Everything Sapa – hiking, booking and exploring

They are plenty of options booking a trip to Sapa from Hanoi. Many people, like us, thought it’s necessary to book a tour from Hanoi to Sapa, this is not the case.

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Booking options

Online

We looked into doing online reservation, read reviews and asked advice from other travellers. The one that stood out to us was Ethos they run an ethical business, stay away from all the most touristy places and pay their staff well in including the tour guide.  This is the easiest option as they will pick you up from your hotel and sort everything out. This is also the most expensive of the options.

Tour agency from Hanoi

Walking around in Hanoi there are tour agencies everywhere, this seems like the most popular option. This is cheaper than the online booking, they will also pick you up form the hostel in Hanoi and bring you to Sapa. From here they will organise the tour guide walk around the beautiful soundings of Sapa, through the rice fields and organise a home stay in one of the local villages.

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DIY trip, book the individual parts yourself

You can book the bus and the tour yourself very easily. Go to the bus station ( or book a bus with tour agency, accommodation provider) for the bus and for the tour you can just walk outside onto the main streets in Sapa. Local ladies from the villages are walking around in their traditional dress looking for tourists to take to their village.

From Hanoi to Sapa

There are a couple of ways to getting to Sapa.
Bus, the bus leaves a few times per day and cost between 250,000-400,000 ($11.00-$17.00). The bus takes 5-6 hours, so not quite an overnight bus. There is a sleeper bus that leaves Hanoi at nighttime, arrives to Sapa around 4am. More than likely the bus company will let you sleep on the bus until 6am. Just remember the a/c will be turned off, so this is a sweaty option. The night bus on the return to Hanoi arrived at around 3am in the morning and they is no option to continue to sleep on the bus.

Train, the train leaves both during the day and at nighttime with different seats options from hard seats to soft sleeper. Of course the prices vary as well, with the cheapest option around 400,000 ($17.00). The train is slightly slower, around 9 hours. The other thing is that the train does’t stop in Sapa, it’s stop in Lao Cai, near the border to China. From here a bus to Sapa takes around 1 hour. Look up trains online here

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Acoomodation in Sapa

There are plenty to chose from. Hostel, hotel or home-stay. There is no need to book a home-stay from Hanoi. From the moment we got of the bus there were local ladies around us offering us both tours and home-stays. It can be arranged with these lovely ladies and they will take you to their village were they will organise the food and beds.

We opted for a hostel in town called Sapa Odyssey Hostel. This one is slightly out of town but in a great location. The views from the balcony  attached to all the rooms are amazing, with views over the rice fields. This might not be like this for ever as there are buildings going up left right and center in Sapa.  Another great thing about this hostel is the beds, they are so comfortable. The hostel also offer free breakfast (sometimes) so check this when booking.

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Hiking in the valley

Again there are plenty of tour agencies to choose from. The price vary with the different hikes and depending on a private tour or a group tour.

The hike itself is not strenuous. But it’s hot and sticky. All worth it for the amazing panoramic views you get over the valley with so many rice fields. The sheer size of the place and area covered by the rice fields is amazing in itself

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Sapa to Ta Van village

Tour company

Your company will set a meeting point, guide your through the day and arranged for a bus back to Sapa. The price will include the local village fee, lunch and the return journey by bus. For this particular hike the prices we found carried between $14 – $20.

Local guide

We opted to find a local lady, this way there is no middle man, the money we pay goes to the right place. Su and Mai met us in the street, offered to take us to their village and we settled for 150,000 ($6.60) per person. Su in particular spoke really good english and she was really good at explaining the different things as we went. She told us about the way most girls get married at 16 and have children shortly after. Su took us in the very touristy trail down through Lao Chai village where we stopped for lunch. The food here was really good. A sort of share meals costs us 60,000 ($2.60) per person. After lunch we walked the last 3km to Ta Van village. Here Su helped us find a motorbike to take us back to Sapa. From here it’s either a 9km walk back to Sapa via the main road, or jump on a motorbike for 50,000 ($2.20). We opted for the latter. The day tour last around 5-6 hours in total.

There is a village tax of 75.000 ($3.30) however Su walked us in a way so we didn’t have to pay this.

If wanting to do a home-stay this is very possible, speak with the ladies and they will help you.

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No guide

It’s very possible to do this hike by yourself, just ensure you are going in the right direction (Use MAPS.ME to help with directions but careful it’s trustworthy here). If any of the ladies come to help you out this means they will be expected you to buy some of their handmade hats/bags/socks etc. at the end. We somehow managed to avoid this, I guess being on the road for a long time makes you immune to people asking to buy things of them to feed their families.

Which is better?
In regards to money, the cheapest is of course to go by yourself, this then comes with the no directions and no information. It’s slightly cheaper to go with a local guide over the tour agency, however this is only due to the fact that we didn’t pay the village tax (and we didn’t even realise until we got back) however should you need to pay this, going with a local guide is more expensive than going with the tour group.

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I would still suggest going with the local guide even if this makes it slightly more expensive. The reason being there is no middle man, it’s a private group with just you and friends instead of a group of 30 and the ladies are absolutely lovely. This also means you can go in your own speed and stop to take pictures whenever you like.

Recommended things to bring

It’s not a long day if you just do a day trip. We only bought a bottle of water and then we bought lunch.
You should definitely bring a rain coat or equivalent as the weather in the mountains is really changeable and Sapa is very rainy.
The mud also can be very deep/slippery. We did it in our hiking shoes and they were fine just really muddy after. Best would probably be a pair of gum boots. We met one guy who did it in flip flops and he feel over about 10 times and massively regretted it after. The gum boots can be bought in Sapa or rented from some the tour agencies.

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