When you plan a visit to Vietnam, it probably is because you are intrigued by its beautiful nature. In the north of Vietnam you’ll find some of the most beautiful sights in the country. One of them is Sapa. This mountainous area is best known for the thousands of rice terraces that tower above each other while taking over the entire valley.
In between these beautiful landscapes you’ll also find small parts of rainforest, powerful rivers and even waterfalls. As if all of this isn’t already stunning enough, you also get to know the different mountain tribes that live here in (miserable) circumstances a bit better. Huts with little or no lighting and almost no furniture, blackened from the smoke because they cook inside. They don’t have much, but they seem to be very happy with their simple lives.
During a tour from Hanoi to Sapa you’ll get acquainted with the colorful clothes of the local population and you’ll taste the local specialties when you enjoy their honest and delicious cooking skills at their homes.
From Sapa (a small mountain town) the women of the hill tribes organize daily trekkings. They will guide you along the muddy platforms and provide you with more information about the rice fields, the environment or about their tribe and culture.
I myself stayed in one of the smaller villages outside Sapa and I can really recommend that. Here you get to see the real life of the hill tribes and in these towns you’re never far away from the beautiful surroundings which make Sapa so intriguing.
Hanoi to Sapa: the different possibilities to get there
It’s very easy to travel from Hanoi to Sapa. You’ll be most comfortable with an organized tour, but you can also take a bus from Hanoi to Sapa or even book a ride on the night train.
Sapa to Hanoi tour
Online or in Hanoi it’s very easy to book a tour from Hanoi to Sapa.
There are several options when planning such an excursion. Personally, I would not recommend the one-day tours. You’ll be on the road for six hours just to get there. Once you’ve done a long and exhausting trek, you’ll still have to return to Sapa. I I don’t think I’ll need to explain to you how this will most probably not be a fun experience.
A tour from Hanoi to Sapa in two days seems a much better idea, but it will still be a fairly busy schedule. For two days (with one overnight stay) you pay between $80 and $110 (€70-€100) per person. This price includes a guide during the trekking, who will also cook for you (lunch).
On a three or four-day tour you travel much more laid back and you also have much more time to enjoy the beautiful nature of North Vietnam. A three day tour from Hanoi to Sapa can be booked online for about $110 to $135 (€100 – €120) per person.
Most tours will include a hotel to stay in Sapa, but it’s much more adventurous to immerse yourself in the real life of this Vietnamese town and to stay with locals in a homestay. Moreover, you’ll sleep in the middle of nature and the next day you can just continue instead of having to leave from Sapa town again. That way you’ll probably also get to see much less frequented areas of this region.
Bus from Hanoi to Sapa
If you prefer to arrange everything yourself, you can also just plan your transport and then see locally what you would like to do.
A bus from Hanoi to Sapa (or vice versa) costs approximately $12 / €10 per person. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and dropped off at a central location in Sapa. When you return from Sapa to Hanoi, you’ll also be returned to your hotel in the Vietnamese capital.
Because it’s such a long journey, most of these buses are night buses. The backrests of the seats in these buses are tilted all the way back so you can sleep peacefully during the whole drive.
A single bus ride takes about six hours and als count on a break of about half an hour along the way.
Train from Hanoi to Sapa
Another possibility to commute from Hanoi to Sapa is with a (night) train. This very comfortable way of travelling costs about $45 per person (€40). Along the road you also get high-speed internet, snacks and a welcome drink.
You’ll leave from the ‘Tran Quy Cap’ station (Hanoi Station B) in Hanoi and in about eight hours you arrive at the station of Lao Cai. Do note that this train station is still located about thirty kilometers (18,5 miles) outside of Sapa and that from there you thus still have to take a bus or taxi to get to the town itself.
The trains are very comfortable, but it takes longer to get to your final destination and they are also more expensive. For these reasons I personally prefer taking the bus from Hanoi to Sapa.
Trekking in Sapa
If you visit Sapa, you must of course also arrange a trekking along the stunning rice fields. There are countless of possibilities to explore this region and so it’s not a bad idea to take a (local) guide who shows you the most beautiful photo locations along the way.
You can book these treks online, but once you arrive in Sapa you also have plenty of choices to plan one. Online you can book ‘all-in formulas‘ where transport from Hanoi to Sapa (and back), a hike and all food is included.
If you only want to book a hike (with food) online, you pay about $110 or €100 per person.
Once you have arrived in Sapa, it’s not unusual for the women of the hill tribes to follow you around everywhere and to ask if you are interested in doing a hike with them.
What can you expect from trekking in Sapa?
In the morning you are picked up quite early at your accommodation by one or more (tiny!) Women in their colorful outfits. It’s mostly Hmong hill tribe ladies that seem to guide tourists around, but in this city there are also a lot of other tribes which you might encounter along the way. It’s quite interesting to learn more about all of these differences, so feel free to ask for some background information along the way. You’ll be walking for several hours with them, so you’d better start talking!
Sapa is huge, so there’s no fixed route. Along the way you are taken along steep mountain sides and muddy rice terraces to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the area.
