How to go hiking in Sapa, Vietnam

This article will explain how to do a one-day hiking trail in Sapa, one of Vietnam‘s most beautiful and popular trekking regions. We’ll explore the different trail options and explain which we chose, when the best time of year is, the costs, where to stay in Sapa, what to bring, and everything else.

The Sapa (or Sa Pa) region is one of the most beautiful in Vietnam, attracting more and more travelers and adventurers. The main points of interest in Sapa are the mountains and valleys in the region that create stunning landscapes.

Terraces were built in these valleys and mountains to allow rice production, which has become a tourist attraction due to the scenic effects they create on the landscape.

One of the best ways to explore the rice fields is by trekking through them, starting in Sapa, going down the slopes, and passing through several typical villages. There are lots of trails with different levels of difficulty and duration. We will talk about this a little, but we mostly will focus on the Sapa trek we chose.

Como fazer um trilho de um dia em Sapa, Vietnam
View of rice paddies in Sapa in Vietnam

Does trekking in Sapa require a guide?

Although hiking alone through the valley and along the roads in the Sapa region is possible, we recommend doing it with a guide. Particularly if you want to walk through the rice fields and visit the tribal villages, as this way, you will have someone to guide you through it all.

There are no constraints, and from what we understand, it is possible to explore on our own, but there are also no signs for the paths to follow, and there are numerous!

forest section of our trek in Sapa
Taking a trail with a guide is the best way to see the rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam – This is a forest section.

How do I get a guide in Sapa?

Just go out onto the streets of Sapa, and you will find many offers for trekking in the region.

The guides are usually women from local tribes in mountain villages, and they offer their services on the street, engaging in conversation with tourists. It’s extremely easy but also uncomfortable because there are so many offers, and there’s no excellent way to discern between them.

So, we ended up asking our accommodation for recommendations and were given a contact that we used to organize a walk. It is possible to organize a private or group hike with other travelers. We prefer it in a group, as it is cheaper and allows you to meet other hikers.

We paid 20 USD per person, which seemed like a reasonable price as, in addition to the guide, it included lunch at a local restaurant and transportation back to the center of Sapa.

Trekking through the fields of Sapa
Trail in Sapa with guides – the path can sometimes be narrow and muddy

What trails to take?

There are lots of hiking trails in Sapa, but the most common ones include a visit to several mountain villages (usually belonging to different tribes), lunch at a local restaurant in one of the villages, and transportation back to the last village. This is also what we chose.

Our route started in Sapa, passed through the small village of Y Lihn Ho, then the much larger Lao Chai, where we had lunch, and ended in Ta Van. Below, we will describe the route in more detail and what to expect at each location.

However, if you want to do other routes, there are many other possibilities, ranging from very easy routes that anyone can do to some very demanding ones, both one and several days long. Some of these options are:

  • Sapa – Cat Cat – this is perhaps the most accessible trail. Cat Cat village is quite close to Sapa, and the course is always downhill. Along the way, you can take advantage of many cafes with fabulous views to stop at. If you don’t want to do the walk, you can always take a motorcycle taxi. You don’t need a guide to do this route.
  • Sapa-Cat Cat-Sin Chai – At 7 km, it is a little longer. The first part is the same as the previous one but then continues through the valley to Sin Chai village. We didn’t do it, but they say it’s a beautiful village with little tourism.
  • Climb Mount Fansipan – it is a very tough trail, typically done in 2 days and one night. It’s 11km, but Mount Fansipan is the highest point in Vietnam, so prepare well. Note: if you want to go to the top of Fansipan, you can go comfortably by cable car; you don’t need to take the trail.
  • Sapa – Love Waterfall – Silver Waterfall – Y Linh Ho – Ta Van – A 2-day trail through the valley, which, in addition to Ta Van and Y Linh Ho, which we will talk about below, also takes us to two famous waterfalls in the Sapa region.
  • Sapa- Y Linh Ho – Ta Van – Overnight homestay – Giang Ta Chai village – Bamboo forest: similar to our trail but with an overnight stay in an ethnic homestay and a short hike in the morning. You can book it here.

Many other route options go to the villages of the different mountain tribes in the region!

Best trails in Sapa
Best trails in Sapa – Sapa-Cat Cat-Sin Chai

Is it possible to do a multi-day trail?

Yes, there are organized trails lasting one day, two days, three days, or even more. Typically, one-day trails include transportation and food, while multi-day trails include transportation and accommodation in homestays in tribal villages.

