As soon as you set foot on Sapa, you’ll be bombarded on all sides by trekking opportunities. So there’s no need to book a trek in advance because resources abound.
In this guide, we will delve into the whole Sapa trekking tour process:
– How to book it
– Treks to choose from
– Our experience at it
Booking a trek in person or by phone
Two months before arriving in Sapa, we were recommended a local guide by a Portuguese backpacker we met in Kampot. So even after a few touts from guides that approached us on the street, we followed the suggestion of our compatriot and called Mama Mae—the local Hmong guide she recommended.
The booking process is simple. You can do it directly with the local guides or by phone since they’ll hand out their numbers when you’re not ready to commit on the spot. Through your hotel, the Sapa tourism office or any tour operator around town.
You can choose one of the following options:
– Half day trek
– Full day trek: includes one meal
– 2-day trek with homestay: includes two meals and a few drinks, a bath and a bed for the night (usually at the guide’s family house)
– Some tour operators like Buffalo Tours or Sapa Sisters offer up to 5-day trek options
Then you’ll set up the day, time and spot where the trek starts.
The payment is usually done at the end of the trek.
Booking directly through a local guide will cost a fraction of what you’ll pay to a tour operator. Still, every guide has her own fee and these are some of the offers we got:
Mama Bau: 14€ for one day trek and 28€ for 2 days + homestay.
Mama Susu: 11,50€ for one day and 28€ for the 2 days + homestay.
Mama Mae: 11€ for one full day
Tour operator fees start at: 35€ for one day
If you’re an experienced hiker you could do the trek on your own, but by hiring an experienced guide you’ll be helping the local communities and learning about them. Besides, no one knows the hillside like they do.
Let’s do this!
Nuno and I met Mama Mae at 9 in the morning, near the Gothic church in the city center. The two of us joined a group of four American girls and three other Hmong women that walked alongside us the entire trek.
Mama Mae spoke very good English but the other Hmong women did not. We figured that they must accompany tourists as a way to practice their English, so eventually, they can become guides themselves.
Take plenty of water
It was a beautiful warm and sunny day in opposition to the stormy days before. We were super excited to be out and about exploring nature, and having a genuine taste of the Vietnamese rural life.
However, two hours in, we realized that 1,5L water bottle wouldn’t last long for two grown men hiking a mountain and descending through muddy rice terraces. Not to mention that Mama Mae got thirsty too, so we ended up sharing our water with her—because we’re gentlemen.
Take plenty of water, you’ll need it. There aren’t any shops in the hills, only in the villages.
Soul cleansing views
The scenery was breathtaking—everywhere we looked was like a panoramic screensaver!
Not only Mama Mae took us to the best lookout spots in the mountains, but we also saw water buffaloes, piglets, tea and cannabis plantations. We talked for hours about Vietnam, her family and ours. She was like an open book.
Meanwhile, the other 3 Hmong women kept walking by our side asking time and again:
– Where are you from?
At noon, we stopped for lunch at a humble restaurant where other hikers were. Mama Mae provided us with a noodle soup and some pieces of fruit, the drinks we paid ourselves. After lunch, we walked a few more hours to her house where the first day of trekking ended. We met the husband and granddaughters as she prepared some tea for us: Lipton, believe it or not.
After tea, she explained to us how she makes indigo blue from the plants and dyes the fabrics.
The other 3 Hmong women that followed us around came with a goal in mind: to sell. To sell as much as possible.
After a subtle sign from Mama Mae, they pulled out all sorts of knick-knacks from their wicker baskets: bracelets, wallets, shawls and whistles, along with an aggressive selling tactic. They turned into unfazed vending machines, that didn’t take “no” for an answer.
Back to Sapa
Having finished our full day trek, Mama Mae took us to the center of her village, calling two motorbike taxis to take us back to Sapa: 2.00€ each, paid by ourselves.
The ride back to Sapa alone was amazing. It’s not every day that someone can ride through valleys in Vietnam, with the sun setting behind the mountains and the last sunbeams reflecting on the rice paddies. That’s something we’ll never forget.
Keep it light and simple.
All you’ll need is a comfortable pair of sturdy shoes, light clothing, and a camera. Remember to take plenty of water, snacks, sunblock and you’ll be good to go.
As a side note, Sapa has plenty of shops that both rent and sell trekking gear.
Full day trek expenses
Full day trek: 11€
Motorbike taxi: 2€
Water bottle: 0.60€
If you’re planning a trekking tour on Sapa we still have Mama Mae’s, Mama Bau’s and Mama Susu’s phone numbers and will gladly share them with you. Leave a reply down here or at any of our social media outlets and we’ll send it to you via email or PM.