Sapa, Vietnam - Trekking to the Hidden Village

Sparkling white beaches to mythical forests and hiking scenery, Southeast Asia draws the adventuresome wanderlusts across the world; from the Ancient Luang Prabang to the Temples of Angkor Wat and Borobudur, Southeast Asia never cease to amaze. This trip, i'm taking you into the hidden village of Sapa, Vietnam. Home to the enchantment of terraced paddy fields, handcrafted by the local hill tribes, ingeniously turned the mountains into terraced fields. 

 En route trekking from Ta Van Village to Giang Ta Chai Village.

En route trekking from Ta Van Village to Giang Ta Chai Village.

Itinerary and Road Map covering :

  • Day 1: Explore Hanoi Old Quarter; Overnight Train (10pm - 6am) from Hanoi to Lao Cai

  • Day 2: Lao Cai Railway Station to Sapa Town (50min); Explore Sapa Town

  • Day 3: Trekking from Sapa Town - Ta Van Village; Overnight at Ta Van Village (Homestay)

  • Day 4: Giang Ta Chai - Su Pan Village; Back to Sapa Town, Overnight Train back to Hanoi

  • Day 5: Hanoi Town to Halong Bay

  • Day 6: Leaving Hanoi

 From Hanoi Town to Sapa Town.

From Hanoi Town to Sapa Town.

 2 Days 1 Night treks from Sapa Town to Ta Van Village - Giang Ta Chai - Su Pan Village

2 Days 1 Night treks from Sapa Town to Ta Van Village - Giang Ta Chai - Su Pan Village

Average Cost

Accommodation & Tour - most of our accommodations cover by 2 separate overnight trains, Hotel at Sapa Town and a homestay at Ta Van Village which all included in our pre-booked Sapa Tour. On the last night, we kind of splurged on a Lovely Penthouse at Hanoi E Central Hotel.

  • Sapa Tour - USD210 per person (Transports, Accommodations and meals)

  • Day 1: Overnight Train on First Class 4 beds berth (included in Tour)

  • Day 2: 1 night stay at Sapa Panorama Hotel (included in Tour)

  • Day 3: 1 night stay at Ta Van Village Homestay (included in Tour)

  • Day 4: Overnight Train on First Class 4 beds berth (included in Tour)

  • Day 5: Penthouse at Hanoi E Central Hotel - USD126 for the whole Penthouse

Foods - A sit-down restaurant with table service can cost about VND120k-150k, Road-side stall cost about VND30k-50k, Sandwich (banh mi) cost about VND5k-8k. Gentle tips in getting the sensible-priced mineral water - the same 1.5 litre mineral water can cost VND8.5k in chained market, but overly priced at VND20k in local sundry/grocery store. Spend wisely. 

Transportation - Taxi from Hanoi Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi Town can be a serious rip-off, they will charge you not least than VND530k-650k, we got ourself a GrabCar (Fixed Rate) costed us only VND300k. Overnight train for 4 beds VIP Berth will cost you approximately USD84 for the whole cabin, to and fro, ours are included in the Sapa Tour. Overnight train from Hanoi will get you to Lao Cai Railway terminal, you need to take a minibus (approx. 50 min winding ride) to Sapa Town, and of course, ours are included in Sapa Tour, to and fro. From Sapa Town onwards, we covered most of the ground by foot, at the end of our trekking trip at Su Pan Village, we were ferry back to Sapa Town with minibus - arranged by Sapa Tour. 

Best time to visit - Paddy Planting (April), Paddy Harvesting (August-September) 

Terraced Paddy Fields shimmered in the distance, as water buffaloes ploughed through the soggy field. The towering Hoang Lien Son mountain range lay shrouded in mist while clusters of bamboo huts sprawled across its foothills - this is Sapa

I've captured the Sapa trek and sums up in this 1 minute and 42 seconds video clip, in case you're too lazy to read. 

