So you’re looking for the best Sapa trekking experience? Well you’ve come to the right place!
It can be quite a daunting challenge when planning a Sapa trekking tour, given the huge amount of information and advice online! In this guide, we’ve simplified the planning process, making it as easy as possible for you to book the best Sapa trekking tour for you!
So whether you need information on how to get from Hanoi to Sapa, how long to go to Sapa for or what type of trek to choose, we’ve got you covered. In this guide to trekking in Sapa, you’ll find:
You can also click on any of those headlines to take you directly to that section in the guide.
1. How to get from Hanoi to Sapa
There are two options for you: take the train or go by car/bus. And you can book these independently or book them as part of a tour.
The train to Sapa. Taking the train is the romantic option, slowly trundling your way to Lao Cai from Sapa overnight as you sleep. We chose this option and loved it, and the great thing is you can travel in first class for a very reasonable price! The other major bonus is there is an overnight service in both directions, which means:
Taking the overnight train saves you two nights accommodation!
The other major bonus is you can book your train online, and more importantly, in advance instead of waiting until you get there. This saves you having to go to the station booking office and trying to book something last minute there! To book your train online, the best website by far is 12go.asia. There you can book your Sapa train, as well as any other journeys you may have in Vietnam, and the rest of South East Asia!
Remember, the train will only get you as far as Lao Cai, from there you’ll then need to get a bus/minivan/taxi to Sapa. There will be plenty of minivans leaving the station that you can jump into for a small fee, but if you prefer to book it in advance, choose the ticket option on 12go.asia where you have the taxi transfer included as well. You can check the exact times for your dates here:
You can also take a bus direct to Sapa from Hanoi, with a number of operators. This takes around 6 hours, with most services departing early in the morning. Again you can book these advance through 12go.asia.
The other option available to you is to book a tour that includes the train/bus option, but each tour provider will provide different options for this service and you’ll need to check with each of these operators separately.
2. Our Sapa trekking experience
In this section we’ll give you some advice on how to pick the best Sapa trekking for you, including how many nights to go for (and why), a detailed breakdown of each of our days trekking, and how to pick the right tour company for you. If you just want to skip ahead and review the best Sapa trekking companies for you, then click here to book your Sapa trek!
If you want more details, including our top tips, read on!
There are a wealth of Sapa trekking tour options available to you, from short one day treks to multi-day treks and homestays. Our advice is to take at least a 2 night trek, for one very important reason…
Sapa is a small town, nestled deep within the rolling green highlands of Vietnam, and as such offers some incredible scenery. However, Sapa is a very popular destination for travellers, with many only coming for a one day trek before returning to Hanoi. This means there are many groups leaving at the same time as you from Sapa, so the longer the trek you take, the further you’ll go from Sapa, the quieter it’ll be and the more impressive the scenery will become!
So don’t scrimp on this, if you’re coming all the way to Sapa, spend at least 2 nights on the trek at the very minimum! You’ll thank us later.
The first 2 hours of our trek involved mainly a steep descent through muddy hills which curved and cut through many farm houses, rice paddies and villages. We welcomed our stops along the way to take in the stunning scenery of the many mountains, valleys and local villages. At our first village we observed a local woman dying clothes for local families. Having never witnessed clothes being dyed using natural flowers and techniques before, it was fascinating to learn the process they use and watch the weaving process using this old device. Despite being humble and shy about her skills, she was keen to highlight their local traditions.
We encountered numerous obstacles on our trek: boulders, fallen trees, muddy ditches, and quite a few (very large) water buffalo! You can imagine who had right of way…
In the afternoon, we passed through more villages and met many local people chopping bamboo to build homes and market stalls, making handicrafts such as incense sticks and sometimes negotiating the sale of a water buffalo to another village family. Water buffalo are very expensive animals due to the many roles they adopt on the farm including towing the rice plough, carrying supplies from one village to another, guarding the other farm yard animals and of course providing high protein meat to sell to markets.
