After 5 weeks of travelling through Asia doing barely any exercise it was time to do some trekking in Sapa. Sapa is a town which is very popular with tourists for trekking. It is situated at the top of Vietnam (North West) near the Chinese border. Sapa has an airy and magical feeling to it with the town being surrounded by mist coated mountains and rice terraces – makes for beautiful scenery while walking.
Sapa is home to many hill tribes (or ethnic minority people). They all wear such colourful clothing it looks like a uniform. Unlike the rest of Vietnam the children speak very good English. Most of the ethnic minority people are farmers, but not as we know it. They don’t grow their rice and corn on flat land, they grow them on mountainous land. This makes the most beautiful layered terraces and one of the most breath taking sights I’ve seen. They live by trading or selling their farming products, as well as selling handicrafts and souvenirs to tourists.
We decided to do a 2 day trek in Sapa. We booked this through Hanoi Backpackers and below is a very detailed break down of our trip.
Overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai – surprisingly good! We stayed in a 4 berth soft sleeper, best train ride so far!
We were dropped at the Mountain View Hostel to have breakfast and shower.
We met our guide Kong (not sure of spelling but he said like King Kong) and two other traveller’s (Ines and Brittany) who were to join us on the trek.
We were driven to the start of our trek. This is where we were met by two young hill tribe girls and an older lady who said I could call her Mama. They were going to walk with us for the first part of the trek. I was a bit sceptical at first when they started asking where I was from and how old I was etc as these are the typical questions you are asked by anyone trying to sell you something. I knew they wouldn’t be helping us for free and they would want me to buy some handicrafts. After a while I started to really enjoy their company though. I am not the most skilled walker so I really appreciated their help – telling me where to place my foot, and when it got slippery they would hold my hand.
After a few hours we stopped for lunch at one of the villages – turns out Mama had our lunch in the giant basket she was carrying. Mama was not only holding my hand and helping me but carrying lunch for us all – this made me feel so useless! Before we ate we had to swim in the river as we were ridiculously hot.
As expected we got hounded by the tribal women. I ended up buying a little purse off Mama for $12 NZD – you can normally get this for about $3… rip off but I probably couldn’t pay one of my friends to hold my hand and wait for me dawdling so it was worth it.
After lunch we were really full and tired, but alas we had to carry on trekking. After an hour we were hot and sweaty so Kong allowed us to have a break and swim again. On the trek you are also joined by buffalo and ‘buffalo boys’, dogs (some scary and very aggressive), and lots of goats and ‘goat boys’ (I don’t know if that’s their official name). Kong would just laugh at us when we would ask him to save us from the dogs.
Finally we made it to our authentic homestay – the home of a Vietnamese family. The bottom floor of the homestay consisted of a ‘living area’ (where they would have dinner and it also had some beds in it), a small bedroom and a kitchen. The homestay’s upper floor had mattresses laid out on the floor with mosquito nets for us to stay. The hot shower that was promised to us was actually a tap outside the kitchen. Here I used a bucket to pour cold water over myself while I had chickens and ducks running around the bottom of my feet.
We had a feast with the family – they kept bringing out plates of food! Tofu, fried spring rolls, stir fried beef, stir fried cabbage, and last but not least…. a bowl of chicken bits, including feet. The Vietnamese don’t let any part of the chicken go to waste. I was trying to be polite, but looking at the bowl for too long would make me feel sick. Ines was peer pressured to try something from the bowl and she was scarred for the rest of the trip. They make their own rice wine. This tastes like pure vodka, and they take shots of it regularly. Again, I couldn’t manage much of the stuff.
After dinner we had a herb bath! The herb bath is used to cure aches and pains and is great for unwinding after a day of physical exercise – perfect for us. It took a long time for them to prepare the bath for us. They boiled fresh and dried plants and bark in a massive wok. They then poured the mixture into a ‘wooden bath tub’. It was such a cool experience.
Day Two: We woke up to a big plate of pancakes cooked for us by the family. This was a great start to the day. Kong said we were climbing up and down a mountain today.
When it was time to get going we could hear thunderstorms… Great. Our day packs weren’t water proof so this wasn’t good news. As you can imagine a few minutes after we started walking the weather hit the fan and it was pouring down. Kong asked if we wanted to put our jackets on but there was no point. We were drenched. The ground had turned to mud and we were basically slipping and sliding all over the place. Kong found us bamboo to use as walking sticks. To my surprise the walking stick helped a lot. This was so tough, mentally and physically – my legs ached.
After a few hours of trekking in the mud we finally made it to the next homestay – this was the end of our journey! I was so pleased to have made it to the homestay without having KO’d. When I opened my pack I found find phone and camera dry. Happiness!
We had lunch and then were carted back to Sapa in a bus.
We then had a few hours to chill before the overnight bus back to Hanoi.
I loved and hated the trek at the same time. The scenery was amazing, but I’m not the most outdoorsy person so I found it really hard at times. I would do it all over again though haha.