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Sapa trekking tips

12 Tips To Help Prepare For Your Trekking Adventure in Sapa

by Family Globetrotters

How To Make The Most Of Your Northern Vietnam Hike Through The Rolling Rice Terraces Of Sapa With Our Sapa Trekking Tips.

Sapa is a frontier township and capital of Sapa District in Lào Cai Province in north-west Vietnam. Its entry point Lào Cai is on the border of China and is easily accessible. Sapa is home to many minority groups including the Hmong, Dao, Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tay. On this trekking adventure, we travelled with 2 other families of which the youngest child was 5 years old and the oldest was 10 years old. We trekked for 2 days to scenic outlooks, cascading waterfalls, plunging valleys and through the famous rice terraces. For us, it was a journey worth taking but it wasn’t easy albeit being prepared. It’s all about managing your expectations and ensuring you’re well equipped. Here are our top Sapa trekking tips:

#01 – BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO TREK IN SAPA

The best time of the year to visit Sapa is essentially Spring or Autumn. The weather is the most stable from March to May with relatively clear skies giving way to sunny days and cool nights. September and October is the most scenic time to trek as its harvesting season and the rice terraces are at its most lush.

If you prefer the warmer weather, you can head to Sapa in the summer months. It is however nowhere near to being as hot as its Southern counterparts with an average temperature of 20-25 degrees during the day. But with the warmth comes the rain and the typhoons. Many treks do get cancelled as its simply not safe to traverse the muddy slopes.

We were there in January, their winter. Although it was their dry season, we were categorically congratulated on getting an unusually sunny and warm day. Day 2 and 3 rained continuously for 24 hours and it did not let up the entire time. I would hate to see the rainy season! It got relatively cold and we were greeted by the thick mist encasing the mountain peaks in the mornings and evenings. The day after we left Sapa, it snowed for the first time in 3 years.

Sapa trekking tips

Despite it Being The Dry Season, it Rained, Rained and Rained!

#02 – WHAT TO EXPECT OF SAPA TOWN

Prior to arriving in Sapa, I had read ample articles and reviews warning me to reign in my expectation of finding a charming and quaint town. I must admit I am so glad I did my research because delightful it isn’t. And in my conflicted state, I understood that we as travellers and tourists, did this. Holiday makers have allowed the town to develop faster than it is regulated, in a bid to grab a slice of the tourism pie. Construction aplenty combined with zero injection of funding on public infrastructure, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

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Sapa trekking tips dirt road town

These Are The Typical Streets Of Sapa Town. En Route Back To Our Hotel.

#03 – HOW TO GET TO SAPA

There are several ways you can do this with the main exit and entry point from Hanoi.

How to Get to Sapa by Tours

You can get on a 2 night 3-day tour from Hanoi of which everything is organised for you and you don’t have to worry about transport or accommodation. There is an abundance of private tour operators so it’s not difficult to find one.

How to Get to Sapa by Bus

If you prefer the bus, you can hop on a sleeper bus from Hanoi and the journey will take approximately 10-12 hours. Vietnam however is notorious for their reckless driving as they weave in and out of traffic like they were playing a video game. There have been enough accidents on these long haul trips to make you think twice before you go.

How to Get to Sapa by Train

We went on the overnight train and this was the best decision ever! There are essentially 2 trains that take this route of which 40 companies have rights to a certain number of carriages. When you’re selecting which company to go with, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. We went with the Orient Express Train and we were delighted with the quality of the berths. It costs USD$35pp for a 4 berth or $70pp for a VIP 2 berth. As we wanted privacy, we paid for the 4th berth in our cabin so we wouldn’t have a stranger sleep in with us. The advantage of that was we also had space to put our luggage. As you can imagine it isn’t built for an abundance of suitcases! The children loved the experience and they slept like babies.

The only disadvantage of taking the overnight train is what to do all day before you depart and where would you go when you arrive at 5am in the morning and you can’t check in yet. You can opt to put your luggage in the storage at the train stations or you can pay for an extra room night at the hotel each way.

Oh and don’t be late. It’s a government run train so they wait for no man, woman or child. We made our home bound train by 2 minutes! Stressful? Extremely!

Sapa trekking tips overnight train

On Our Overnight Sleeper Traing From Hanoi to Sapa. It Was Very Comfortable!

