Introduction to Sapa Vietnam Trekking
The last leg of our NW mountain tour was this Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure. Sapa Vietnam is an idyllic little mountain district which features hundreds of miles of trekking trails that are a popular feature on the northwest mountain tours.
Sapa is also the name of the township which is the capital of the district. We were going to see the sights around Sapa Township and then embark on our Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure.
The drive through the northwest mountains of Vietnam is very scenic. Indeed, this is a better way to get to Sapa than to take the train directly from Hanoi
Why Should You Go Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam?
In Hanoi I visited the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. As a result, when my girlfriend arrived in Hanoi I convinced her that we needed to go trekking in Sapa and visit the NW Mountains. Therefore, we took the time to visit several agencies offering Sapa Vietnam tours.
The best way to get to Sapa from Hanoi is by train. At least that is one way to get to Sapa from Hanoi if you are with a tour group or an Australian backpacker (more on this later).
However, we were looking for a more enriching and personal experience. Therefore, we selected the complete package (with guide and driver) and elected to go on a one week NW mountain tour and visit several villages.
This Sapa trek was the last stage of the Vietnam mountain tour. As a result, we would spend a total of 3 days in Sapa Township.
The day of arrival we would explore the area and stay the night in town, then we leave Sapa for two days and one night trekking. On the third day we would return to Sapa and catch the night train back to Hanoi.
Exploring the Sapa, Vietnam Township
Before embarking on our Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure there was a lot to do in and around the beautiful mountain township of Sapa. It was still early and we had most of the day to explore the area.
Sapa Township is multi-ethnic and many of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups live in this area including the Red Dao (Yao), Black Hmong, Giay and Tay. This is the main reason why I came here and we wanted to visit with the ethnic minorities.
We stayed at the Chau Long Sapa Hotel. The hotel is perched on the edge of the valley and has excellent views of the surrounding lowlands and also the mountains.
Local Market and Black Hmong in Sapa, Vietnam
Our Sapa hotel was conveniently located in town and we took a stroll to the local farmers market. We encountered many Black Hmong streets of Sapa. They come into town during the day to peddle to the tourists and return to the countryside in the evening.
Half Day Motorbike Tour of Sapa, Vietnam Township
We picked up a Sapa Vietnam map at the hotel and procured a motorbike rental nearby. Sapa Vietnam is a small mountain town therefore it was easy to navigate.
Our guide also rented a motorbike and we ventured into the countryside together. He had suggested that we visit a small cave outside of town. This sounded like a good suggestion and we headed out with him in the lead.
While touring by motorbike outside the city limits, we encountered a lot of the Red Dao ethnic group. They were also very interested in selling us their jewelry.
Colonial History of Sapa Vietnam
Previously, the French had built a military sanatorium and a garrison here in 1912. This was mainly due to the serene mountain environment and the mild Sapa Vietnam weather.
Although the township was effected by the Vietnam War, it still exists mostly intact. Many French colonial buildings were destroyed by the Viet Minh fighters but fortunately, Sapa Vietnam was mostly spared from US carpet bombing.
Some of the Sapa Vietnam hotels are of the French colonial style if you enjoy that kind of thing.
Sapa Vietnam Weather
The weather here is not too hot or cold and while trekking in Sapa snow is extremely rare. For our stay, the Sapa Vietnam weather was mostly overcast with accompanying mountain fog and mist – very tranquil.
The relaxing environment in Vietnam’s NW Mountains was just what the French colonists needed to get their mind off of their collapsing colonial ambitions!
The Best Sapa Vietnam Trekking Route
The two days of our Sapa Vietnam Trekking adventure would be around the mountain village of Tavan. However, at our behest our guide modified the trekking route in order to circumvent the plethora of backpackers in the Tavan area.
As a result, we would not enter the Tavan village during our Sapa Trek. Instead, we circumnavigated it and stayed at our guide’s house where she has the loft set up for guests.
Our Sapa Vietnam Trekking Guide
Our guide was of Hmong descent although she did not dress traditionally. She spoke excellent English and she had two kids with her husband. Her husband was not Hmong, but instead was of Dao ethnicity. I am so frustrated because I don’t recall her name other than that it is was only a single syllable.
She is on the left in the photo below as we are perched on the edge of the valley at the outset of our Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure.
Misty Mountains surround Sapa, Vietnam
The Sapa district is surrounded by misty mountain tops that comprise the Hoàng Liên Son range. Many of the mountains are of significance including Fan Si Pan which is 3143 meters above sea level.
Our Sapa Vietnam trekking would take us through the valley and then up the far side through numerous terraced rice paddies and small communal groups of village homes.
We had plenty of company along the way as there were lots of Black Hmong villagers making their way to and from the Sapa township.
Keep in mind that the Sapa Vietnam weather forecast commonly will include rain! If you do this Sapa mountain trek, expect to get very muddy because you will surely step in the rice paddies! Our guide was wearing blue rubber boots but unfortunately, we were not so well equipped.
Indigo Dye Used by Black Hmong
Sapa Vietnam Trekking Accommodations
In late afternoon we were nearing the end of the trail and started descending into the valley to our Sapa guide’s house. We would spend the night there before continuing on the next day to return to Sapa. Our guide’s house was situated on the other side of the valley and we needed to cross over.
The house was very big and we had beds set up in the loft where we would be spending the night. These accommodations were more comfortable and more personable than the Sapa Vietnam Hotels.
There are a lot of tour groups around Sapa Township and it added a superficial feel to some of the hotels and local restaurants. However, these accommodations were a refreshing change of environment.
The loft was very large and we had lots of space. Additionally, there was an adjoining deck which would be our al fresco dining area.
Shortly after arrival we got situated and then were introduced to our Sapa guide’s daughter who would be our temporary guide while her mom assisted with dinner.
Encounters with the Black Hmong Man
While we were out and about we ran into a Black Hmong man dressed in traditional clothing. It’s not surprising that we didn’t see many traditionally dressed Hmong men while trekking in Sapa province. The Hmong had allied with the US and French during the Indochina wars, as a result they still face persecution today.
I would think that most of the Hmong males who were able have already left Vietnam. Especially those who were old enough to have participated in the wars. I did not ask our Sapa Vietnam trekking guide about this, however the dearth of Hmong men in the area may partially explain why her husband is Dao.
My girlfriend was anxious for a picture. However, he was very shrewd and would not agree unless we paid him a few dong. After his fee was paid he was all smiles.
The Last Day of Sapa Vietnam Trekking
We had a hearty breakfast and then went to visit a waterfall before catching our ride back into Sapa. The food was great. In fact, if I had to make up something to complain about during our Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure it would be that our host fed us too well.
They had an open hearth that they cooked over. As a result, it was amazing how good everything was because it was cooked over an open fire. This is our guide’s Dao husband in front of the “kitchen stove”.
The Drive Back to Sapa
While waiting for our ride we were approached by a German couple who were trying to break away from their tour group. We had encountered them on the trail the day before so we were already acquainted (my girlfriend spoke German).
I was very sympathetic because they had explained that there was an Australian in their group who babbled senselessly all the time.
Unfortunately, senseless babbling Australians have become a plague throughout Asia and the South Pacific. Therefore, I offered them a ride back to Sapa and they were eternally grateful.
Back in Sapa Vietnam
After arriving in Sapa we were met by a representative from our Sapa Vietnam tours company who scheduled our ride to the train station that evening.
We would be returning to Hanoi by train to spend the night there. After staying a couple days in Hanoi we would be traveling to Halong Bay. The train ride to Hanoi would conclude our Sapa Vietnam Trekking adventure.
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