ONE DAY IN HANOI TOWN

The excursion of hustle bustle city, the massive dosage of mental traffic, a beautiful mismatch of Vietnamese and French in the Old Quarter architecture. I'm not especially a big fan of Hanoi city, but the vibe and energy Hanoi Old Quarter is unique, home to the oldest neighbourhood in the city with history dated back to 13th century. The best place to observe the world go by sitting at their "outdoor" stools right on the walkway. 

Places of interest: St. Joseph's Cathedral, Historical Walk through Hanoi Old Quarter, Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Temple of Literature & National University, Hanoi Opera House (Water Puppet) 

Photography Tips: Hanoi Old Quarter is a place filled with life, a great place for Street & Cityscape Photography - prime lens + bokehlicious, that's my way to go! 

 Plastic stool not more than a foot high, next to dusty main road, portion of unidentifiable food in a bowl, a fondly trademark of Vietnamese's street.

Plastic stool not more than a foot high, next to dusty main road, portion of unidentifiable food in a bowl, a fondly trademark of Vietnamese's street.

 Barber by the sidewalk.

Barber by the sidewalk.

 Lowered plastic stool, sunflower seeds and tea - the Vietnamese way of pass time.

Lowered plastic stool, sunflower seeds and tea - the Vietnamese way of pass time.

 St. Joseph Cathedral.

St. Joseph Cathedral.

 The Hanoi Old Quarter.

The Hanoi Old Quarter.

 Restaurant by the sidewalk.

Restaurant by the sidewalk.

GATEWAY OF TREKKING BASE - SAPA

Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa today is the northern Vietnam's premier trekking base to the plunging valley. Spectacular views emerging on clear days, with mountains towering above on all sides, views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks. I was actually expecting a quaint alpine town, but not quite, the Sapa's French colonial villas that once fell into despair during wars has now overwhelmed by modern tourism development and mushroomed haphazardly.

Places of Interest: Sapa Town sightseeing, Silver Waterfall, Touristy Cat Cat Village, Muong Hoa Valley, Red Dao Village of Ta Phin, Hiking Ham Rong Mountain, Mt. Fansipan, Motorbike exploring the Northern Vietnam

Photography Tips: You won't quite see the massive plunging terrace valley yet, Sapa is very much a town where you can capture Street at their local market, and landscape photography over at Cat Cat Village. 

 Hanoi Railway Station, boarding our overnight train to Lao Cai Railway Terminal.

Hanoi Railway Station, boarding our overnight train to Lao Cai Railway Terminal.

 The 4 Beds VIP Berth - privacy and comfy but highly recommended to bring along your ear-plug if you're a light sleeper.

The 4 Beds VIP Berth - privacy and comfy but highly recommended to bring along your ear-plug if you're a light sleeper.

 Arrived at Sapa town, warming up with our first hike up to Ham Rong Mountain.

Arrived at Sapa town, warming up with our first hike up to Ham Rong Mountain.

 From above the Ham Rong Mountain, overlooking Muong Hoa Valley, where we will bring crossing on the next day.

From above the Ham Rong Mountain, overlooking Muong Hoa Valley, where we will bring crossing on the next day.

 The Sapa town, not quite what you'd imagine right?

The Sapa town, not quite what you'd imagine right?

 At the market place of Sapa town.

At the market place of Sapa town.

 Dog meat is a particular popular "cuisine" in the urban area of North.

Dog meat is a particular popular "cuisine" in the urban area of North.

 A 2-hours downhill trek from Sapa town to the touristy Cat Cat Village.

A 2-hours downhill trek from Sapa town to the touristy Cat Cat Village.

 Downhill towards Cat Cat Village.

Downhill towards Cat Cat Village.

 The Cat Cat Village.

The Cat Cat Village.

 Little girl from H'mong hill tribe.

Little girl from H'mong hill tribe.

 The H'mong hill tribe, despite the numerous minorities hill tribe in Sapa, they are noticeable different from their outfit.

The H'mong hill tribe, despite the numerous minorities hill tribe in Sapa, they are noticeable different from their outfit.

 Inside the home of H'mong - preparing dinner for the family.

Inside the home of H'mong - preparing dinner for the family.

 Got weed?

Got weed?

