Sapa Trekking? A visit to Vietnam is not complete without a stop in the beautiful Sapa (Sa Pa) district of the Lao Cai Province. Sapa is home to the 3,143 meters high Mount Fansipan, dubbed the roof of Indochina, and the valleys invite you to go trekking through the endless ricefields Sapa is known for. In this blog post we discuss everything you need to know about your Sapa trek and climbing Fansipan. Get answers to questions like how long, what to wear, and very important, what about the weather?
Last updated in May 2020
Sapa, actually Sa Pa, is the capital of the district of the same name in Vietnam's north-western border province of Lao Cai. It is an important market town in this area, with significance for the Hmong, Red Dao and Tay mountain tribes living in the area. The region is home to about 38,000 inhabitants who, before the 90s, predominantly made a living from agriculture. In the 90s, however, more and more (local) tourists came to visit the area, paving the way for a vibrant tourism industry today.
The area attracts a lot of people who are spicing up their Vietnam travels by going trekking through the ricefields. Organized trekkings in a group are the standard in the Sapa Region. Because trekking in Sapa doesn’t require a lot of experience, anyone will be able to join. If you want to beef it up a bit, you should consider doing the trek to on Fansipan Mountain. At 3.134 meters, Mount Fansipan is the highest peak in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam combined. This is why Fansipan is dubbed the “The Roof of Indochina”.
How To Get To Sapa From Hanoi?
Sapa is tucked away in the Northwest of Vietnam and getting there is not an easy mission. The long narrow shape of the country makes Vietnam a difficult country to travel. When you are in Ho Chi Minh City and you want to go to Sa Pa, you will have a long road ahead of you. When trekking in Sapa is on your wishlist, you plan ahead. The most logical thing to do is to make a sidestep when you are in Hanoi. From Hanoi, there are a few different ways to get to Sapa.
By Sleeper Train
There is a train from Hanoi to Sapa every day. With this comfortable 4-person sleeping car leading, you will arrive relaxed and well-rested in the northwest of Vietnam. From the train station in Lao Cai it is then only about an hour by taxi or bus to Sapa. Trains are much safer than traveling by bus or with your own motorcycle. The night trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai have sleeping cars of the Soft Sleeper category. These consist of compartments with four comfortable beds, with two beds on top of each other.
The lower beds are slightly more expensive than the upper beds. If you wish, you can also reserve a whole compartment for yourself. For this you have to book tickets for four people and pay around 1.5 million Dong. The easiest way to book your Sapa train ticket is online. The travel portal Bao Lau offers tickets for all train routes in Vietnam - and at the same price as the Vietnamese railways charge. All you have to do is enter your departure point and destination in the website search and the system will show you the connections. You can also organize this through your trekking company. Tickets cost 35-40 USD per way.
By Luxury Train
In addition, there are also special tourist carriages which private operators such as Livitrans or Oriental connect to the normal trains from Hanoi to Sapa. In the past, these coaches were generally better equipped than the normal sleeping cars of the Vietnamese Railways and were therefore partly real luxury trains. But in the meantime the picture has changed: Today the tourist trains often consist of discarded sleeping cars of the state railway, which have only been slightly refurbished. It may not be worth the extra money.
By Express Bus
In the past, almost everyone recommended the train because the bus journey was long and miserable. But this changed in 2014 when Vietnam officially opened the Hanoi - Lao Cai Expressway. This is a brand new highway that runs directly from Hanoi to Lao Cai (the city at the foot of Sapa Mountain - the same place where the train ends). The express bus to Sapa allows you to travel in different comfort levels like Seated Bus, Sleeping Bus or Limousine Luxury Bus, and run at various times: morning, noon or in the evening. You can book your bus ticket in advance through your trekking company. This will cost you about 25 USD per way.
Find your trekking company for your Sapa adventure here.
Sapa Weather - The Best Trekking Season
Although Sapa has four very distinct seasons, you can go trekking all year round. According to Nguyen Minh Tien ofTOM Travel, the best months for Sapa trekking are all the way from August to April. “Especially in August, when we had most of the rains, you can get brilliant views of the rice terraces.”, says Tien. It is no wonder that it gets busy in the summer months. Yes, rains and sudden storms can happen, but they are brief. Many tourists choose to spend the hot months in the much cooler Sapa Region.The peak in tourism doesn’t stop at the end of summer. You could say that it is only the beginning. Autumn, which lasts all the way to early December, is a very popular season for trekking in Sapa. The temperatures are moderate, there is little to no rainfall and the views over the golden rice fields are unforgettable.