We only did the one-day trail, so we cannot comment on the multi-day trails. But if you have the energy and desire, it will certainly be a fantastic experience.

The trail through the Sapa rice fields – general information

  • Name: Trekking Sapa – Lao Chai – Ta Van
  • Start: Sapa
  • End: Ta Van
  • Distance: 12 km
  • Time required: 4 to 5 hours
  • Physical difficulty: Moderated because of the constant effort of descending the terraces
  • Technical difficulty: difficult
  • Type: linear, one-way.
  • Signage (1-5): 0. There are no signals or marks whatsoever, but the guide shows us the way.
  • Highlights: Terraces, rice paddies, typical villages, Muong Hoa river valley
Best hiking trail in Sapa

How much does it cost to go hiking in Sapa?

As mentioned, we only paid 20 USD per person for a day hike. This was a guided group tour. If it’s private, the price will be higher – we got a quote of 45 USD per person, but as we weren’t interested, we didn’t investigate much further.

Even if you try to organize directly with local guides, the amount to be paid should not be substantially less. Remember that it is important to pay a fair price, and the guide will be with us all day.

Multi-day trails will most likely cost upwards of 100 USD per person, and the price may vary slightly depending on the quality of the accommodation – hotel or homestay.

How to go trekking in Sapa
View of the Sapa-Cat Cat-Sin Chai trail in Sapa, Vietnam

Our experience on the trail in Sapa

Our trail started at 9:00, with the guide (Mei) coming to our hotel in Sapa. From here, we cross the city on foot, starting the descent towards the terraces and rice fields.

Still in the city, some other women from the tribes begin to join us. They will walk the entire route with us, chatting and helping us get down and up in the most complicated areas.

The first part of the route is urban and on the road. But from the city, it is already possible to see the majestic mountains around Sapa and the spectacular Muong Hoa Valley with its famous terraces and rice paddies.

About half an hour later, we began our descent towards the Muong Hoa River along winding, tight, and very, very steep paths – sometimes muddy and slippery. You will need attention and suitable footwear (especially non-slip footwear).

The guide indicates the best route to take, answers our questions, shows some interesting facts, and the best places to take photos. Along the route, we also see buffaloes and some other animals.

Tudo sobre o trilho Sapa-Cat Cat-Sin Chai  em Sapa Vietname
Sapa-Cat Cat-Sin Chai trail through rice paddies in Sapa – Several groups joined together in this section.

The descent is long and takes up practically the entire morning. We passed the small village of Y Lihn Ho and continued down towards Lao Chai. Lao Chai is a village of the tribe called Black Hmong, considered one of the largest minority groups in the region and the tribe from which our guide comes.

The Black Hmong are proud of their traditions, culture, and language. Each of the Sapa mountain tribes has a different culture and language. The Black Hmong are famous for their indigo-blue clothing. Along the way, Mei shows us the plants used to produce the color.

We arrive in Lao Chai around 12:00 and head to the restaurant. Here, we have lunch and are served sautéed chicken, tofu, spring rolls, and glutinous rice. It’s good, but not a memorable meal.

Aldeia Lao Chai em Spa Vietname
Lao Chai Village in Sapa, Vietnam

Our travel companions are all from this village, and they tell us that they will stay there, asking them to buy us some local products. Expect them to be very insistent. Giving a tip to those who helped us on the way down or buying something is a personal decision. We chose to do so because they really helped us in several parts of the descent, which is sometimes very, very technical.

bulb on How to go hiking in Sapa, Vietnam

Important

Many children in the villages want to sell products or ask for money. Although it is immensely tempting, our advice is to avoid doing so. This is also the advice of the Vietnamese government and local authorities. Giving money, or whatever, to children encourages them not to go to school and instead dedicate themselves to begging/selling.

After having lunch, we continued towards Ta Van. This part of the route is much easier and faster. In about an hour, we arrive at Ta Van – it’s always downhill but without significant inclines, with some flat parts.

The route is through rice fields, but this time without terraces, as we are already in the valley. We passed through the village streets, and Mei showed us anise flowers, cardamom, and cinnamon. These products are collected in the region’s forests and sold abroad.

Percursos em Sapa Vietname
Anise flowers, cardamom, and cinnamon picked in the Sapa forest in Vietnam

Ta Van is a village of the Zay tribe. The Zay are a minority group of just 38,000 people who live mainly in Northern Vietnam. The Zays’ houses are made of bamboo and wood with clay floors. Some of their oldest traditions have been lost, but Zay women are known for wearing colorful skirts, purple, blue, and green.