The valleys that are taken over by the green rice fields are without a doubt the highlight of your trek, but on the way you also see a lot of animals (buffalos, ducks, chickens, birds, …) and even waterfalls. The villages you pass by are also worth a few photo stops.
Around noon the guides take you to her village where you are immediately confronted with the harsh reality. The houses in which they live are often no more than a few brick blocks on top of each other with a roof on them and inside no more than a bed, a table, some chairs and some pictures on the wall.
The small females welcome you to their houses and then prepare an extensive lunch (delicious, spring rolls, pork, rice, fruit, …) which you’ll then share with the whole family.
You can of course also organize a trekking on your own, but then you’ll miss out on this. And let this just be the one thing that I liked the most during my visit to Sapa.
After lunch you continue with the trek and all of your senses will be stimulated once again by the beautiful landscapes of this region. Depending on the duration of your climb, you’ll move on to your next accommodation or return to the starting point of your trek.
Book a trekking or arrange it yourself?
I would really recommend that you book a trekking instead of exploring these beautiful landscapes yourself. You’ll probably not get lost in the rice fields, but it is very difficult to know in advance where you get the most beautiful vantage points.
Moreover, you’ll not be eating with locals without a guided climb and that is definitely one of my favorite experiences in Sapa.
A one-day trek costs between $17 (€15) and $23 (€20) per person and can be booked online or locally.
Tips for your visit to Sapa
- Pack different layers of clothing and don’t forget to bring your raincoat and hiking boots! The weather changes often in Sapa (especially in winter) and it’s definitely possible to see every season in one day. A raincoat and waterproof hiking boots are certainly necessary, but don’t wear clothes that are too warm either because during the climb you’ll also get pretty hot because of the hiking.
- Don’t be put off by bad weather. During my first day I couldn’t see a thing because of all the fog and my second day started just like that. Yet I decided to do the trek in Sapa anyway and I definitely didn’t regret it! Everything cleared up nicely and I could enjoy fantastic views along the way.
- Leave your big bags in Hanoi. If you return to Hanoi after your visit to Sapa, it’s not a bad idea to leave your luggage there and take a smaller bag to Sapa containing only the things that you really need.
- Feel free to ask your guide for a walking stick. They then bring a bamboo stick for you to be able to handle the steeper parts more easily. The mud makes the path incredibly slippery and then a little help can prevent you from falling down.
- Be prepared to become dirty. During your trek you’ll walk along rice fields and steep, unpaved muddy roads. It doesn’t take long before your shoes, pants, jacket and hands will be covered in the brown slurry.
- Take enough cash with you. The ATMs in Sapa often refuse service and paying with a card is often a luxury in Sapa.
- Take plenty of water and perhaps even a small snack during the trek. During your visit to the rice terraces I guarantee that you’ll sweat a lot. So make sure to drink enough water! A small snack to keep your energy level high enough is also not a bad idea.
How many days do you need in Sapa?
I myself stayed in Sapa for three days, but because the journey from Hanoi takes six hours, you should also count on the los of one day in total.
You probably can’t do a lot on the first and last day. The guided treks along the rice fields start in the morning, so you need at least one night’s stay if you want to participate in such a tour.
All in all, I found three days sufficient, but of course it’s not very relaxed. I think four days must be ideal. Especially if you want to do two different trekkings or explore the area on your own a bit more.
Weather in Sapa, Vietnam
The weather in Sapa is always changing because this is also the highest point in the country (you can even find the highest mountain from Vietnam here).
I was there during the autumn (October) and during my first day in Sapa I couldn’t see anything. The fog was so thick that I could barely see two meters. And that ruined the beautiful views of course!
My second day started foggy, but it seemed as if I had all seasons in one day because sometimes it cleared up completely so I could still enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Nevertheless, the months of September to November are recommended to go to Sapa because the weather is relatively stable. Even better is March to May; because then you’ll almost never encounter fog.
During the summer it can get very hot in Sapa. The views are fantastic, but the warm weather can make a hiking trip much less pleasant. From December to February it is often very cold in Sapa.
My accommodation in Sapa
If you’re looking for a nice accommodation but you don’t want to stay in the tourist center, then I can definitely recommend the Luckydaisy Buffalo House.
By taxi (about 200,000 Vietnamese dong one way) it’s another hour’s drive along roads in miserable conditions, but when you arrive it’s definitely worth all that effort.
This B&B is located in an authentic Vietnamese mountain village and around it you’ll immediately find some of the most beautiful hiking trails of Sapa.
In this accommodation you really get the feeling that you’re part of a local family. The owners are very friendly and tell you a lot about this region and their culture.
In the evening you are spoiled with (delicious!!) food and in the morning you get a tasty and fresh breakfast. The rooms are fairly basic but there is internet, electricity and water. And that is more than most other accommodations have at this location.
Flights to Vietnam
A flight to Vietnam from Europe, the Americas or Oceania often takes quite a long time. Therefore it’s not a bad idea to pamper yourself a bit.
I flew in Premium Economy Class from Cathay Pacific (I definitely recommend it! You can read about my experience here.) and arrived perfectly relaxed in Vietnam.
After the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, a relaxed return journey is really what you need.
You can check out the costs of flying with Cathay Pacific here.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.