 Cute piglet wandering wildly in Cat Cat Village.

Cute piglet wandering wildly in Cat Cat Village.

 Old Hydro-electric power station built by the French.

Old Hydro-electric power station built by the French.

 The tour agency arranged a minibus from Cat Cat Village back to Sapa town, check-in to hotel and have our evening rest. There's hardly a nightlife scene in Sapa but there are pubs and restaurants you can enjoy a beer or drink but mostly close around 10pm. There are also local street foods around most of the corner in Sapa town, cater for the locals.

The tour agency arranged a minibus from Cat Cat Village back to Sapa town, check-in to hotel and have our evening rest. There's hardly a nightlife scene in Sapa but there are pubs and restaurants you can enjoy a beer or drink but mostly close around 10pm. There are also local street foods around most of the corner in Sapa town, cater for the locals.

TO THE HIDDEN VILLAGES OF SAPA

I've long heard about the beautiful valley and the ethnic groups who inhabit this region - and it didn't disappoint. We experienced Vietnam's backcountry, stayed in a local's home, trailed the Muong Hoa Valley treks - into the hidden villages of Sapa. 

Terraced paddy fields are slopes claimed from nature for cultivation in hilly or mountainous areas. Created by weathered granite rock and mountain cliffs often stock water, the local hill tribes grow rice and establish terraced paddy fields, one after another, from the foot to the nearly top of mountains. Generations to generations of them have made the terraced paddy fields as we see today. 

Places of Interest: Muong Huo Valley, Ta Van Village, Giang Ta Chai Village and Su Pan Village

Photography Tips: Every year in April, the hill tribes will water their fields and prepare for new crop, the surface of terraced fields shine like mirror reflecting the contrast of reddish brown soil, deep blue sky and the green of surrounding forests. In June-July, the terraced paddy fields with full grown paddy rice spread the green out to the entire valley. August-September, is when all terraced paddy fields ripe, paint the valley in gold, like a golden silk scarves flying over in the wind above green mountain ranges, making the valley astonishingly beautiful. 

 Crossing the hustle bustle Sapa tour, to the entrance to our treks.

Crossing the hustle bustle Sapa tour, to the entrance to our treks.

 The Sapa trek begins...

The Sapa trek begins...

 Paddy was harvested back in September, however, the view, still fascinating!

Paddy was harvested back in September, however, the view, still fascinating!

 Sapa's Muong Hoa Valley spreads over 4 km length, 2 km width with at least 159 stones.

Sapa's Muong Hoa Valley spreads over 4 km length, 2 km width with at least 159 stones.

 The Muong Hoa Valley.

The Muong Hoa Valley.

 H'mong kids frolicking at the Muong Hoa River.

H'mong kids frolicking at the Muong Hoa River.

 The Paddy.

The Paddy.

 It takes about 5 hours trek across the valley, tracing Muong Hoa River, through its terraced fields and passing hamlets of minority hill tribes in Muong Hoa Valley.

It takes about 5 hours trek across the valley, tracing Muong Hoa River, through its terraced fields and passing hamlets of minority hill tribes in Muong Hoa Valley.

 Arrived at the Ta Van Village, at 1,000 meter altitude and home to for H'mong, Zao, Giay minority hill tribes who have been working on the sloping land and living their own way of life for hundred of years.

Arrived at the Ta Van Village, at 1,000 meter altitude and home to for H'mong, Zao, Giay minority hill tribes who have been working on the sloping land and living their own way of life for hundred of years.

 Inside the Kitchen of Giay hill tribe's homestay.

Inside the Kitchen of Giay hill tribe's homestay.

 Putting on the kickass Vietnamese's sandal, posing with 50 packs of orange paddy rice - together with our tour guide - "See" of H'mong hill tribe.

Putting on the kickass Vietnamese's sandal, posing with 50 packs of orange paddy rice - together with our tour guide - "See" of H'mong hill tribe.

 Exploring Ta Van Village before sunset.

Exploring Ta Van Village before sunset.