Snow is not often seen in Vietnam. When winter kicks in and snow is forecasted for the higher peaks in the Sapa Region, many international and domestic tourists make their way North to have life-long memories in the snow. Many Vietnamese have seen their first snow in this part of the country. December and January are the coldest months and you definitely will want to bring something warm along.In February you can already feel that Spring is in the air as the weather gets slightly warmer.
March and April are ideal or trekking in Sapa, as the weather is crisp and the trails become more accessible. “This is a great time to visit one of the five ethnic groups that are residing in the area,” says Tien. “Staying a local family in Vietnam is the thing to do in Sapa.”June and July come with a word of caution. The rainy season will bring along a lot of downpours and there is a chance of experiencing typhoons. Not the most ideal month, but we can promise you that you wouldn’t be the only intrepid hiker in the area.
Where To Stay in Sapa?
Even if the town of Sapa is not the most atmospheric place to stay overnight, it is still a convenient starting point. Most tour operators pick up their guests in the city center. So it's good to stay central if you have to leave early or come back late at night and don't want to commute to a village. In the town of Sapa, you will also find all the restaurants and bars, so it is a good choice if you want to have some choice in cuisine. In Sapa, you can find accommodation in all different price categories. From extravagant hotels to budget style backpacker hostels, whatever suits your needs. You can browse options on the booking engines of your liking, or you can go book on the go when you arrive in Sa Pa.
Sapa Trekking Tour - How Long?
An average trek in Sapa takes two days. There are however options for trekking for three or four days. Because of backpacking tourism in Vietnam, many are short in time or in money. Hence, the most popular treks in Sapa are two days. This allows trekkers to get a good impression of what the Sapa Region is all about. Ta Van is a town not far from Sa Pa and a trek to here allows you to enjoy the area without too much sweat. Another option is a trek to Ban Ho, not far from Ta Van. If you have more time than that, you can consider combining the Muong Hoa Valley with the Muong Bo Valley and spend more nights at a homestay.
What Is Sapa Homestay Trekking?
If you have never tried a homestay before, Vietnam is a great place to give it a go for the first time. Homestay accommodation in Vietnam is fairly well organized and regulated, so safety and standards of comfort and hygiene are usually quite high. One of the draw factor of going trekking in Sapa is that you get to spend the night at a local home. A local family will accommodate you and you get to share a meal of them.
Obviously, a part of the money of your trekking package will go to the family you are staying with. This is a source of income for the family you are staying with. The main source of income is usually agriculture. Homestay trekking allows you to get to know the local minorities of Sa Pa.
Get to Know Local Minorities of Sa Pa
The Hmong, known in China for centuries under the name Miao, used to be called Méo in Southeast Asia. Their number is about three million and they are scattered over a vast territory stretching from southwest China (2 million) to North Vietnam (600,000), Laos (about 250,000), Thailand (150,000) and Myanmar (formerly Burma) (about 30,000). The H'mong are easy to identify because of their red costume.
The Dao, known for centuries in southwest China as the Man or Yao, also number tens of thousands in Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The Dao-Mien settled in Vietnam two to three centuries ago, depending on the area. One of the cultural characteristics of the Dao-Mien is their traditional writing system with Chinese characters.
The Tay ethnic group is the third largest minority in Sapa. The Tay, who have been present in Vietnam from the beginning, are a branch of the Tay-Thai group. In Sa Pa, the Tay ethnic group is concentrated in some southern communities such as Ho village, Nam Sai village and Thanh Phu village. On your Sapa tours you will easily be able to distinguish the Tay from other ethnic groups because their clothing is very different and has only one colour, dark indigo.
These treks you might like
Sunrise Fansipan Mountain TrekOperated By The Terrible Tour Guide
Mt. Fansipan is king of all hiking trails in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, intimidating all other peaks with its 3,143m-tall stature
Ban Ho TrekOperated By Tien TOM Travel
Home to dozens of ethnic minority communities, enduring cultures and traditions and magnificent tiered rice paddy fields, Sapa is a magical....
Conquer The Roof of IndochinaOperated By The Terrible Tour Guide
This 3-day-4-night tour includes trekking to the summit of Fansipan mountain. You will be led by a local H’mong guide whose...