After around 6 hours of trekking, the last hour was really tough (as it always seems to be!). With tired legs and steep terrain, we felt the intense heat of the sun beating down on us and struggled to avoid losing our footing and landing in many deep muddy ditches!
We later found out that many local people have to trek this tough terrain on a daily basis to make their way home from work or school, as there aren’t many paths or direct roads. As many can’t afford a car or motorbike, trekking by foot is the only option. With typically a 2 hour trek to most schools in the area, it’s no wonder that many children don’t go at all and would rather spend the day helping their family on the farm or selling handicrafts to passing tourists. After realising this, I decided not to complain about my tired legs and mud covered trainers! I’m not sure I could make this long journey on a daily basis, but this was normality for the strong and resilient village people we met.
After a long day we were relieved to arrive at our final destination. Our home for the night was set deep in a lush green valley next to a large gushing waterfall. After a warm welcome from our lovely host family and a much needed cup of herbal tea, we helped prepare our feast for dinner (well I rolled some spring rolls!) and relaxed our tired limbs with the help of the favourite local drink of choice – homemade rice wine! Some other friendly locals joined us and delighted in leading the consumption of shot after shot, getting progressively more merry. Thankfully for us though, there were no sore heads the next day due to the purity of the homemade liquor process – ideal for our new farmer friends too with a 4am start!
The next morning we woke to heavy rain and flooding in the valley. On came the waterproofs and we set off on another day of trekking. The heavy rain was incessant throughout the morning, and got progressively worse by the afternoon. It didn’t dampen our spirits, as we really enjoyed the coolness of the rain compared to the intense sun we’d experienced the previous day. After a couple of hours we were soaked through to our skin, and decided to embrace the mud! After trying to avoid every mud ditch the previous day, we found ourselves just getting stuck in and got as muddy as we liked as we knew the rain would wash it quickly away! Keen to get to our final destination towards the end of the day, we decided to take as many short cuts as possible and no longer cared about following paths or roads, sometimes finding ourselves almost knee deep in mud sliding down the side of hills and celebrating when we managed to avoid falling down head first! Our second homestay was even nicer than our first and thankfully had the luxury of a much needed hot shower – result! So after a long soak to heat us up, we were treated to the best tasting hot garlic chips and homemade prawn crackers, followed by a beautiful meal of chicken and pork stir fry with rice and an ice cold Tiger beer – heaven.
The following morning, after another night of solid rain, almost every item of clothing we had with us was damp – yuk! We just couldn’t face putting on damp clothes again so decided on the only rational course of action left to us, to put on our only dry clothes left. Sadly for us, the only dry clothes we had left were our pyjamas! Imagine the sight, each of us walking with backpacks on through the mud to our mini van for a ride we’ll never forget. The heavy rain of the previous 36 hours caused flash floods from the top of the mountains, crashing across many of the roads we needed to use to get back to Sapa. Our driver had to navigate us along roads that had become rivers, one of which was running so fast we had to drive as close to the cliff edge as possible to avoid the torrent. It was at this moment I closed my eyes and held my breath, too scared to look at Barry! Relieved to be safely back in the town of Sapa, we wandered around for an hour or so (still in our pyjamas) before the rain returned and we sought refuge in a coffee shop to dry off, relax and reflect upon our amazing adventure of the last three days, an experience we’ll never forget.
3. How to pick the right Sapa trekking tour for you
As we said at the beginning of this guide, some of our best experiences occurred as we travelled further into the region, away from the hustle and bustle of Sapa, and we absolutely recommend you set aside at 3 – 4 days for this experience!
For anyone thinking of visiting Vietnam, we’d highly recommend a trip to Sapa if you’d like to experience rural life, awesome landscapes and savour a taste of the true culture and traditions of the Vietnamese countryside and its amazing people. To research your tour company options and book in advance, we recommend you use the TripAdvisor tour booking page, where there are 20+ tour companies on there, each with different packages and tours available. So click on this link to be taken directly to the top 10 tour companies list and get your adventure booked!
For those wishing to travel to Sapa independently, you can book your train/bus/taxi tickets online in advance using the search form below!