A Beginner’s Guide to Trekking in Sapa

The minute I heard about trekking in Sapa I couldn’t wait to go. Sapa is a small town that’s located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi. Sapa is surrounded by rice paddies, forest, and mountains. It’s home to quite a few ethnic groups and the main ones are the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. Hiking up Fan Si Pan mountain (Vietnam’s highest peak) and trekking in Sapa are extremely popular among tourists.

trekking in sapa

On the “Off the Beaten Track” tour with Sapa O’ Chau

Responsible tourism

After hours of research, I came to the conclusion that it’s probably best to book a tour. I am usually not one to book tours and this was going to be my first ever tour as an adult. Friends of mine booked with Sapa O’ Chau and that’s the company that I ended up going with. What they are doing is truly inspiring!

trekking in sapa

Our guide pointing to where we were headed

What’s particularly unique about Sapa O’ Chau is the fact that they are the only not-for-profit tour operator in Sapa. I booked their “Off The Beaten Track” tour and joined a small group of 5. I booked it at their office in Hanoi and ended up paying $55 (1,237,000 VND) for two days of trekking in Sapa.

Getting to Sapa

Although Sapa O’ Chau can help you with booking bus or train tickets I decided to arrange my own transportation. I wanted full flexibility when it came to booking my transport and only needed Sapa O’ Chau to take care of the trekking in Sapa. I ended up taking the bus from Hanoi and booked my ticket in person with Sapa Express. The bus departed at 7 AM and I got to Sapa at around 12:30 PM. To my surprise, it ended up being a sleeper bus (with reclining seats).

trekking in sapa

Sleeper bus from Hanoi to Sapa

The great thing about Sapa Express is that their buses take you straight to the city center. Other bus companies will drop you off just outside of Sapa, in Lao Cai. Most buses take around 5-6 hours whereas trains usually take around 8 hours. I ended up paying $28 (630,000 VND) for my return tickets.

Bus vs. train

Bus

  • Round trip tickets are between $20 and $30
  • The journey from Hanoi to Sapa takes only 5-6 hours
  • Sleeper buses usually come with toilets
  • Drops you off in the center of Sapa town
  • Night buses and day buses
  • Beautiful views if you take it during the day

Train

  • Round trip tickets in a sleeper Sleeper 4-Berth from $40
  • The journey from Hanoi to Sapa takes around 8 hours
  • Trains always come with toilets
  • Drops you off in Lao Cai, not in Sapa town
  • The trains depart only in the evening
  • You won’t enjoy much of a view

I looked into both the trains and the buses and for me taking a bus from Hanoi to Sapa was the obvious choice. It’s a lot cheaper, faster, you’ll enjoy beautiful views and it’s probably just as comfortable.

Where I stayed

After hours of research, I ended up booking a “capsule” at the Sapa Capsule Hotel. It has amazing reviews and is in a great location. For a night at the Sapa Capsule Hotel, I paid $6.50 and I booked it a couple of days prior to my arrival on Booking.com.

sapa capsule hotel

My capsule

Sapa town

I arrived in Sapa at around 12:30 PM and was going to start my trek the next day. I spent the day wandering around Sapa town and had a delicious lunch at Nha Hang Chay. Unfortunately, the town itself is very touristy and if you truly want to experience this place and everything it has to offer then I highly recommend booking a tour. Trust me, that’s solid advice right there and it’s coming from someone who’s never even been on a tour as an adult!

trekking in sapa

View of Sapa town from Sapa Capsule Hotel

Off the Beaten track

The next morning I had breakfast at Nha Hang Chay and went straight to the local Sapa O’ Chau office. When I got there I got asked to wait and to my surprise, got a refund of $5. At the time of booking I joined a group of 5 and because an additional person joined the price of the tour dropped to $50. The more people join (the maximum is 6 people), the cheaper the tour. The price included our guide, van transport, village entrance fees, permit fees, homestay and meals (1 breakfast, 2 lunches, 1 dinner).

Day 1

At around 9:45 AM our tour guide greeted us and we got on a bus that would take as deeper into the valleys. We started trekking after a 30 minutes ride and the scenery was breathtaking. We trekked for several hours, had lunch at a local’s house and continued trekking.

trekking in sapa

What a view!

When I booked my tour with Sapa O’ Chau they asked me to write down any dietary restrictions. I wrote down that I was vegan and don’t consume any animal products. The booking agent assured me that I’d be able to eat heaps of food and I just kept my fingers crossed. To my surprise, Su, our guide, was incredibly attentive and made sure that I always had vegan food.

trekking in sapa

Lunch at a local’s home in Phin Ho village

At around 4 PM we reached our homestay in Suoi Thau village and were warmly greeted by our host. An hour after our arrival the second group of trekkers reached the homestay. We enjoyed a fun evening full of stories and heaps of delicious food. The ower of the homestay was incredibly lovely and so was her daughter, Vi. The homestay had four private rooms with double beds and a bigger room with more beds in a shared space. We were the first group to arrive and occupied the private rooms.

trekking in sapa

Private room at the homestay in Suoi Thau village

Day 2

I woke up at around 6 AM and slept surprisingly well. Our host made pancakes for everyone and because she didn’t know how to make them vegan, I got to join the locals. I ate rice and vegetables with our tour guide, our host, and her family.

trekking in sapa

The view from our homestay

After our breakfast, we were asked to pay for any bottled water or beer we consumed. Water was 10,000 VND for a small bottle and 20,000 VND for a big bottle. This is the most I’ve ever paid for water in Vietnam. Tea, coffee and a welcome drink were free of charge. At around 9:30 AM we started our trek again and walked through valleys and small villages. We walked uphill and downhill and reached our final destination four hours later.

trekking in sapa

This water buffalo was so adorable!

We had lunch at a local restaurant in one of the villages. After our lunch, a small van picked us up and drove us back to Sapa town.

trekking in sapa

Isn’t it beautiful?!

Trekking in Sapa

I am so glad that I ended up going to Sapa. It was definitely the highlight of my trip to Vietnam. If you are thinking of going, do not hesitate, it’s a truly beautiful place. I was thinking it may be overrun with tourists and couldn’t have been more wrong. Aside from the second tour group I didn’t see a single tourist during my 2-day trek.

trekking in sapa

The views were so beautiful

Cost of trekking in Sapa

Total cost: $84.50

trekking in sapa

If this doesn’t make you want to go I don’t know what will

What to bring

  • Rainjacket: The weather is unpredictable and this is a must.
  • Waterproof hiking boots: I ended up hiking with sandals because I didn’t have hiking boots and it was alright. If you have some, do bring them.
  • Sunscreen: Make sure to bring heaps of it and don’t forget a single spot!
  • Small daypack: You’ll be trekking all day. Make sure the backpack you are bringing is small.
  • Water: Prior to starting the trek you’ll be given a big 1.5-liter bottle. Make sure to bring even more than that, you’ll need it on the trek.
  • A hat: It’s great for extra sun protection.

If you are thinking of going to Sapa, do not hesitate. I am really impressed with Sapa O’ Chau and highly recommend their tours if you are thinking of going. I always aim to support companies that are doing good and Sapa O’ Chau is doing just that. Sapa is a truly magical place. The people I met were incredibly lovely, the views were breathtaking and I’ll forever remember it all.

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