Pretty much every backpacker I met when I was in Vietnam told me to go to Sapa as they saw that I love hiking, so this place slowly became the sight of my hiking cravings in Vietnam and I purposely left it for the end of my trip, not only to end up on a high note my backpacking adventures in Vietnam but also because I was planning to cross to China by land and this was a perfect geographic spot to do so!
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How to get there
Pretty much in every town I visited in Vietnam they were advertising buses and trains to go to Sapa. That made me a bit scared of the place being overly crowded. Luckily it was not!
I got a night bus from Cat Ba and we arrived at 4:00am! It’s always so unpractical to arrive anywhere so early as you cannot find transports or check in at hostels. Luckily, the bus was parked at the station and they let us stay sleeping at the bus.
At around 6:00am it was time to start figuring out on what to do and where to go as I didn’t have anything booked. A friend had previously mentioned the Tavan Chopai Homestay and luckily I bookmarked it back then on maps.me
After looking for this hostel, I saw that it was quite out of town, about 1:30h walk and after not having slept too much overnight I didn’t feel like it.
It was also starting to rain and it was a pretty cold morning. After negotiating a mototaxi we made the scenic ride towards the village of Ta Van where the hostel is located.
As I arrived pretty early, there was still no one to be seen at the hostel, luckily they have stairs going up on the side of the building and I found a hammock to chill until someone appeared.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
The hostel is basic mountain accommodation, nothing fancy and a bit damp as apparently there was a huge storm the day before I arrived.
Still, the energy and friendliness of the hosts were fantastic and I enjoyed a lot my stay there! I stayed two nights there but could have certainly stayed longer.
In front of the hostel there’s a pub with a pool table and a balcony with fantastic views, the happy hour makes the beers super cheap as well!
Hiking from Ta Van
If there’s something you will have lots of offers when in Sapa is for hiking guides.
I’m normally completely against this as I prefer exploring on my own instead of following someone.
Only in cases where it’s unavoidable I take a guide such as in the active conflict areas of Myanmar.
If you’re not too confident hiking on your own, I can tell you: Sapa is great for solo hiking. I think it’s impossible to get lost if you have a GPS with you and with so many trails around, you can make your days as shorter or longer as you wish.
Considering this, my hiking adventures in Sapa where of constant improvisation on where to go. I got a couple of tips from the hosts at the homestay and the only other backpacker staying there that day joined.
The trails around the area are a mix in between flat and steep, but although I recommend taking some good hiking boots with you, there was nothing too technical or dangerous.
We hiked for a good few hours on the first day, finding paths and small streams with “waterfalls” that do not exist on maps.me, plenty of fantastic viewpoints around and even that it was not the proper season, the rice field terraces were starting to look wonderful!
Eventually we made it to “the” Waterfall, which is a perfect chilling spot.
On the way back we found the Bamboo Forest that was mentioned by our host but we didn’t really check on where it was.
As usual, I decided to go a bit off path and we ended up doing some cross-country across dense vegetation. So much fun!
Day 2 was of a similar course. With a short hike in the morning and then we hiked towards Sapa town as we were curious about climbing the Fansipan mountain with no guides.
We arrived to the Chapi Homestay which has a very nice common area and a terrace overlooking the Fansipan.
At this point I was in a big dilemma, as my visa was about to expire and couldn’t stay much longer in Vietnam but at the same time I really wanted to climb the highest mountain in Indochina!
On the following day, three of us started exploring the area to scout on the option to climb the mountain as we have read elsewhere that there are several controls against solo trekkers as the locals want to push you towards hiring Fansipan tour guides.
We had a pretty cool hike around dried rice terraces and some short climbs. At one point we ended up cross-countrying again as the trail disappeared.
After getting close to a cliff we had to re-trace our steps and found a semi-dried stream that lead to a powerful waterfall. All in all, it was a cool hike and we saw no one “checking” for solo hikers.
Back at the hostel and chilling at the terrace I was not happy with the sight as the Fansipan was covered in clouds all day long.
Having read of the tough conditions and almost non-existent visibility that other hikers had experienced in the past I decided that this was not my time to conquer that elusive summit so I made plans to move to China on the following day.
One day I will definitely be back to summit Fansipan, sometimes you just need to be real and accept that the conditions were not right before attempting something silly.
All in all I spent 3 days hiking in Sapa, met wonderful people and the locals were very friendly. If you’re planning to go there, you can definitely hike a lot with no guide and fall in love with this northernly part of Vietnam!
I’d recommend to stay in the area of Ta Van as I found Sapa town to be the crowded place I initially feared as most people stay there to take the cable car up the Marsipan.
Feel free to drop a line if you’re planning to go hiking in Sapa!
Check out the rest of my posts backpacking in Vietnam for more ideas on your trip!