Many organized tours through Vietnam take Hanoi as their most northern point of visit. However, the highlight of our three weeks backpacking this beautiful country was definitely our two day stop in Sapa.
Sapa is the main departure point for hikes through the rice terrace fields for which the area is known. Since we wanted to experience the area to the fullest in the little time we had, we decided to book a two day private guide through Sapa Sisters. And that was the best decision we could have made for this trip.
The connection Hanoi – Sa Pa is most easily done by night train. This train leaves in Hanoi around 10pm and arrives in Lao Cai early in the morning. Many taxi drivers are then waiting at the train station in Lao Cai to drive to the city of Sapa, which is about an hour away. Through Sapa Sisters we had arranged a pick-up at the station of Lao Cai. The last thing you want to be dealing with after a night on a train and an early wake-up call is trying to avoid a taxi scam. Taxi drivers there do know that everyone wants to make it to Sapa, so they often charge way to much for the drive.
Sapa Sisters is an organisation of young women from Mung Hoa Valley who specialise in guiding people through the mountains and trails around Sapa. Each of these women grew up in the area so they know all the best and most beautiful spots. This organisation also ensures that all guides get a fair salary and all opportunities available to grow. When I read about it, I was immediately sold on discovering the area with one of these women.
Sapa Sisters has their office in the Graceful hotel in the center of the city. Because we had booked our trip in advance, we were allowed to shower and change clothes in that hotel. After a night on a train, that was not much of a luxury. We were also allowed to leave our big backpacks in their storage room so we could pack a smaller backpack for the two day trek. Included in the transfer from the train station to Sapa was also a lovely breakfast.
A bit before 9am, the women of Sapa Sisters arrived at the hotel, all dressed in the local clothes of the different tribes that live in the area of Sapa. Each group of people got their own guide (we had already gotten an email with the name of our guide a few days before departure) and after getting to know our guide Lan a bit, she told us a bit about the region we were going to visit.
If you book a trek with Sapa Sisters, you can make it your own. You can ask them for a certain difficulty and length of the trip. All we cared about is seeing as many rice terrace fields as possible and if possible we wanted to hike off the tourist path and on the rice fields itself. Lan assured us all was possible and contructed our two-day itinirary just the way we wanted it. We would walk downhill from Sapa to our homestay for the night and then the next day we’d walk more through the valley and then go all the way up again by bus. Perfect. And then, off we went!
Only after a few minutes, we were already surrounded by the most stunning views of the valley. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. It was just so absolutely beautiful. Almost immediately Lan took us from the main tourist path and into the fields, through little patches of forrest and small creeks. It was just us three and our guide surrounded by nature. Bliss.
After hours – which actually only felt like minutes – of hiking we arrived at our homestay for the night. We had basic accomodation which included quite a hard matress on the ground but with running water and a shower. But all of those things didn’t matter to me. I immediately fell in love with the view that I got from our homestay. I would have gladly spent the rest of my life sitting in that little plastic chair.
A few other people joined us at the same homestay for the night and with them we enjoyed a homecooked typical Vietnamese meal. The atmosphere was just amazing.
The next morning, we had another two hours of hiking ahead of us. I kind of wish it was more as I was eager to explore more of this region. It really had left me speechless. And even on the second day, I was still full of wonder. Deeper in the valley we discovered more color in the rice terraces which made the views quite different from the ones we had seen the day before.
Our main goal for the day was to reach Lan’s parent’s home where we would enjoy a homecooked meal with her family. For this we paid a bit extra as we really wanted to experience this. And it was the best decision ever. I don’t think I ever had such a good meal in my life. It was simple yet so good and with so much flavor We fought for the last bits. If you don’t include this in your trek, you don’t know what you’re missing.
And then it was time for the little van to take us back to Sapa city center. We said goodbye to Lan and the Sapa Sisters way too soon. I really wish we could have stayed longer and went further into the valley and through the rice terraces. But no matter what, those two days had been absolutely wonderful. The highlight of our trip through Vietnam. So thank you to Sapa Sisters and especially our guide Lan. You were wonderful!
For a two-day trek for the three of us we paid 255 dollars. This included transfer from Lao Cai to Sapa, one night at a homestay, two breakfasts, two lunches and dinner the first evening. And of course the lovely company of a local guide. It might be pricey, but it’s worth it. And it’s also nice to know that your money will end up in good hands. I can only recommend this organisation!