We had spent more than three weeks in Vietnam by the time we arrived in the mountains of Sapa. We started in the southern tip in the Mekong Delta and made our way north. Vietnam is full of great travel experiences but my favorite place was Sapa and my favorite travel experience in Vietnam was trekking in the mountains surrounding Sapa and spending time with the Black H'mong people there. If you visit Sapa be sure to hire a guide from the Black H'mong minority and if possible spend the night in a home-stay. At a minimum be sure to have a meal with a Black H'mong family in one of the mountain villages. It is an unforgettable experience and for now it is off of the "banana pancake trail"! The hiking can be quite technical, but the views of the endless terraced rice fields are more than worth the effort. It can also be cold in this part of Vietnam so be prepared to purchase a coat upon arriving here.
By Rey Madolora, AFAR Local Expert
A young girl's walk home
I went hiking through the rice paddies in Sa Pa, Vietnam (northern mountain area). The town is swarmed with Hmong girls trying to sell handicrafts, following you throughout the city from the minute you leave your guest house. So yeah, it's full of people and tourists, parading through the rice paddies. But it is still their life, and a very unique way of living. Advice: colder up there, bring layers. I went in March. Your fancy hiking boots are of no match for these fields - super muddy and slippery.
By Colleen Choi
Looking down on the Rice Paddies
Biking through Vietnam
By alan maness
"…A smile is the only crooked line that sets a lot of things straight…" Sapa, Vietnam, February, 2012 I just got back from Sapa in the north of Vietnam, where I was hoping to take pictures of the beautiful endless rice fields and terraces. I say ‘Hoping’ because from the minute I arrived there till the minute I left, it was quite rainy and foggy. Least to say, I was quite disappointed. In fact, very disappointed that I got back to Hanoi at the same day, getting on the first night train back. However, in between my back and forth train rides I still got a chance to eat the best Pho soup (in an outdoor market among the locals) and walk with two other photographers down the hill towards Cat Cat Village, which is a home to the Black Hmong people. The only way to discover Cat Cat village and its people is by taking the steep stairs down the rice terraces to see the waterfalls. On my way downward I passed through this little girl who was running up the hills. I managed to pull out my camera very quick and take a picture of her before she ran away. When she saw my camera she made this silly smile. No doubt it was such a nice smile that it brightened up my so far depressive day.
By Sivan Askayo, AFAR Local Expert
Homey respite from the blue-handed peddlers
We didn't have weather luck in Sapa. I'm sure it's beautiful, the never-ending green terraces & idyllic villages, but they were all shrouded in fog on my visit. Our "village trek" consisted mostly of slogging through rice paddies & shimmying along the terrace edges. Though I knew it would come at a price, I gladly accepted the blue-stained hands of the local tribeswomen, because the alternative was to find myself lying in the muck. So I (outrageously over)paid a few bucks for some exquisitely embroidered coin purses & made it to our homestay. I loved staying at Ta Van. The owner went to business school in Hanoi, but came back to Sapa to open the homestay because she loves country life. She encouraged me to help her make dinner, which was delicious, & shared stories of her life. I'd stay here again, & hope she does really well. She also has really cute dogs. firstname.lastname@example.org
By Monica Hahn
Sample Freshly Harvested Rice with the Locals
Sa Pa is a breathtakingly beautiful hill town in Northern Vietnam. A nine hour overnight train from Hanoi will drop you in Lo Cai, where you can board a mini van and travel another 1 1/2 hours up to the main town of Sa Pa. The bus journey up is a highlight. To the left are terraced rice paddies that drop all the way down to rocky rivers below, and to the right, more rice paddies disappear into the clouds. The temperature is about 20 degrees cooler than Hanoi, and the air is cool and crisp. I found myself in Sa Pa at the peak of harvest season. The rice paddies glowed green against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. Entire families were tending the land, but they were still eager to stop and talk as we passed by. We befriended two ladies from the Hmong tribe, Mai and Gia, who welcomed us to have lunch with them. After a three-hour trek, we arrived at their home. Gia's husband had just arrived home from the fields, and lunch was almost ready. We pulled plastic chairs around a small wooden table and dined with near strangers who already felt like good friends. The meal consisted of fresh rice (picked within a day of being served) bamboo chicken and shou shou (which is like steamed cucumber). After our meal, Gia disappeared upstairs and retrieved some fermented apples and prepared rice wine for us. This was hands down one of the best meals I had in Vietnam and by far a favorite experience.
Trekking out of Sapa
Sapa is notorious for the Hmong girls who peddle their wares on the streets and in the picturesque central square. After a few interactions with one particularly chatty and funny woman, Thom, in front of our hostel, my friend and I agreed to pay her to take us on a trek to her home, a seven-mile walk from the center of town. After walking through many rice paddies, over multiple bridges, and meeting many people along the way, we arrived at her house, where her four children were excitedly waiting for her. We had another fabulous one day trek with a guide from Sapa O'Chau. Another good option! Bring: Lots of water, sturdy shoes, a dry bag for your camera, a willingness to fall in rice paddies!