 Dinner and rice wine prepared by our host, they speak a little English but super friendly! The Giay tribe are a small ethnic group in Sapa, around 30k people who are concentrated in the northern part of mountains. Giay Hill Tribe is easily distinguish by their traditional dress decorated by part of the neck and shirt buttons, setting aside more ornaments, a bit like a Cheongsam top.

Dinner and rice wine prepared by our host, they speak a little English but super friendly! The Giay tribe are a small ethnic group in Sapa, around 30k people who are concentrated in the northern part of mountains. Giay Hill Tribe is easily distinguish by their traditional dress decorated by part of the neck and shirt buttons, setting aside more ornaments, a bit like a Cheongsam top.

THE HIDDEN TRAIL TO GIANG TA CHAI VILLAGE

The next morning, we started our journey at 6.30am, to avoid the soaring sun. We trekked up and down through the hidden treks of several small mountains and villages, and got us into a bamboo forest, much like an entrance to Giang Ta Chai Village. We are unable to visit the Giang Ta Chai waterfall due to the dry season. 

Places of Interest: Landscape along the hidden treks 

Photography Tips: The easy assumption is when shooting landscape, is to use wide angle lens. They naturally give you the widest view, depth of field and allow you to get the full landscape into the frame. Sometimes, you miss out the details to create a dramatic and not so touristy images. Consider to shoot with telephoto, focus in looking for leading lines that shape its character. 

 Bamboo fence at the foreground shape the leading line towards the handcrafted terraced paddy field of Muong Hoa Valley.

Bamboo fence at the foreground shape the leading line towards the handcrafted terraced paddy field of Muong Hoa Valley.

 The hidden trek towards Giang Ta Chai.

The hidden trek towards Giang Ta Chai.

 Crepuscular Rays over Muong Hoa Valley.

Crepuscular Rays over Muong Hoa Valley.

 The bamboo forest entrance to Giang Ta Chai Village.

The bamboo forest entrance to Giang Ta Chai Village.

 See brought us on the hidden trek across the valley, the view off the beaten path never cease to amaze!

See brought us on the hidden trek across the valley, the view off the beaten path never cease to amaze!

 Steep trek down to the valley.

Steep trek down to the valley.

 Yes, we trekked down from that top of the hill.

Yes, we trekked down from that top of the hill.

 Overlooking the cascading terraced paddy fields crossing our path.

Overlooking the cascading terraced paddy fields crossing our path.

 You'll get to witness the terraced paddy fields in different shade of colours all year round, we missed the harvest season by a week or two, but the views still breathtaking! Literally breathtaking after hours of hiking.

You'll get to witness the terraced paddy fields in different shade of colours all year round, we missed the harvest season by a week or two, but the views still breathtaking! Literally breathtaking after hours of hiking.

 Crossing the Muong Hoa River up to the mountain is where Su Pan Village located, often being refer as "mountainous commune". Occupying the highland on the east side about 17km away from Sapa town. Kids of Red Zao Hill Tribe passing their time playing with sand under the rudimentary house built on rocky farmland.

Crossing the Muong Hoa River up to the mountain is where Su Pan Village located, often being refer as "mountainous commune". Occupying the highland on the east side about 17km away from Sapa town. Kids of Red Zao Hill Tribe passing their time playing with sand under the rudimentary house built on rocky farmland.

 We got back to Sapa town from the 2D1N trek earlier than anticipated. We rented 2 motorbikes to explore the northern part of Sapa town (towards Silver Waterfall), and rewarded with the ray of lights over the valley.

We got back to Sapa town from the 2D1N trek earlier than anticipated. We rented 2 motorbikes to explore the northern part of Sapa town (towards Silver Waterfall), and rewarded with the ray of lights over the valley.

HALONG BAY

We took the overnight train from Lao Cai back to Hanoi town - arranged by the tour agency. Arrived at Hanoi 5am in the morning, dropped our backpacks at the pre-booked hotel in the Hanoi Old Quarter, head out to Halong Bay tour. Despite the over-flocking tourists, i would never dissuade you from visiting Halong Bay, from geographical standpoint, Halong Bay is absolutely fascinating! On a 1-day trip you'll only scratch the surface, it took us 8 hours on the bus just to commute to and fro Halong Bay - we have merely 3 hours exploring Halong Bay. So, if you have enough time, it's highly recommend to take a 2D1N tour instead of a day tour. 

