The Ultimate Guide to Sapa, Vietnam

Originally Published on Aqua & Ink by Katrina Luder

Psssst. Let me tell you a secret. Well, it’s not really a secret… enough people know about it, but many don’t make the effort to visit the secret someone once made the effort to share with them.

So I’ll pass the message on and you better take my advice.

Sapa in Northern Vietnam is an unmissable destination on your SE Asia travels. If you want rich culture, stunning scenery and unbelievable home-cooked food, Sapa should be at the top of your bucket list.

Where is Sapa?
Sapa is a five-hour bus journey/motorbike ride north of Hanoi. If you’re traveling north to south, I’d suggest going from Hanoi to Sapa to Hanoi (even if you do feel like you’re going back on yourself)! Sapa is a town that is pretty damn close to the Chinese/Vietnamese border, and is nestled away high in the mountains.

What Can I Do Here?
A lot of people come here to stay with the local village tribes, trek the stunning scenery or hike the famous Mount Fansipan! But Sapa is also great for food, massages, local markets and mountain-view luxury hotels!

How Do I Trek With a Family in Sapa?
I’m pretty sure you can book tours that will allow you to trek the beautiful countryside of northern Vietnam, but excuse me for saying this… I find it a little disingenuous. Far more thrilling is pulling up into Sapa on your tourist bus, having very little idea of what you’ll do or who you’ll meet and being greeted by one of the lovely tribe women ready to take you on an adventure. Yes, they charge you to stay in their home, but we provide them with an income they couldn’t have dreamed of before we started exploring their landscape.

How Much Does it Cost?
I chose to trek for three full days and wanted to be hosted in their home for the two nights. This cost me just £11 a night! Absolute peanuts! I had three delicious home-cooked meals each night, entertainment, bongs, rice wine and trekking included in that price!

Although, while of course you can barter the price offered, please try not to rip them off as this is their only source of income and they work so very hard.

Chi and Si
I was greeted by the amazing Chi and Si (and baby Mi) and we started the 10-km trek to their home. We went down the luscious green countryside, hopped over streams of water and made sure we didn’t step in “buffalo chocolate.” All the while, we only had our day packs on our backs as Chi ensured all of our big backpacks were sent to Chi’s, ready for our arrival by motorbike! This was such a huge weight off our shoulders (ba-dum-cha) and really helped us to fully enjoy and endure the trek!

We enjoyed a Vietnamese spread of chicken, stir fried greens, tofu, rice, egg and even pancakes! All of the food was either grown in their backyard or traded with the other locals in their village. They barely ever use money in between the community as what one person lacks, another person could provide!

You really are stripped back to basics. There was a fire in the middle of the hut to keep warm and cook everything on! There was a very small amount of electricity, which could be used for a couple of hours in the evening and was hooked up to a light. There was no toilet or even ground drop for us to use, so we were completely forced back into nature. We slept on bamboo and were provided with warm blankets and pillows. Whilst my back was in pieces and I missed having a toilet (let alone toilet roll), you truly learn to appreciate the basics in life… and it makes you very grateful for what you do have!

The children were so happy and smiley—no iPad’s or iPhones to distract them. Instead, they rode the buffalo in the garden, played with the new puppies or chased the chickens… and they had oodles of fun!

Can I Do it Alone?
I believe Sapa is super safe and heard many stories of people trekking alone with their tribe family and having no problems at all; had I not have met people in Hanoi, I absolutely would have done it alone! But because I met a group of people in Hanoi who wanted the same kind of adventure, I was with four other people and believe our group of five made it even more fun!

Local Villages
We asked to visit a local school as we all wanted to meet more beautiful, sweet, local children and have a sing and dance with them. We got up in class and caused a bit of a riot, to be honest! The locals are all absolutely amazing; the kids all want to high-five you and get involved. They make for a truly magical trip.

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