After a reasonable sleep on the Han Oi to Lao Cai night train we were promptly shown to our transfer to Sapa. We were dropped off at the Hostel, where we stored the belongings we didn’t want to carry and had a good breakfast. We prepaid for these which may have cost us more but was convenient as we didn’t have to deal with it half asleep. After changing, we checked in then we were allotted our guide Chi and away we went, with the masses! The first half an hour teaches you what is so wrong with mass tourism, I’ve seen it before elsewhere in the world but it’s still sad to see a place such as beautiful as Sapa slowly being over developed by the need to keep up with the quantity of tourists. Maybe a similar approach to visiting Machu Pitchu may be necessary before it’s too late. Fortunately, we had booked a three day two night trek so we headed off the main path and within minutes we were losing sight of the masses. At this point we weren’t quite aware of what lay ahead! The highs of the trip: the scenery is amaising; the people we met along the way and tagged up with who were also trekking with the Sapa Sisters; Chi our guide was incredible especially as she was nearly four months pregnant, the other guides we teamed up with; the couple of hours of total relaxation at the waterfall and spring (just what two days of trekking required).
Lows of the trek (some are more changes I’d make next time rather than lows); we had two women dressed in the same outfits as the Sapa Sisters walk with us for a period of the first mornings trek. Be aware. Not so much a scam but an uncomfortable situation to politely get out of. They proved very helpful especially to my wife who found the slippery, steep sections of the paths difficult with weak ankles. Unfortunately they were not part of our trek and we soon came to realise they were sweetening us up to buy their goods, which were very well made and traditional- but not what we were looking for. They showed us things and taught us about the local area, but I didn’t like being duped, made to feel guilty and expected to buy. We got away with offering them 20000 dong (a fair amount for what they gave us) each but the others we travelled with ended up paying a lot more for beautiful bags they didn’t really want. The trekking isn’t easy, possibly challenging, which we knew it would be but we weren’t prepared for the lack of shelter. Fortunately we didn’t have a drop of rain, but that brought with it crystal clear skies and intense sun which led to plenty of burning and near heat exhaustion. The first night we stayed at an okay homestay/ guest house, it wasn’t the first choice of our guide but we called late and that one was full. A little disappointing, especially as the hosts weren’t that friendly. The bed was comfortable; we had a full mozzie net and a great view form the living room. We saw very few mozzies but we did prepare heavily for them. The food the guide and the family had was different to what we ate; we had a very European friendly menu which was repeated the following night. I think my expectations were higher than what we got. I was really hoping for local cuisine maybe like chicken head soup etc.. We got rice and chicken. Finally, our pick up couldn’t make it into the village to collect us as there had been a landslip, no one’s fault but meant we had an arduous walk up the hill to reach our transport. The final thing in hindsight that I felt let down by was the lack of time in the indigenous villages meeting the different tribes. We literally passed through their land without seeing some of them. I think the three day trek could be adapted to take this into account quite easily to allow the trekkers to get a better insight into the different tribes’ cultures. I don’t want to come across as negative hopefully just realistic.
Overall experience: Incredible
Guide: Lovely. We hope Chi, her husband and her child have a wonderful life.
Would I recommend it? Definitely, a highlight of our trip to Vietnam. Thank you Chi and your sisters.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.