Trekking in Sapa seems to be gaining popularity in South East Asia, if not, already popular! I did my hike 4 years ago and to date, it still remains as one of my best trekking experiences in Asia.
What to see at Sapa?
First thing that comes to your mind when it comes to Sapa would be rice terraces. Sapa is a small yet incredibly picturesque mountainous town that lies in the Lao Cai Province. It is located about 350km northwest of Hanoi, and accessible from Hanoi via an overnight train. It is also home to many hill tribes that makes the place more culturally rich!
Side trip to Mt Fansipan
Sapa is also close to Mt Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. There’s currently an option to take the cable car from Sapa to the top of Mt Fansipan. I did not try this when I was there, so hopefully you can fulfill my wish to do it for me.
It takes about 10 minutes by car to get from Sapa to the Fansipan Cable Car Station. The distance between the two stations is less than two kilometres. The cable car journey to the peak is also at an amazing 15 to 20 minutes instead of the 3-day climbing from before. Opened since February 2016, Fansipan cable car was also awarded the Longest non-stop three-rope cable car in the world by Guinness World Records, so all the more you should go!
Best time to visit Sapa
This is a place that experiences the four seasons and the best time to enjoy trekking in Sapa would be:
- March to May – A period of good sun and fresh air, and the least foggiest period
- Late September to early December (after autumn) – Best view of the rice terraces. Weather is also cool and dry, with a stable temperature.
I would not recommend other times because of the wet season. It makes the whole experience wet, gloomy, and foggy. The weather changes so frequently too that visitors to Sapa in summer can experience all four seasons in one day. It will be cool like spring and autumn in the morning till early afternoon. In the mid-afternoon, it is hot and humid like summer. By the time the sun sets, it gets so cold like winter that you would need a jacket.
My 3D2N Trek in Sapa
I arrived in Lao Cai at 6am on my first day. We then took a 30 minutes ride in to Sapa via a mini van. It was a crazy bumpy ride that would be deemed as painful if you have motion sickness. So do prepare some ginger pills beforehand to help you with that!
Upon arrival at Sapa Sisters headquarters, we checked in and settled our tired selves down. The receptionist then introduced us to our guide who will be bringing us through the 3D2N journey.
Our guide’s name is Mai, and she’s from the H’mong minority tribal group. At an age of 18, she was already fully independent. She earned a living for herself and was living independently by her own in rented room near town. We even had the chance to visit her little apartment at the end of our trek and have a little tour of the neighbourhood she’s living in. I must say I’m really impressed with that strong soul she has!
So Sapa Sisters also provided us breakfast at their cafeteria and the option to have a hot warm shower before we embarked on our trek. All these couldn’t have been provided at a better timing after that long night on the train and the bumpy journey to get there, it was just comforting.
Not long after, we packed our belongings into a smaller backpack to bring only what we would require for the 3D2N trekking in Sapa. Then off we went! The weather is really erratic because of how high up the mountains we were, it was actually drizzling when we started.
First Day of the Trek
The first day of the trek lasted from 8.30am to around 4.30pm. We started from the town of Sapa to other small towns around the mountainous terrain. Our trek went through low bushes and trees, from proper tracks to off the beaten tracks. We would be hiking on a proper track in one instant, and the next second Mai would take a sharp turn and into the bushes we go. It was really fun because we didn’t know what to expect at every part of the track.
The views of the iconic rice fields came somewhere in the middle of the day. It was never-ending. We walked on through rice fields and also saw them from afar during our entire journey.
We had lunch in the mid-point of our hike, where we got to eat fresh Vietnamese rice probably harvested off those rice fields surrounding us. Their rice was so fragrant and fresh that I had a bigger portion than my usual. Meals had a home-cooked vibe to it and I definitely loved that. There were around three side dishes each time, with eggs, stir-fried vegetables and chicken. It was a really healthy meal that gave us the energy to complete the hike for the rest of the day.
Our last stop was to do some Batik Painting at one of the little villages. We created our own Batik from the guidance of one of the H’mong ladies and there were only us two in the batik shop then! It felt really cosy and I liked that. It was a good chance to rest our tired legs after the whole day of tracking.
After we were done with our Batik painting, we rinsed it and left it there to dry before it can be brought home. So we continued on our hike and got to our first homestay for the night at Mai’s uncle’s place! They made our stay so comfortable that I felt so at home and rested so well in preparation for our second day of trekking.
Second Day of the Trek
We woke up to air that was so fresh it would be such a waste if I did not take in a few more gulps of air. Mai’s uncle prepared Vietnamese drip coffee for us, and even banana pancakes for breakfast. I’m not a coffee drinker but I had to have this just because I was in Vietnam. You know you have to try what they are known for in their own country right!
Once we filled up our tummies, we packed up our bags and bid goodbye to our wonderful host before starting our 8 hours hike for the day. Today’s route brought us through more small towns and rice terraces. View was amazing as expected, only that we had to deal with that bit of ache in our bodies from the hike the day before.
Last Day of the Trek
On the last day of the trek, we had some time in the morning before our ride back to town. Mai brought us to a waterfall where we had a little dip of our legs and soothed the aches we had accumulated over the trekking.
It was such a serene place to be at, with some locals playing around in the water and another traveller couple having a swim nearby. Otherwise, we all had a little corner for ourselves to enjoy and soak in the cool and relaxing atmosphere. And that marked a great ending to our 3D2N trekking in Sapa.
How to prepare for trekking in Sapa?
All in all, trekking in Sapa is not a difficult trek so you would not need a superb level of fitness to complete it. Instead, I think all you would need is a determined mind to complete it and some basic hiking equipment. You’d also need to have some tolerance for dirt and insects since it’s a place close to nature.
Recommended Packing List:
- Bag with good back support – This will be what you’ll use to store 3D2N worth of necessities in, and a house you’ll carry along throughout the trek. I’m sure you want it to be comfortable! I didn’t own one then and so had to make do with a normal backpack and sling my sleeping bag around my shoulders.
- A sleeping bag – To keep you warm in the chilly night and also hygiene purposes. It’s useful on the overnight train as well as working as an additional blanket if necessary.
- A windproof and waterproof jacket – To keep you warm, best if it’s lightweight so you can just tie that around your waist or stuff into your bag when the weather gets warm
- Water – They do sell bottled water along the way in the little towns you will walk past, so you don’t have to carry three days’ worth of water on Day 1.
- Clothes – At least a set of clothes to change into and another set to sleep in. Recommended to have long pants on so you can protect yourself from mosquitoes
- Hiking shoes – Having some high-cut hiking shoes would be ideal considering how I had to step into deep mud at certain parts of the track. Again, I didn’t own a pair then and wore my usual running shoes. So definitely recommended to bring a pair if you have.
- Wet wipes & Hand Sanitisers – Especially useful before meals, on the overnight train or when you just want to freshen up during the hike.