Trekking in Sapa: Things you need to know

Trekking in Sapa

Sapa, a misty town in Lao Cai province, is one of Vietnam’s most astonishing destinations. Resting at the foothills of the country’s highest mountain, the town overlooks a vast green valley covered in terraced fields. Hiking and trekking are popular activities and the landscape is surrounded by a network of trails. A highlight of any Sapa tour is encountering local residents in nearby villages who are very friendly and sociable.

When should you go on a Sapa Trek?

While there are pros and cons to traveling in each season, the ideal weather for trekking is spring and autumn. Summer should be avoided as trails become muddy and unsafe.

  • Spring – March to May are idyllic months for trekking in Sapa. The weather is warm and dry, wildflowers — including orchids — are blooming beautifully, and farmers are plowing the terraces.
  • Summer – June to August is not the best time to go trekking in Sapa, unless you are a true adventurer or ready to prepare for anything! Although the landscape is lush and green, the weather is hot with high humidity  ­and trails are slippery.
  • Autumn – September and October is the best time for Sapa Trekking Tours. The weather is dry and cool, the charming terraced fields are turning golden and farmers are starting to harvest early.
  • Winter – November till February next year is winter time in Sapa. In spite of the cold weather, this might be a good time to visit with fewer tourists coming here.  The overnight temperatures can drop below 0 degrees and there can be frost and snow. The landscape of this time, with mist, obscured the view and covered entire villages.

How long should you spend in Sapa?

Sapa town in Lao Cai province is nestled on hills and terraced fields.
Sapa town in Lao Cai province is nestled on hills and terraced fields.

As we can see, there is quite a bit of activity in Sapa even if you only have one day. Walk through the rice terraces, admire the local houses, and walk around a nearby village like Cat Cat. It is also possible to complete the journey up Mount Fansipan in a day (and take the cable car down) if you are an experienced trekker.

However, we recommend that you should spend 2 or 3 days on a trek in Sapa. In 2 days, you can explore the further villages such as Ta Van and Ban Ho. Overnight at a homestay and get to know a local family. You can also climb Mount Fansipan at an easier speed and stay overnight at one of the rest stops on the mountain.

With three days or more, you can completely avoid the touristic trails, visit remote villages like Nha Khoang and Ta Giang Phinh and stay with the locals along the way.

Moving from Hanoi to Sapa

While you can always hire a car and a driver to take you to Sapa if you can afford it, the most common way to reach the town is by train and by bus.

  • Train: Trains, including Victoria Express, Sapaly Express, and King Express leave Hanoi every weekday evening, arriving in Lao Cai early the next morning. Tickets cost from 27 USD to 145 USD one way.
  • Sleep bus: A popular alternative to trains is a sleeping bus, with reclining seats. Several different bus companies operate between Hanoi and Sapa. Fares can be as low as 12 USD one way. Departure time: 22:00.
  • Day Bus: Traveling to Sapa by day bus is the best means of transport nowaday. The estimated total trip time is 5 hours with a distance of 345km for Business Class Limousine Bus or Flatbed Bus. The fare is reasonable with a cost of 12-15 USD, only half that of going by train. Departure time: 07:00 or 07:30 am.

The highlight of a Sapa Trekking trip

The highlight of a Sapa Trekking trip
The highlight of a Sapa Trekking trip

Meet the local peoples: An important reason for trekking in Sapa is to discover the villages hidden in the hills and valleys surrounding the town. These isolated villages, some of which have traditional stilt houses, are inhabited by communities of different ethnic groups, including the Black H’mong, Red Dao, and Tay, who create vibrant woven and embroidered clothing.

Climbing to Mount Fansipan: Many tourists in Sapa set themselves the challenge of conquering Mount Fansipan – the highest mountain in Vietnam at an altitude of 3143 meters. After climbing through the jungle, you will be able to see the panoramic view of Hoang Lien Son mountain range.

Visit the waterfall: Go through one of Sapa’s beautiful waterfalls and admire the waterfalls nestled among the mountains. Love Fall (Thac Tinh yeu) is located just 14km from the town, Silver Fall (Thac Bac) on the slopes of San Sai Ho and Tien Sa Waterfall in Cat Cat are among the popular places to visit. 

Visit a local market: Another highlight of a trip to Sapa is visiting an ethnic market. The locals, dressed in bright traditional clothes, sell everything from pears and plums to bath herbs and even live buffalo. You can find affordable brocade skirts and bags, silver jewelry, and cotton and hemp clothing to take back to your home country.

Learn to cook local cuisine: Many homestays, hotels and restaurants in and around Sapa have cooking classes where you can learn about the cuisine of local peoples and how to make your own special food. Often these classes will include a fun trip to the local market to buy groceries. 

Learn about local handicrafts: Some villages allow tourists to watch locals at work creating beautiful textiles.

Things you need to know

Planning is essential if you want a smooth Trekking trip in Sapa. Therefore, it is recommended that you read our top tips.

  • Bring suitable outfits: The weather in the mountains of Sapa can change at any time, sudden downpours are very common. Many trips will depart even when it rains, so it’s a good idea to pack waterproof jackets and hiking shoes with good grip. If traveling in winter, bring warm coats.
  • Hire a tour guide: Any trekking trip to Sapa should be accompanied a guide who knows the local topography and language. Hiking without a guide is not recommended, especially on difficult routes like Mount Fansipan. If you book in advance, you will have a guide, but if not, you can also find them in town.
  • Locals will try to sell you their handicrafts: Locals may try to sell you souvenirs during your travels. Be polite and firm if you don’t want to buy anything. Locals may also expect a dollar or more each time you take their photo.
  • Bring some cash: Most tourist attractions like ethnic villages and waterfalls will charge entrance fees, so it’s best to bring a small amount of cash, unless you’re sure that the entrance fees are included in the price of your trip.

Trekking in Sapa is a highlight of any trip to Vietnam. This exotic destination is increasingly known to many tourists, so go now – before the rest of the world finds out.