Hotel

Hanoi Charming Hotel is one of the best budget hotels in Hanoi’s old quarter. The rooms are spacious and it is a traveller’s choice 2016 hotel winner. Prices start from SGD 25 for a double room.

Mid-Range

La Beaute De Hanoi Hotel

La Beaute De Hanoi Hotel

La Beaute de Hanoi Hotel is also in the heart of the old quarter offering a modern boutique style vibe with lots of little extras including a great restaurant. Prices start from SGD 80.

High End

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is a super stylish hotel with outstanding amenities. It’s an award-winning French colonial-style hotel and is located near the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House. Prices here start from SGD 300.

Where to stay in Sapa

We recommend booking hotels in Sapa so you can leave your luggage while trekking and can take a shower before heading back to Hanoi on day 3.

Affordable

Sapa Centre Hotel

Sapa Centre Hotel

Sapa Centre Hotel offers spacious and bright rooms. Wifi & breakfast included for SGD 30 per night.

Mid-Range

Sapa Dragon Hotel

Sapa Dragon Hotel

Sapa Dragon Hotel is located in the heart of Sapa with wonderful views of surrounding valleys.  Cozy rooms with balcony are available. Prices start from SGD 60.

High End

Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

Victoria Resort Sapa is the best hotel in town. Spa, fitness center and indoor heated pool are some of the facilities available. Rooms are decorated with local handicrafts and prices here start from SGD 200.

Getting around Sapa

Most of your time on this tour will be spent walking and trekking rugged terrain so you really don’t have to worry about how you will get around. The tour operator will organize all your transport in the form of transfers. The rest will be on foot. Getting to Sapa from Hanoi will also be organised by the company.

Other things to know about Sapa

Visiting the hill tribe communities in Sapa can be a bit of a hassle as they try to sell you their handmade crafts and souvenirs. Remember that you are not obliged to buy a gift at each village. Just purchase things you really do want and feel free to give a small donation to the communities where you didn’t do any shopping.

Most of the villages require foreigners to have a permit to enter but you will not need to worry about this as you’ll be visiting with a tour operator and they’ll have it sorted for you.

Even though Vietnam is known for its hot and sticky climate, the weather in Sapa Vietnam is cooler so bring heavier clothing with you for this trip. Light rain is a possibility, especially around November to February, so pack a poncho or light raincoat.

If you don’t happen to own suitable trekking clothing or boots, don’t worry. You can purchase all the gear you need in Sapa. They won’t have the branded type but they will be a fraction of the price and will certainly get you through the few days.

Remember the last thing you want when trekking anywhere in the world is carrying anything remotely heavy on your back. Pack light and only bring the necessities. Bring a change of clothes, water and your camera.

The  best time to travel to Sapa Mountains: If you want to see the terraces full of water and people working on them, plan your trip between April and May. September is the tourist favorite time to visit Sapa as the fields will be changing colours and you can spot shades of green, yellow and golden.

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Image Credits:

All images by Love & Road unless otherwise stated.

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