Vietnam: Sapa and the rice fields

Vietnam offers impressive and very different landscapes from one region to another. In the far north of the country, the Hoang Lien Son mountains and the rice terraces attract many visitors. Fair enough: the region of Sapa abounds in breathtaking views, and allows you to meet the many ethnic minorities who still live an authentic way of life at the rhythm of their traditions and beliefs.

Here are some pictures of Sa Pa, its rice valleys and its inhabitants.  I am also sharing my tips and advices to travel to Sa Pa and organize a trek in the region > Check them all at the end of this post 

When we planned our trip to Vietnam, there were many places on our “bucket list” that we absolutely wanted to visit. Sapa was one of them.
We spent three days in the mountainous region of Sapa, in northern Vietnam – just a few kilometers from the border with China. An absolutely unique moment marked by a lot of meetings with the villagers, young and old. There are several ethnic minorities who still live in the region of Sapa (Hmongs, Daos, Tays, Giays and XaPho). Most of them still wear their traditional costumes and maintain the way of life of their ancestors… A simple, community way of life where being brave is one of the fundamental values.

In spring, the rice terraces are filled with water. This process is necessary to sow rice on fertile land. The villagers of Sa Pa work mainly in rice cultivation. Whether the land belongs to them or not. Their only tools are their hands, their bare feet and their buffalo (that is very expensive for the locals – as it costs three times the price of a motorbike).



“Travel makes one modest.
You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

– Gustave Flaubert



Here comes the sunset… 


How to reach Sapa?

You can reach Sapa by bus (5h30) or with a sleeper train – by night (8h00) from Hanoi. It is also possible to travel from other cities such as Ninh Binh or Haiphong, for example.

The train stops at Lao Cai station, which is 38 km from Sapa. To shuttle, there are public buses (for less than 1$) or private shuttle services that cost between 3 and 4$.
We took the night train departing at 21:35 from Hanoi (the capital). We arrived in Lao Cai at 5:40am. We then took a shuttle bus that had been organized by our Bed&Breakfast. (Note: I would highly advice you to buy your train tickets well in advance, at a station ticket office – trains are quickly full and internet bookings sometimes hide unpleasant surprises)

Where to sleep?
Downtown Sapa is absolutely not beautiful and I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day there (or even few hours). We slept a little out of town in a Bed&Breakfast in the middle of nature: the Sapa Garden Bed and Breakfast

When to go?

  • From March to May the rice fields are in “water”, i.e. it is the time when the inhabitants begin the transplanting work on the terraced rice fields. So you can see incredible scenes of life.
  • To see the rice fields green, you need to go in summer (July – August) and to see them yellow, you need to go in September, before the harvest.
We were in Sapa during the month of April and we had sun and 25 degrees every day. We were lucky since the week before it was cold and visibility was very low. Apparently in winter it can get very cold

Hiking on your own or with a local guide?
It is possible to discover the region alone (ideally by motorcycle). We did it for a few hours and it was a great adventure, even if we could only take the more or less passable roads and therefore we did not venture on small paths.

The following days we went on a trek with a local guide from the Black Hmong community. Our guide, Chan, made us discover her region by sharing with us her culture and her lifestyle. In the evening, we stayed with her parents in an authentic wooden house (like the ones you see in the pictures above) and we all cooked a traditional meal together. The exchanges with Chan and her family, and the experience of living two days immersed in a completely different life have no price.
This remains one of my fondest memories of Vietnam! ♡ (I’ll tell you more soon in another blog post)
Feel free to write to Chan to ask your questions or book a custom tour. She created the ” Sapa Hmong Family ” where she, her sister and her husband work as guides.
Price per person for 2 days/1 night, meals included: US$75.

How many days should you spend in Sapa?
The answer depends on you, on what you would like to do and especially on the time you have. Two days hiking in the middle of villages is really not “too much”. It is, I think, the minimum to soak up local life.

We decided to spend our first day in Sapa (sleeping in a B&B) to go around by ourselves and then start the two-day trek with a local guide (sleeping at a local house). In this way, we were able to leave our backpacks at the B&B (in Sapa), and we picked them up after the two-day trek.

Are there a lot of tourists?
Personnaly, in April, we did not see many tourists/visitors/hikers during our 3 days in the region. Yes, the sleeper train was full and in the town of Sa Pa there were a lot of people, but once we started the hike… there was nobody left! That was awesome!






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