Sapa Trekking Itinerary - Ban Ho Trek
The following itinerary will allow you to make most of your visit to the valleys of Sa Pa. The itinerary is based on the 3-day Ban Ho Trek of TOM Travel, one of their most popular tours.
What’s the plan?
Day 1: Sapa – Lao Chai – Ta Van
Meet with our guide at your hotel and start walking to the Black H’mong village of Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai. The walking distance is approximately 6 km. If you’re unable to walk for a long journey, we will arrange a support car (upon request) Arrival at Muong Hoa, one of the most excellent panoramas of the larger valley, paddy terraced fields and the H’mong village in Northern of Vietnam.
We walk slowly along a small local path leading into the bottom of the valley, where some stalls are available that serve tea and fruits; a perfect spot to take a rest and have lunch. After lunch, you will visit the Zay people of Ta Van, which lies in the middle of the Muong Hoa valley. You will check in a local homestay for overnight. The local host will prepare dinner for you. During dinner, you can talk with them to understand more about their local life and thought. Overnight in the homestay.
Meals: Lunch, Dinner Included
Day 2: Ta Van – Giang Ta Chai
Morning, have breakfast with local food at homestay then say farewell to them and we continue to trek up and downhill then through a bamboo forest. The village of Giang Ta Chai is the next stop, which we will reach by following a path over a bridge. Lunch will be provided near a waterfall, just before arrival at the village.
Eventually, the trek returns to the hill of Hau Thao village where we continue to trek to Ban Ho village. There live the Tay tribe with their special wooden houses on stilts, which we are sure to amaze you. Overnight in Ban Ho village.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner included
Day 3: Ban Ho – Love Waterfall – Sapa
Have breakfast with Tay minority. Walk around Ban Ho village and walk to Love Waterfall to relax, then trek up to the road to take the car back to Sapa.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch included
Total trekking about: 32km
How To Climb Fansipan Mountain?
Standing at 3,147 meters above sea level, Fansipan is the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula, hence it's nickname "the Roof of Indochina". This breathtaking massif is located in northern Vietnam, close to the border with China. Before 2016, Fansipan attracted only a few trekkers daily. However, after a cable car was inaugurated on February 2, 2016, the number of tourists interested in enjoying the incredible views from the top rose significantly. The gondola lift departs from a terminal in Muong Hoa Valley near Sapa and takes 20 minutes to arrive at the summit.
If you are looking for a true adventure in Sapa, skip the cable car and venture yourself in the lush forests of Fansipan. Join us in this unique trekking experience, and enjoy the most spectacular sunrise over northern Vietnam and its terraced fields. Ascents of Fansipan Mountain start at the Tram Ton Pass. Although it is possible to climb Fansipan Mountain solo, it is highly recommended to book a guide. The weather on Fansipan can be unpredictable and it can be hard to navigate. Here you can find a trekking company to help you with your Fansipan Mountain ascent.
What Should I Pack For My Sapa Trek?
At Bookatrekking.com we are not unfamiliar with packing lists. We have put them together for the Everest Base Camp Trek and for climbing Kilimanjaro. Our Sapa trekking packing list is a lot easier and more straight-forward. Make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes. They do not need to be hiking shoes. Bring a 30-liter backpack with your normal daily necessities and a rain jacket. Those are really the most important things you need. Depending on the weather, you can opt for some quick-drying garments for basics. Your sleeping gear, like a mattress and sleeping bag or blankets, will be provided by your homestay family.
How Much Does Trekking in Sapa Cost?
The most expensive part of traveling in South-East Asia is your plane ticket. Traveling around in Vietnam is affordable and so are food and accommodation. Your trek will definitely not be the biggest expense during your travels, however, it will be one of the most memorable ones. Your trek will cost anything between 50 and 100 EUR per person. This equals about 45 GBP to 90 GBP. Check out all our Sapa trekking offers here.
Where to book your Sapa Trekking Tour?
The great thing about the internet is that you can find anything anywhere. The same goes for hiking and trekking providers. However, since there is so much on offer, it can be overwhelming to find a trekking operator of your liking. That is why Bookatrekking.com does the selection for you.
We only join hands with the best hiking and trekking providers we can trust. You can rest assured that the trekking operators on Bookatrekking.com are reliable. Find your perfect trek and discover Sa Pa here!
Also read about:
-Climbing Mount Rinjani
-Trekking in Nepal
-Best Walking Holidays in Europe
-Tour du Mont Blanc
-Climbing Kota Kinabalu