After arriving in Ta Van, we crossed the village and reached our final destination. In between, Mei shows us the village schools. The last point of interest is to cross the village’s wooden bridge towards the road.

At around 3:00 pm, we took a van back to Sapa, and before 3:30 pm, we were back at our starting point in the city center.

This route is always downhill; therefore, aerobically, it is very easy, but sometimes it is very technical. We are used to hiking, and it has rarely been so difficult for us to go downhill. Perhaps not even the Acatenango volcano was so demanding regarding technique and descent.

But it’s worth it, if you want to see the rice terraces up close, enter traditional villages and learn a little about the cultures of the mountain tribes, this is one of the best activities in Sapa and one of the things not to be missed in Vietnam.

Ta Van village along our the Sapa trail
Ta Van Village in Sapa

When is the best time to do the trek in Sapa?

The best times of year to hike in Sapa are between September and November, that is when it is cool and there is less chance of rain.

The downside of this time of year is that the rice fields have already been harvested, so it won’t have those magnificent green fields but rather the terraces (with or without water depending on the rain that occurred in the previous days) and some dry green to yellow soil of the already harvested rice.

If you want to see the rice fields in all their splendor, you must visit Sapa between May and August, when it is planted, grown, and harvested. There is no planting during the rest of the year as it is too cool.

melhor época para fazer o trilho em Sapa
Rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam

Who can go trekking in Sapa?

In total, it is a 12 km walk, which can be done in 4 to 5 hours, but this is not a difficult aerobic trail as it does not involve any climb.

Despite being a trail that practically always goes downhill, it is hard on the muscles. Prepare to feel very sore after the hike and in the days following. Fortunately, in Sapa, there are 1001 places where you can get all types of Vietnamese massages to help you recover.

In addition to the physical difficulty, there is the problem of technical difficulty. The route is very steep and has some complex and dangerous areas. So, if you’re not used to mountain hiking or don’t like heights, this trail might be a little too much for you.

For this reason, we also advise against doing it with children, the elderly, and people with mobility problems. Besides this, anyone can make this 1-day trek, and you don’t need any special preparation.

trekking em Sapa
Rice fields in Lao Chai village in Sapa, Vietnam

What to take to Sapa?

As we said, you don’t need to prepare especially for the trail, but we advise you to take some things to make the walk easier, such as:

  • Water – You can buy water along the way, but we always like to take our own;
  • Snacks – We didn’t feel the need to eat snacks along the way, and lunch is included, but if you want to take something with you, there’s no problem;
  • Comfortable clothing for walking;
  • Rain jacket because you never know if the weather will change on the mountain;
  • Cap, sunscreen, sunglasses.
  • Comfortable walking shoes – It is very important to wear shoes suitable for the terrain conditions. It’s possible to do this with running shoes (that’s what we used), but it will be much easier and more comfortable with proper hiking shoes;
  • If it has rained, the ideal would be some galoshes;
  • Backpack to carry all this and bring with you any rubbish you may make;
  • Money to buy whatever you want or give tips. There are no ATMs outside Sapa!
trekking in Sapa Vietname
Visiting rice fields is an incredible experience in Vietnam

How to get to the start of the trail?

This trail is guided and starts in Sapa, so you don’t need to worry about that.

Furthermore, the guide met us at the hotel, which made our lives even easier. At the end of the trek we are also transported to Sapa’s central square, two minutes from our suggested hotel below.

Best way to see rice paddies in Vietname
Muong Hoa River in Sapa, Vietnam

Where to stay when doing this trail?

Given that it starts and ends in Sapa, the ideal is to stay in this city. Sapa is a very touristic city; therefore, there is no shortage of accommodation options of various types, whether hotels, hostels, or homestays, typically at very attractive prices.

Our suggestion for accommodation in Sapa is the Sapa Garden Hotel. We stayed at this hotel, and we couldn’t have been happier. From the excellent service and friendliness of the staff to the beautiful room with a mountain view.

The prices are also unbelievable, but that’s common in Vietnam. In fact, it is so cheap that sometimes it is difficult to understand how it is possible. See prices and availability here.

where to stay before going hiking in Sapa
Sapa City is the best place in Vietnam to see rice paddies.

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Trekking in Sapa

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