Sapa, Vietnam is located in the highlands of northern Vietnam, nestled in the shadow of Mount Fansipan. The hills are lush and green, with mist curling through the valleys. The town itself is a bustling little centre filled with local Hmong, guides and hikers, all embarking on their trekking and homestay adventures. 3 days in Sapa is just enough for a taste of this lovely little mountain town – my travel itinerary had just enough trekking, balanced with culture and some plain, old fashioned relaxing.
3 days in Sapa | Day 1
Sapa is an 8-9 hour train ride away from Hanoi. You can take an overnight sleeper bus from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then arrange for a transfer by bus to Sapa. The best way to experience Sapa is through trekking or biking the region and staying in homestays, but for your first day, check into a hotel in Sapa and take a hot shower, breakfast and a nap.
Sapa itself is a quiet, sleepy town, with sharp bursts of colour courtesy of the local Hmong, who still wear their traditional garb. Grab a coffee in a hillside cafe and enjoy the view. If you’re raring to go, you can also do a half day hike to Cat Cat village. You can do this without a guide, but to really appreciate and understand the region, a local guide is essential. Sapa O Chau is a social enterprise that organises authentic, responsible treks and homestays in Sapa.
For dinner, venture to Little Sapa, on Cau May. The prices are cheap and the food is good. Staff here don’t speak much English, but with a little patience and some hand gestures, ordering will be a fun experience. The pho ga, or chicken noodle soup, is an excellent pick especially for cool mountain nights.
3 days in Sapa | Day 2
Homestay with the Hmong
Today, set off on a trek to a nearby village for a homestay with a Hmong family. The trek will take you past terraced rice fields, bamboo groves and placid buffalo grazing by the side of the trail. Most of the trail is downhill, but there are some traverses. Make sure you bring enough water and slap on some sunscreen – the air is thin up in the mountains and the sun can burn.
A Sapa homestay is an amazing cultural experience. You will help the family with small chores, like feeding the pigs and chickens, learn how to cook traditional Vietnamese food, eat with them and help do the dishes. Visitors are usually given the best beds in the house, and warm hospitality. Most of the Hmong who offer homestays nearby are Black or Red Hmong – the Flower Hmong live a little further away from Sapa.
3 days in Sapa | Day 2
Back to Sapa
On your trek back to Sapa you’ll likely pass through another village – there are 8 distinct ethnic minority groups in Sapa like the Dao, Gia and Hmong, each with their own distinctive dress, language and culture. For the shopaholics, there’s lots of opportunity to buy handicrafts like blankets, embroidery and other items. To discourage children skipping school, never buy from kids – just the adults.
Depending on the day, you might be lucky enough to visit a market, where the locals gather weekly to buy and sell – everything from corn, rice snacks, household goods to buffalo. The markets are always rowdy and busy, and provide lots of opportunity to chat with and buy from the locals. Once you’re back in Sapa town, check into a hotel for a half day rate, shower and rest before hopping on the train back to Hanoi.