Northern Vietnam has a wide variety of mountains and countrysides, full of hiking opportunities. A short journey to the highly popular Sapa region and you will be transformed into beautiful greenery and areas where local tribes still live in.
In this region, there are many hill tribes who live within the mountains, including the people of Black Hmong, Red Dzao, Tay, Giay, Thai and Phu La. You can distinguish the different tribes by their clothing and tribal colors. It is great fun walking around and seeing all these different tribes interacting with each other peacefully. Do be aware of the tribal members who follow you along large sections of the hike. They try and help you by giving you a hand over some slippery parts and accompanying you through that trek. At the end, they try to make you buy some of their handmade tribal gifts, like scarfs and bracelets. So don’t be disheartened when they ask you to buy something after seeming kind and helping you through the hike!
While in Hanoi, we organized and booked a trip with Sapa O’Chau. They are a local social enterprise with a focus on the local area and people. In fact the founder is from the region and is constantly promoting the area and trying to educate locals too. They have opened up a school in one of the villages so people can attend and get educated about tourism and English. You can also spend time at the school as a volunteer. This approach to the local area was one of the reasons we chose them.
Our package was the 2 day hike with an overnight at a homestay. The company even sorted our train travel to Lao Cai and the bus ride to their offices. We took the overnight sleeper train at 10pm, a four bed compartment in a comfortable carriage with decent amenities and comfort. On arrival, we were taken by a mini van to the offices of Sapa O’Chau, where we met our guide and grabbed a nice hot meal (more here about food in Hanoi and La Badine!). Shower facilities were also available.
We were traveling in a group of four plus a local guide. We hopped onto the van which took us to the starting point. It was a rainy time of year so we opted for their wellies! The hike was wet and quite a challenge but the landscape was fantastic. Greenery, rice fields, rivers and lots of hills! I haven’t seen so much hills and done so much hiking since my solo trip to Wales!
We stopped at a touristy spot for lunch which was a rewarding bowl of pho bo and spring rolls. Tourism really has hit this area, with the lunch spot purely set up to accommodate people on tours. The guides must have some deal with the locals for constant business!
After lunch we continued our journey until we reached the homestay. It was a beautiful lodge with a stunning view of the mountains. The host were a family with their kids and a range of animals and pets. They offered a hot shower and these incredible bedrooms with beds made out of bamboo. It was a great night of sleep! Dinner was served with the hosts and other guests staying, a nice local meal with a large variety and some local liqueur.
In the morning, pancakes were served with coffee before we continued our journey. We started with a short climb for the incredible views. This was by far the steepest part of our journey and was quite a challenge but the views were worth it.
The scenery changed when we hit a bamboo forest – an unique experiences to hike through.
The final stretch of our journey offered even better views, before we headed back into town. We were able to grab a hot shower and some food and get comfy before getting our overnight train back to Hanoi.
All in All
The scenery was amazing and beautiful, a great bit of exercise and good opportunity to experience a homestay. The work done by Sapa O’Chau is incredible for the local community as well. It’s a great experience for those who want a bit of nature and culture!
Also published on Medium.