#04 –  HOW TO GET FROM LAO CAI TO SAPA

Upon arriving at Lao Cai train station, you will need to find transport to Sapa, which takes about an hour. There are plenty of drivers vying for your business upon your arrival so I wouldn’t worry too much if you hadn’t already organised your transport. We got our hotel to organise ours. Make sure to allow for ample time to get to Lao Cai train station on the way back. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic all the way down and as mentioned above, we nearly missed out train.

And it is on this leg of the journey where I have continued to kick myself for not being more prepared. I didn’t realise, although in hindsight…. duh…. that the 1 hour shuttle ride to Sapa was a windy climb up the mountain. As you may know, Hannah is prone to severe travel sickness and oh my…. sick she got. In fact, 2 of our travelling friends also vomited on the drive up.

Looking to go trekking in Sapa, Vietnam with the kids? Make sure you check out our 12 important tips before you go. #sapatrekking #familyhikes #familytravel Click To Tweet

#05 – ACCOMMODATION IN SAPA

I won’t delve too much into this because if it’s one thing Sapa has a lot of its hotels. With over a 100 hotels of varying quality, you can easily get something more than comfortable on a small budget. On the other end of the spectrum, eco lodges and resorts and spas with spectacular views of the mountains are also readily available.

If you wish to get the true cultural experience, there are plenty of homestays to select from whereby you can immerse your family to how a member of the Hmong Tribe lives and thrives. We stopped for lunch at a homestay on one of the days and it was spacious, extremely clean and orderly and relatively comfortable.

We stayed at the Sapa Diamond Hotel for about AUD $160.00 per night. It would have been a good stay as it had very spacious and comfortable rooms and exemplary service had we not been sandwiched between 2 construction sites. The cranes and tractors got in the way of an otherwise superb view.

#06 – CLOTHING TIPS FOR SAPA

It goes without saying that you have to be well prepared for the trek. The one overriding element is possessing clothing that is weather proof and water resistant.  The cultivation of rice requires a substantial amount of water which is why this high rainfall region is ideal for the paddy fields. You don’t want to be wet at the start of a 10-hour trek, especially in the winter months when it’s cold. The thin nylon jackets and pants we bought from the usual outdoor adventure shops worked a charm of which we supplemented it with thermals and fleece linings to keep us warm.

Sapa town is riddled with shops selling outdoor clothing with North Face being the most popular. Some say they are fake whilst other say there are sold on the black market as North Face is produced in Vietnam. Whilst I’m not encouraging you to support the fake market, I did have a need to buy a new jacket with a full fleece lining for the next leg of the trip. It costed me USD$26.00 and it was an excellent buy whilst it withstood the elements easily. Many travellers purposely wait until they get to Sapa to stock up as its well known that one can pick up cheap items. The variety for the tween age however is not so great. I didn’t find anything for Hannah’s size.

Sapa Trekking Tips Outdoor Clothing Stores

“Authentic” Outdoor Clothing Stores All Over Sapa.

#07 – WHAT SHOES TO WEAR FOR TREKKNG IN SAPA

The rain causes the route to be constantly wet and muddy. Well, it certainly was a slippery slide for us when we went. Proper water proof hiking boots are a must. There were some sections where it was completely flooded which unfortunately meant that water did seep into the shoe from the top. Ankle high boots may be a better choice if you are going during the rainy season.

The local Hmong guides wore calf high gum boots. Although it was the perfect way to keep them dry, I’m not sure how much grip there was. They are in abundance in Sapa, so if you decide that gumboots are a better choice for you, it’s easy and cheap enough to grab a pair on the fly.

Again, you can also buy your boots here if you wish. My friends didn’t bring hiking shoes and when the weather turned they had to go and grab some and can I say they were seriously good! USD $30 a pair. We couldn’t find smaller sizes for the 5-year-old however so perhaps you may have to get those before you get there.

#08 – BEST TREKKING GUIDES IN SAPA

There is a plethora of choices when it comes to finding a guide to take you on your trek. I knew from the onset that I wanted a local guide from the Hmong Tribe to give us an authentic experience. I settled on a company called Sapa Sisters and I couldn’t have made a better choice. They were quick with their responses, tailored treks to suit the needs of our families and we were bestowed with a charming little pocket rocket of a guide, Chai. Her English was excellent despite never having been to school in her life, is now the bread winner of her family, opinionated, ambitious, and strong.

