Sa Pa in Vietnam

Sa Pa in Vietnam – Trekking among the most evocative rice fields in South East Asia

When I decided to insert Sapa in my last minute itinerary, I don’t deny that I feared ending up in one of the many paradises now deprived of any personality and tradition by the crowds of tourists.

In Vietnam, unfortunately, it happened on more than one occasion, for example a Nha Trang.
In fact, since the direct flight to Moscow was inaugurated, the quiet seaside and fishing town which has seen the alternation of many important civilizations such as the thousand-year-old Cham, has become a “Little Russia”, where thousand-dollar hotel-bunkers continue to spring up. rooms and every shop or restaurant is exclusively aimed at the typical Russian tourist who has been frequenting it for a few years. You have to leave the center to find traditional Vietnam, that of steaming food stalls on the street and children playing the typical game similar to badminton, but using their feet.

But no! Sapa, unlike Nha Trang, was able to keep the charm practically intact of the valleys cultivated with rice, a sector that continues to employ 50% of the population throughout the country. Human ingenuity has truly given its best in this case, shaping, over centuries of hard work, the impervious mountains and adapting them to cultivation typical of the plains.
The unfavorable climate, 160 days of fog a year, rain and cold in winter, imposes different agricultural rhythms compared to the south of the country, where there are three rice harvests a year: here, people work hard for twelve months to have only one harvest, in early autumn.
Clouds permitting, however, the view is similar to that of the tea cultivations of Malaysia (see my other article on trekking in the Cameron Highlands): like pyramids, well-defined layers of earth rise more and more steeply towards the sky, reminding me of the isoipse of a geographical map how to come to life.

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Hanoi – Sapa by bus

From Hanoi bus connections are more than frequent – I do not recommend the slow and expensive train – and normally leave in the late afternoon, taking approximately twelve hours (see article on Giulia’s night buses) at a cost of around $20. Generally i night buses they are comfortable and with wifi; the same cannot be said of the professionalism of the companies and crew. Overbooking is common practice and good manners are not at home on these ocean liners on wheels but, all in all, nothing dramatic!

Colorful mountain tribes

Once you arrive at your destination you will be greeted by crowds of people offering the most varied services.
You can choose whether to go to one of the many hostels-hotels (3-5$ per person) or already make an agreement with one of the women adorned in the typical colorful clothes of the mountain tribes, Daos and Hmong, to stay in their wooden houses in the village. This is a very special experience that will give you the opportunity to savor the times of nature: the concept of time, in fact, here is still linked to that of place.

Trekking among the rice fields

Trekking boots are essential if you want to follow one of the many paths that are lost in the middle of the rice fields.
The simplest one goes to Cat Cat village3 km downhill from Sapa.
From here, several more challenging routes start: one follows the river upstream, arriving, ten kilometers later, at the Love waterfall and Silver waterfall, among the most beautiful in Vietnam; another, in the opposite direction but of the same length, descends towards the Ta Van village.

In both cases I highly recommend being accompanied by one of the many women you will find along the way: it is practically impossible to find your way alone in this maze of unmarked paths.
The last route starting from Cat Cat, the most challenging of all, is the one that climbs the highest peak in Vietnam, the 3,148 meters of Phan Xi Pang. Only expert hikers can think of tackling the three days necessary for the ascent, but the reward must be equally high!

Sa Pa in Vietnam

Homestay at the village

Each village has numerous homestay options that you can find by relying on those that have an agreement with your hotel, or simply by letting someone who offers it stop you on the street (there are many of them!). In the morning you will be driven from your hotel to the village, which is normally a few hours’ walk from Sapa. My advice, in fact, is to spend the first night in a hotel, where you will leave the bulk of your luggage in preparation for the long walk.

Costs, including accommodation and meals, range between 20 and 25 USD per day (400-500,000 Dong). Don’t forget to try the typical liqueur made with small apples that grow only in the mountains of these provinces, the Rượu Táo Mèo or Happy Water… guess why!

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