Sapa Valley, with it’s high mountains, lush greenery and terraced rice paddies, is just so beautiful.
Even before I reached Vietnam I knew I wanted to visit Sapa. So I booked a 3 day/2 night trip with the hostel, left from Hanoi on a sleeper bus at 10pm and arrived in Sapa at 6am the next day. The bus wasn’t that comfortable to sleep in and it had been raining for the last couple of days so I was a bit worried about the 12km trek (starting 9am on the same day) especially since I hadn’t slept very well on the bus. But even so, I was pretty excited. By the time we started trekking it had thankfully stopped raining coz what would be worse than trekking in the rain right? Well, as it turns out, trekking right after it has rained is equally bad. When I signed up for the trek what I had in mind was a hike through a beautiful valley, similar to what I did in the Lake District (UK) or Switzerland. What we got instead was a treacherous trek where the only view we could afford was our feet coz if you dared to look anywhere else you would slip, as I experienced one too many times. Very often, there was not much of a path to walk on and the rain left behind a lot of muck which meant our shoes had no good grip. All 15people in our group had individual guides and I basically held my guides hand for 80% of the trek. It was terrifying to think that a slip could result in falling off the cliff. I hadn’t signed up for this! A couple of times we were made to walk along the edge of a rice terrace and the path was so tiny that if I put my foot on it sideways, my toes and heels were left dangling. On one side of this was the next level of the rice terrace perhaps 10ft below and on the other side was a mucky/watery terrace and well, a lot of us, including me, landed in the water which wasn’t as bad as falling 10ft or down the cliff. It is so surprising that we weren’t warned of this earlier. It caught everyone by surprise. But luckily, none of us were harmed during the 12km trek (which lasted for 7hrs!). A lot of the group loved the trek and the adrenaline. Me, I was just glad it was over.
The thing I did love was that when I wasn’t slipping or skidding or worrying about falling (basically every time we took a break) Sapa offered a beautiful view. And the group I was trekking with was absolutely marvelous. All 10-12 of us got along really well, had amazing conversations during and after the trek. After the first day’s trek we were all battered and dirty but that didn’t stop us from chatting and drinking and eating for 4-5hrs. Also, the homestay (staying with a local family) was an amazing experience. The dinner cooked by the family was fresh and delicious and it included rice, cabbage stir fry, spring rolls, chicken and mushroom stir fry, chicken and veg stir fry, tofu and tomato stir fry and some “happy water” (which is another name for rice wine) to end the dinner. By 9pm though we were all tucked into bed. We didn’t have bedrooms but the loft had 15 odd mattresses which was good enough for a tired and aching body.
The trek with local guides gave us a chance to learn more about the local culture of Sapa. A lot of the people don’t speak Vietnamese but speak another language (or dialect?) and many of them are fluent in English and French. We also learnt (from our female guides) that most of the men in their village are very lazy and often stay home and look after the house and kids whereas the women go out and earn money!! This is something I haven’t seen before, at least not at this large a scale.
Would I do this trek again? Probably not. I love a hike and beautiful scenery but if the cost of it is breaking an arm or a leg or falling down a cliff? No, thank you very much. I would much rather take a motorbike taxi into the local villages.
But all’s well that ends well. We all slipped multiple times but no one had an accident, no one broke a limb and we came away having seen a beautiful sight and having met truly amazing people.