Chai was generous with the information she provided us and was ever so patient with our myriad of inquisitive questions and the antics of the kids when they got tired. She told us of her life as a woman of the black Hmong Tribe and how she was in a conundrum about how tourism has changed her homeland. The rolling terraces are her natural backyard and she fails to see why us city folk from all the around the world find it so spectacular. She was refreshing and honest without glossing over facts just to entertain tourists. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

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Sapa trekking tips

Trekking In Sapa Through The Mountains With The Local Hmong Tribe.

#09 – LEECHES. BE WARNED!

And by this I don’t mean the creepy crawly type. I am unfortunately referring to the locals who stick by your side in hope of acquiring some of their wares. They are everywhere and it irritated me to no end at the start until I became accustomed to the fact that it was ok to ignore them completely.

On the trek itself, 3 women, one of whom was carrying a baby, followed us for the entire 4 hours. Their tactics incite friendship, empathy, and helpfulness. They will try and strike up a conversation in hope of becoming friends by the end of the hike or unwillingly help the children across difficult tracks with the view that you may repay them by purchasing something you will never need.

Upon one of our visits to a Dao tribe, the locals set upon us like vultures as we exited the shuttle van. They came up to us with great big smiles and very strategically encourage you to take photos with them. The weak will feel the need to repay this so called hospitality.

I had been informed that winter sees the least number of panhandlers due to the cold. Beware in the warmer months! Especially the young kids with their baby siblings strapped to their backs. They come out in force!

#10 – CAR SICKNESS

I mentioned briefly above that Hannah suffered severe car sickness on the climb up the mountain. If you are engaging a driver for any part of your trip, know that all of Sapa is windy as the roads follow the natural terrain of the mountain. It is full of twists and turns and on our trip to the Dao Village, our second guide vomited! She’s a local and still susceptible so do be prepared.

#11 – SAPA CUISINE

I must start by saying that coffee is horrendous in Sapa! Even the local Vietnamese coffee is extremely bitter and thick and no amount of condensed milk can make it drinkable. Even our Vietnamese companion couldn’t cope.

North Vietnamese cuisine is very plain and more of Chinese heritage than Vietnamese. The quality of the meats is tough and pungent. The vegetables on the other hand are fresh and delicious! Stick to the noodles in hot soups, vegetable dishes on rice and anything deep fried. Don’t even try Western cuisine no matter how desperate you are. Sapa certainly isn’t known for its culinary prowess.

#12 –  TOURS FROM SAPA

We did not venture on any other tours outside of Sapa with the popular ones being the Bac Ha markets and the Love Market. We didn’t even check out Cat Cat Village. What was once a place for the locals to trade, meet people and make a living, it has apparently turned into a tourist trap. After being exposed to the unsolicited locals following us everywhere, I was simple not in the mood to explore any areas that possibly had a congregation of women and children touting their goods.

In saying that however, please do not let me deter you from going. I do have a friend who went to Bac Ha, stayed a couple of nights and that was her highlight of her Vietnamese holiday. Perhaps avoid the market like a plague! Another friend went to Cat Cat village with the teenage kids and enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps she has a greater tolerance than me!

Sapa trekking tips

Soneone Had a Great Time! LOL!

Overall, the unanimous consensus of the 3 families, adults and kids included was that Sapa was awesome! If you’re able to bypass its haphazard development and desperation of the locals, you really must add this to your list of things to do in Vietnam. The real charm are the lush fields and to think that we went at the least prettiest time and still thought it was stunning, it’s worth doing.  Hannah had a great time and she genuinely loved everything she experienced on the hikes. As for me personally, I would go back. I’d like to see it at the height of its beauty.

BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES

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BONUS TIP #2 – WHERE TO STAY IN SAPA

Affordable 3 Star: Sapa Diamond Hotel
Don’t let the driveway and lobby fool you. The rooms are much better than the facade let’s on. Located on the side of the mountain, you can get some great views of the mountains. Located in the heart of Sapa town, it is easily accessible to shops and restaurants. The family suite with mountain view is huge and has so much space for a fraction of the price. The breakfast buffet is by no means luxurious but was hearty enough for us before we started our trekking days. The hotel made an error with our transfers which meant we could have missed the train but the way they solved it was exemplary!
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here

5 Star Luxury: Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa
This is a beautiful hotel, excellent location and has friendly staff. The rooms are very spacious and their restaurant “Olivia” is superb! The hotel has a kid’s club with babysitting services and cots are also available on request. They have a Bungalow which is great for families of 4 with 2 singles and an extra-large bed.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here

Homestay: Eco Hills Homestay
Homestays in Sapa is a very popular option. It’s certainly the best way to immerse yourself into Hmong culture. At Eco Hills Homestay, each unit features a terrace with garden views, a fully equipped kitchen and a private bathroom with shower. Some units feature a balcony and/or patio. A continental breakfast is available, and you can also relax in the shared lounge area. They have a family bungalow with 2 double beds.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here

2 Star Accommodation: Sapa Mountain Hotel
Situated 1.8 km from Fansipan Legend Cable Car Station, Sapa Mountain Hotel boasts air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi throughout the hotel. Guests can enjoy the on-site rooftop lounge. The hotel offers motorbike and bicycle hire. They have family rooms with a large balcony suitable for a family of 4.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here

 

 

12 tips to help prepare trekking adventure

Disclaimer: The Family Globetrotter’s website contains affiliate links which help us to maintain this blog and assists us with our travels. Family Globetrotters have also posted articles based on sponsored products and/or services but all opinions are our own, truthful and unbiased.

31 comments

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Alice December 25, 2018 - 8:06 pm

Wow! This was a great read – you detailed the experience of Sa Pa far better than I could have.

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Family Globetrotters December 27, 2018 - 11:00 am

Thanks Alice! Appreciate it.

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12 Charming Shops and Cafes In Old Town Hoi An | Family Globetrotters September 18, 2018 - 11:58 am

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10 Most Disappointing Travel Destinations to Visit in the World July 19, 2018 - 3:37 pm

[…] DISAPPOINTING TRAVEL DESTINATIONS #1 Sapa, Vietnam Amy Chung @ Family Globetrotters […]

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Ketki May 13, 2018 - 9:37 pm

I was unable to go to Sapa as we were less on time! I so wanted to. It looks beautiful and glad that you had a good time there 🙂

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Family Globetrotters May 14, 2018 - 10:31 am

Oh so sad you couldn’t make it but it’s so hard trying ot fit everything in. We didn’t do a few places in Vietnam either. And Sapa is not exactly easy to get to and does require some travel time. Hopefully next time you’ll make it!

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Natalie May 13, 2018 - 6:35 am

What a delight to see families with young children exploring off the beaten path. We always travel with our kids abs this looks like a wonderful adventure. Gorgeous green country!

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Family Globetrotters May 14, 2018 - 10:29 am

Thank you Natalie! I love travelling as a family and I’m lucky as my daughter is a great traveller. Always curious and always willing to try something new and different. Yes, Sapa was gorgeous and to think we went at the least prettiest time. I can only imagine what it would be like just before harvesting when its all lush and green.

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Rachelle May 12, 2018 - 1:09 am

Haha I’ve never heard the term leeches before about locals. I honestly instantly thought of the creepy crawlers. But good tips on how to avoid falling prey to the scams!

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Family Globetrotters May 12, 2018 - 11:40 am

Hahaha! Maybe its an Aussie term but they sucked my patience dry! And I felt so sorry for the kids just having to be strapped to their mothers whilst they trekked up and down the mountain every day. Well, they tried very hard to get my sympathy but it only made me more resilient. Oh well…

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LaiAriel Samangka May 12, 2018 - 1:07 am

I have long been dreaming to visit Vietnam actually, since I saw the stunning photos of my friend who have already been to Hanoi. Anyway, your tips here are very useful, especially for a first timer perspective. I love hiking a lot and with your comprehensive guide and tips, my trek to Sapa would be easy and a hassle free. Thank you so much for this.

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Family Globetrotters May 12, 2018 - 11:39 am

Hey Ariel! Yes, you definitely should go to Sapa. I’ve seen all the hikes you up mountains and to waterfalls. And Phillipines isn’t so far from Vietnam is it? Well, it is a bit trickier to get to. Fly into Hanoi and take the overnight sleeper train. Its pretty easy. Sapa is a beautiful place. Those rice terrace mountains just before harvesting would be picture perfect.

