If you are planning on visiting Vietnam’s must see destinations, there’s a good chance you’ll come across Sapa in your research. In a trek I took with my husband Alex, not only did we view stunning scenery, but we learned what the value of the land and local traditions mean to the community.
We learned that our actions have a high impact on these residents and that our choices can bolster or deteriorate Sapa’s future. In this article I’ll share an overview of our journey and some advice on how to choose your Sapa trek wisely!
Getting to Sapa
Nothing good comes easy: a reality and mantra I’ve learned to adapt after countless life events. This statement also applies to the journey of getting to Sapa. First, you need to make it to Hanoi, Vietnam from wherever you are. The next step involves a bus ride – maybe even the dreaded sleeper bus – which is about a 6 hour trip from Hanoi
First, you need to make it to Hanoi, Vietnam from wherever you are. The next step involves a bus ride – maybe even the dreaded sleeper bus – which is about a 6 hour trip from Hanoi into Sapa. We had heard of the horror stories surrounding taking a sleeper bus: they are unsafe, uncomfortable, and just a dreadful overall experience. While I can’t account for everyone’s comfort level, I can dispel parts of these myths.
First, not all sleeper buses are equal. The sleeper bus that we took to Sapa was very comfortable with plenty of legroom. They offered us snacks, a face wipe, a pillow, a blanket, and had a nice clean bathroom onboard. However, on the way back into Hanoi, we took a sleeper bus that was a totally different experience. Our mistakes included choosing a thriftier bus company and upper deck seats. I recall holding onto the railing and bumping my head as the driver whipped around corners. To add to the discomfort, there was about a foot less of legroom – talk about sore joints!! The lesson here is pay the extra dollar or so to get the premium sleeper bus experience.
Our first stop in town was with Sapa O’Chau (our trekking company). One of the best parts of our greeting was an overview of how the company is run.
While our trekking package was a little more expensive than some of the other companies in town, we were blown away by Sapa O’Chau’s social business contributions to the hill tribes and local communities. Sapa O’Chau pays it forward by giving locals access to education and job opportunities that are otherwise not available. They are focused on guaranteeing positive e
They are focused on guaranteeing positive e ects on the tribes and the local land by listening to the concerns and needs of the community.
Starting our Trek of Sapa
The morning of our trek we were greeted by another friendly sta member, some delicious tea, and a downpour of rain. The thing about trekking is that it continues rain or shine.
There are only two seasons in SE Asia, hot and hotter with heavy rainfall in both seasons, so there is really no time of the year where you can escape the possibilities of rain.
Alex and I are native Oregonians (we are used to rain throughout the year) so we didn’t find the weather as a deterrent. We found it refreshing. As we finished up our mugs of tea, we were introduced to our guide Sử (pronounce “Sue”). He asked us if we were prepared to trek in the rain. We assured him we were ready.
Our trek and homestays
Sử told us it was good that we were not troubled by the rain because he cannot control the weather. He said a lot of customers ask him what the weather will be like and that he has to tell them that he doesn’t know, because of the weather in Sapa changes so frequently.
Our conversation was limited for the first hour or so, but not because of Sử. We were silenced in wonder – marveling in the beauty cascading from every angle, at the shades of green, and fresh produce available through the farmer’s harvests.
The trek involved walking through towns, up and down mud clay paths that run past terraced rice fields, sometimes even along the shelves of the rice patties. We saw lots of locals, dogs, wild hogs, water buffalo, and birds along our way.
The Delicious Food When Trekking in Sapa
For breakfast we were offered steaming plates of pancakes and bananas that are unlike any we’ve had in the states.
For lunch, we had a choice of noodles, fried rice, or plain steamed rice. Dinner is where we would feast. We ate things that were completely unique and foreign to us, like fried buffalo skin, bamboo shoots with intestines, or crispy pork belly that was so crispy it sounded like you cracking nutshells open with every bite.
The star of the show and the ingredient which makes the dinner all the merrier (even if you can’t speak to one another fully) is “happy water”. This is essentially moonshine made from leftover sticky rice. The host will bring out a bottle and everyone gets a shot glass. The head of the table pours a shot for everyone, we say a cheers and everyone drinks their shot. Rounds of this continue until the bottle is empty and everyone is quite merry.
Over four days we learned new languages, ways to say, “Hello!”, “How are you?”, and “Thank you” (which happens to be “O’chau” in Hmong). We even learned how to play new card games with our hosts. It was magical to share so much without relying on our native language. There’s a lot you can share with a smile and willingness to help out.
Choose your trek of Sapa Wisely:
Do your research. As I’ve stated above, you get what you pay for, and Sapa O’Chau is a leader in paying it forward. In fact Sử has since started his own trekking company, which is another option I would recommend. To find out more about Sử’s company please check out his Facebook page