Places of Interest: Floating Village, Cat Ba Island, Hidden Grottos and Caves, Kayak between the karsts limestone. 

Photography Tips: Photographing Halong Bay is easy and opportunities are everywhere. But that also means, it's overly well documented by numerous of great photographers. You must've seen images of brilliant dark maroon and wooden boats floating by dozen through the blissful still water - this doesn't happen! You should probably temper your expectation. Find your own perspective in capturing the most photographed place - i have my 85mm on most of the time.

[IMPORTANT NOTE] Before booking for your Halong Bay Tour, please make sure you source for reliable and reputable tour agency, i would highly recommend "The SinhTourist". But don't be confused by the fake Sinh Tour/Sinh Tourist...  

 The image above depict both fake Sinh Tourist agency, where you'll see their workers persistently waiving outside their shop, pulling tourists into their trap. They've copied the same logo, name, colours, look wisely.

The image above depict both fake Sinh Tourist agency, where you'll see their workers persistently waiving outside their shop, pulling tourists into their trap. They've copied the same logo, name, colours, look wisely.

 Now here's the genuine "The SinhTourist" of Hanoi, no workers lobbying outside their shop and professionally manage your inquiries with reasonable fare.

Now here's the genuine "The SinhTourist" of Hanoi, no workers lobbying outside their shop and professionally manage your inquiries with reasonable fare.

 On the deck towards Halong Bay rock formation.

On the deck towards Halong Bay rock formation.

 We are the lazy bunch, we opted for Bamboo Boat instead of kayak ourselves.

We are the lazy bunch, we opted for Bamboo Boat instead of kayak ourselves.

 Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.

Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.

 Sunset at Halong Bay.

Sunset at Halong Bay.

 We left Halong Bay at the nick of setting sun, continuing the gruelling 4 hours bus journey back to Hanoi town.

We left Halong Bay at the nick of setting sun, continuing the gruelling 4 hours bus journey back to Hanoi town.

 Exploring the night of Hanoi Old Quarter.

Exploring the night of Hanoi Old Quarter.

 It's okay to just indulge every once a travel, as usual, we splurged on our last meal in Vietnam. Possibly the best street food in Hanoi! The workers here don't speak English, here's how you order your foods, basically just walk to where foods are, pick the foods you want into the basket, they will cook for you in perfection - then place the perfectly barbecue-d foods on the hotpot, to keep it warm. Highly recommended -  Thai Dat .

It's okay to just indulge every once a travel, as usual, we splurged on our last meal in Vietnam. Possibly the best street food in Hanoi! The workers here don't speak English, here's how you order your foods, basically just walk to where foods are, pick the foods you want into the basket, they will cook for you in perfection - then place the perfectly barbecue-d foods on the hotpot, to keep it warm. Highly recommended - Thai Dat.

 Tucked in the corner of Hanoi Old Quarter, stool table the Vietnamese style!

Tucked in the corner of Hanoi Old Quarter, stool table the Vietnamese style!

 Total damage -  VND870k . Worth every single penny!

Total damage - VND870k. Worth every single penny!

TÅM BIÊT

Wasn't too fond of the lawless traffic in Hanoi during the daylight mainly due to the overwhelming air pollution; The hustle bustle city transformed as sun sets, i think the night properly defined Hanoi - an amazing city with colourful characters. Big fans of the mountain ranges in Sapa Valley, love every single bits of it, impressive physical landscape underlies the terrace-craftsmanship of over thousands of years! 

 Here's to the 4th annual trip! Thanks for the wonderful trip guys! #HO4

Here's to the 4th annual trip! Thanks for the wonderful trip guys! #HO4

HIGH FIVE, VIETNAM! FOR BEING PRETTY AWESOME! 

Travelogue-d by,

JW.