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Katie May 11, 2018 - 12:49 pm

Great list! You pretty much covered everything i would want to know. I have lived in Vietnam for 2 years but never made it to Sapa. I think that ought to change ASAP. Thanks for this informative guide.

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Family Globetrotters May 11, 2018 - 8:55 pm

You lived in Vietnam but didn’t make it to Sapa? Oh gosh…. yes, time to go back and fix that! LOL! I need to go back too. So many more places to explore.

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Mayuri May 11, 2018 - 11:17 am

So sorry to hear about Hannah’s car sickness
This looks like an amazing place to trek. I have not been to the SE Asian countries yet. When I do I will definitely do this
Thanks for sharing!

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Family Globetrotters May 11, 2018 - 8:54 pm

Thank you. Sigh…. she was so sick! I felt so bad for her and the worse thing is I can’t do much. Takes some rest and medication to balanace out the vertigo like feeling. Yes, if ever you visit Vietnam, make sure you add Sapa to the itinerary. Well worth it!

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12 Charming Shops and Cafes In Old Town Hoi An February 27, 2018 - 3:06 pm

[…] 12 Tips To Help Prepare For Your Trekking Adventure in Sapa. […]

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Lev February 23, 2018 - 12:11 am

Nice tips! Fansipan mountain just looks fantastic 🙂 Looks like a nice trip from Hanoi! Hoping the weather will be better next time!

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Family Globetrotters February 23, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Thank you! Unbelievably when we went it was the dry season! At least the rest of the year its wet but not cold. I think I would prefer that. Yes, totally fun overnight train trip to Sapa. I’ll do that again for sure.

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Dee February 22, 2018 - 12:18 am

Hi! What a fun adventure! Too bad it rained the whole time…I would have liked a little dry time. Your pics are nice even through the rain!
Great tips included and a nice family trip it seems. I would like to do some small trips to the places you mentioned as well. Thanks for sharing your travels!
Dee

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Family Globetrotters February 23, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Thanks Dee! The rain was relentless! But apparently not unusual in Sapa at all and we were prepared so I guess it was ok. Would have been nice not having to walk around with an umbrella the whole time! Yes, it was a great family trip. I highly recommend it.

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Contrarian Traveler Geemiz February 21, 2018 - 3:15 pm

I am yet to travel to Vietnam and Sapa is one on my list of places to visit. This list is very helpful and highly appreciated. I think this can also be of use for other trekking expeditions like sapa.

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Family Globetrotters February 23, 2018 - 12:57 pm

If you ever do make it to Vietnam, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It should be on everyone’s itinerary. And yes, I guess a few of my tips can be used in most trekking scenarios!

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Tara February 21, 2018 - 12:12 pm

I’ve written a similar guide after a 4 day trek in Sapa. I absolutely loved it there! This is a very comprehensive and helpful guide for anyone looking to take a trek there and I agree with you on so many points.

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Family Globetrotters February 21, 2018 - 1:36 pm

Just read your post Tara and I’m glad we had similar experiences! I loved it too and trekking with the kids was such a highlight. I was quite proud of them actually. They made it! I’d go back again some day. Did you do the cable car?

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Sherrie Fabrizi Allbritten February 21, 2018 - 6:11 am

The children are getting a huge experience with the Vietnam culture and countryside. So educational for them! I too get car sickness, so that would worry me some! This is a very insightful article for anyone making this trip.

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Family Globetrotters February 21, 2018 - 10:27 am

Thanks Sherrie! Yes, we try and mix it up a bit. Travel is always bells and whistles and 5 star hotels. My daughter was fascinated by the Hmong culture and was mesmerized by the stories our guide told us. Yeah, car sickness is a big problem in Sapa. So windy and bumpy everywhere you go.

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Baia Dzagnidze February 21, 2018 - 1:54 am

Saving this for later. Vietnam is high on my bucket list!

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Family Globetrotters February 21, 2018 - 10:24 am

Perfect Baia! I have a blog post about Hoi An coming out next week. Be sure to check that out too:)

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Shruti Bondal February 20, 2018 - 7:46 pm

Very nice tips…looking forward to an adventure like this one

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Family Globetrotters February 21, 2018 - 10:24 am

thank you Shruti! Hope you’ll be able to use it someday:)

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