I am so glad I decided to do the trekking in the valley of Sa Pa when I visited Vietnam last year. It was one of the Highlights during my six month trip in Asia. It was so incredibly beautiful and had such sharp contrast from the bustling and chaotic Hanoi, which was the town my adventure in Sa Pa started from.
A valley filled with beautiful scenery, friendly locals, and fantastic adventures – that’s what Sa Pa has to offer its visitors.
When I arrived in Hanoi, I had never heard of Sa Pa before. All hotels, websites and travel agencies always spoke so much about Halong Bay (which is also a great destination) but rarely about Sa Pa. When I saw a picture at my hotel of stunning landscapes with green rice terraces, I just had to ask the staff about what it was – and after that, I decided I wanted to go there.
Sa Pa lies in the highlands of Vietnam, approximately 6-hour train ride and a 45-minute drive from Hanoi. The highlands around Sa Pa offers fantastic views of high mountains, lush nature, wildlife and a beautiful valley with green rice terraces.
Sa Pa is known for its beautiful scenery, trekking, homestays and tribes who live in the valley. These tribes are unfortunately also known to be quite annoying when they’re eagerly trying to sell their handicrafts. However, it’s very understandable since they don’t have much money and a government that’s not trying to make their lives any easier. If you come from a tribe, you can’t find a regular job without paying for an expensive working license (which can be withdrawn without notice).
Therefore, it’s understandable that they try so much to sell their handicrafts to tourists – everyone wants to get something sold to make money. Many of their crafts are actually beautiful, but despite that, you should never feel forced to buy something if you don’t want to. If you buy something just to shake them off, you also support bad behavior, which will destroy the tourism in the long run.
When you’re out trekking in the valley, you will most likely have some women from the tribes by your side. These women walk on the roads of Sa Pa every day and know exactly which path they should take to make the journey as smooth as possible. When I went on my trekking through Sa Pa, it just had rained. I had worn shoes, and all paths were slippery out of the mud.
If these women (and a little girl) hadn’t been by my side all the time, I wouldn’t have made it through the whole trekking – since it was extremely slippery, and I fell several times.
With that said, I recommend you to show your appreciation by buying handicrafts of those who help you during your trip. I bought bracelets from all of those who helped me during my two days in Sa Pa!
Sa Pa is truly an amazing and beautiful place to visit, so don’t let my story about the locals scare you. The positive things about Sapa certainly outweigh the negative ones!
Nature is truly incredible there and looks like it’s taken straight out of a fairytale. In addition to beautiful scenery, you also get the chance to experience unique cultures. There are so many different ethnic tribes in Sa Pa such as the Black Hmong, Tay, Red Dzao, Giay, and Phu Thai Lá – many of these tribes will greet you along the way!
How to book your trip to Sa Pa:
The easiest way is to book your trip at your hotel or through a tour company in Hanoi. They can fix the whole trip for you with transportation, accommodation, guide, and food included in the price. This is, of course, the easiest way, but also the most expensive.
However, If you are brave enough to book the trip on your own – then I can guarantee you that you will get the trekking for half of the price than if you book with a tour company in Hanoi. If you decide to book the trip yourself, you first need to buy a train ticket from Hanoi to Lao Cai. From Lao Cai, it’s possible to fix transportation to Sa Pa via shared mini-buses and also taxis.
My tip is to book the train in advance and then organize the rest of the trip with the help of the guide I had in Sa Pa. Her name is Bau, and she’s an incredibly sweet and kind girl. She’s 18 years old and speaks excellent English.
Besides that, she also offers a lower price than the tourist offices and hotels in Hanoi. I booked through my hotel in Hanoi and had to pay 2.5 million dong for two days of trekking and homestay one night with dinner and breakfast included. Admittedly, one can find better prices in Hanoi, but since there’re many fake companies, it’s best not to choose the cheapest ones.
I’m not sure what the total cost will be if you book through Bau, but I know that you will pay much less than if you book with one of the companies in Hanoi. In addition to this, you also support Bau to get paid the right amount of money for her hard work – which is a great deal for both of you. Companies in Hanoi gives her about 10% of the money you pay them and then takes a great amount and put it in their own pockets when Bau is doing all the hard work.
My best advice is, therefore, to book train ticket yourself and then arrange the rest of the trip with the help of Bau. When going back to Hanoi, it’s easiest and cheapest to take the bus that leaves around 3 pm every day.
Contact details to Bau Thao:
Facebook: Bau Thao
If you book through Bau, you will get the trekking at a lower price, and you will also at the same time help this girl to get the money that she really deserves! If you think that the trekking been good, you can also show your appreciation by giving her a tip!
More Pictures from Sa Pa:
I hope that you liked my article and got some inspiration to visit this wonderful valley. If you have any further questions about Sa Pa – just ask!
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