Visiting Sapa, Vietnam’s northern mountain region

Sapa lies about 1500 meters high, 380 km north-west of Hanoi, close to the border with China. According to Wikipedia, 5 ethnic minorities live around Sapa: 52% of which are Hmong and 25% Dao. I arrived in Sapa in the early hours of dawn, after a night in an overnight train from Hanoi. There were many Hmong ladies of all ages around the main street, selling their handicraft or offering their services as a guide.

I arranged a 3h hike with a friendly 32-year old Hmong woman on my first afternoon: she took me to waterfalls and villages down the valley: although the view of the mountains was misty, it was so pretty! It was interesting being able to ask my guide many questions and to get a small insight into her life.

A cloudy but beautiful view from the valley near Sapa
A cloudy but beautiful view from the valley near Sapa
Some of the animals I saw in Sapa
Some of the animals I saw in Sapa


Sapa O’Chau 2-day “Red Dao homestay” trek

On the following day I set-off on a 2-day/1-night hike, which I organised via Sapa O’Chau social enterprise. We were a small group of 4, with a 24-year old Hmong guide, but various Hmong ladies walked with us for part of the way: some were friendly and helpful, while others were persistent and pushy, but in the end all wanted to sell us embroidered handicraft. I still have a few colourful bracelets from that trip! 🙂 The rice field terraces and views of the mountains were wonderful!

near Sapa

Rice fields near Sapa
Rice fields near Sapa
The view during our lunch break
The view during our lunch break

We slept in the homestay of a Red Dao family: their home, just as the shed-like space we slept in, were made of wood.

“Red Dao homestay”: my bed for the night

In the evening they cooked lots of dishes around the stove in the centre of the main room: potato fries with garlic, fried pork spring rolls, fried tofu cubes with tomatoes and herbs, water cress with ginger, something with duck, etc…

The house lady poured rice wine (“Happy water”) into the glasses of all 13 people joining for the meal. I thought it was quite funny that she even poured some in the small kids’ glasses!

Our Hmong guide helping our host with the preparation of food
Our Hmong guide helping our host with the preparation of food
The daughter of our Red Dao host
The daughter of our Red Dao host & her son

Some interesting facts about Red Dao people:

  • Red Dao women wear a red headscarf and get the front part of their hair as well as their eyebrows shaved off when they get married
  • The Red Dao use lots of herbal remedies and I was pleased to try out one of their herbal baths after the meal. I don’t know what leaves and herbs were boiled for my hot bath, I can only tell you it smelt like bathing in piping hot cabbage/spinach soup! 🙂
My hot herbal (cabagge-smelling) bath
My hot herbal (cabagge-smelling) bath

The town of Sapa

On the evening before my 2-day trek, I explored the main streets of the town of Sapa:

  • #1 highlight: the moment the clouds surrounding the town descended and revealed the mountains they had been hiding
  • #2 highlight: roaming on the evening food market, trying this and that. I loved the barbecued meat stuffed with mustard leaves and the barbecued sweet potato.
One of the streets in Sapa
One of the streets in the town of Sapa
One of the evening food stalls in Sapa, where you pick your food and watch it being barbecued
Some of Sapa's colonial style buildings
Some of Sapa’s colonial style buildings

If you travel to Vietnam and are staying there long enough, I warmly recommend to plan a few days around Sapa!

My next post about Vietnam is already online: click the image below to read it!

Next blog post: Hoi An & its delicacies

Useful links

Sapa wikitravel:
Sapa O’Chau travel social enterprise:
The Sinh Tourist: (for bus and train ticket bookings)

Visiting Sapa, Vietnam's Northern mountain region
Pin for later: Highlights in Sapa, Vietnam’s Northern mountain region

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