I took the 5-hour sleeper bus from Hanoi to Sa Pa, or Sapa, which is the main market town in the mountains of Northwest Vietnam, not far from the China border. Sapa is a quiet town known for its lush rice fields in the valleys of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, which are farmed by many ethnic minorities that inhabit the region.
Sapa was the coldest place I’ve stayed in Southeast Asia, and the cool air was a nice change of pace from the heat and humidity of the rest of Vietnam. And just like Danang, it’s fun to ride a motor bike around the area because the views are incredible and the traffic is minimal.
I stayed at The Mountaineer Hotel which is right across the street from the Sapa market. Mr. Uoc the hotel manager gave me great advice about where to eat in Sapa, and booked a tour for me directly from the hotel.
Many people like to stay with the locals in the valley. It’s a great price and you get to stay out in the mountains with the family, waking up to a view of the rice fields in the mountains every day.
Muong Hoa Valley Tour
There are several types of day tours you can take, mostly involving exploring the rice villages in the mountainous areas. I only had a day and a half here so I chose to explore the Muong Hoa Valley which is the largest rice paddy terraces in the Sapa area. During this trek we descended down the mountain to the Lao Chai village of the Black Hmong minority and then we walked through the rice fields and bamboo forest to the Ta Van village of the Giay minority.
Our Tour Guides – Black Hmong Women
The Black Hmong women paired up with each of us on the tour and guided us through the slippery areas. At first I was a bit reluctant to get help trekking through mountains from a short woman wearing traditional clothing. After all, I’m a relatively young and fit person, and this wasn’t my first mountain trek, so I wondered how she could be of much help. I was happy to get her help after watching her walk effortlessly through the creeks and slippery rocks with her big rubber boots,
Trekking Guide’s Fee – Nothing Is Free
TNSTAAFL – At the end of the tour the Black Hmong women tried to sell us their handmade items, and as usual I declined to buy anything. For one, I’m not a man-purse kind of guy. Secondly, I don’t have the luxury of space in my backpack for more things. This frustrated her, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I did want to pay her though, because she helped me get past the slippery rocks and mud so many times, so I offered to pay for a picture with her. She said yes, but didn’t seem very excited about it, and I don’t think she really understood why I was paying her 🙂
My Advice for the Trek
Overall it was a fantastic experience trekking in the Sapa valley. My advice to anyone planning a trip in the valley – rent some rubber boots, my Nikes were caked with mud!