Sapa Trekking Guide: How to Prepare for Epic Treks in Sapa, Vietnam

by Jackie
Published: Updated:
This Sapa trekking guide highlights how to prepare for your trek so you get to see beautiful rice terraces and rice fields.

If you love hiking and trekking and want to experience fresh air, gorgeous mountainous regions, and rice terraces, head to Sapa in North Vietnam. Sapa is located 6+ hours from Hanoi and in the Lao Cai Province. 

This area is a hot tourist destination with picturesque landscapes, the best hiking trails in Vietnam, and adventurous activities to experience.

Whether you want to trek Mount Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain, or trek to ethnic villages to visit the Hmong, Dao, Xa Pho, Tay, and/or Day people, you’ll have plenty of fun things to do here. 

While you can show up in Sapa and go trekking on the same day, it does require some planning. 

This Sapa trekking guide has everything that you need to know about trekking in Sapa, how to prepare for your trek, what to bring, and other helpful trekking tips. We want you to have a successful and exciting hike. 

Check out our other Sapa posts for more inspiration:

*Disclaimer: Hiking in Sapa? This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on them and make a purchase, we receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you. Appreciate the support. 

Before getting to Sapa, buy a SIM Card at Hanoi Airport (Noi Ba International Airport) or set up a Vietnam eSIM. You’ll need to have data when traveling through the city and rice terraces.

For those in the U.S. looking for an international phone plan, consider Google Fi (formerly Google Project Fi). We love this phone plan and have used it since 2016. We get access to data and text in 200+ countries, and it works in Vietnam. There are no additional costs to the data plan. Read more about the plan and try it for free here.

When is the Best Time to Trek in Sapa?

Sapa has two seasons to consider – dry and wet. The dry season is from October to May, and while the rainy season is from June to September. Rain can occur during the dry season.

Note: During the summertime (May to August), it gets very hot in Sapa. The weather will reach 24°C (75°F) and up, so you’ll need to stay hydrated. The evenings are cooler at 17°C (63°F). Check out our tips on hiking in hot weather here.

Many visitors come to Sapa right before the rice harvest period from the end of August to the beginning of September. The rice fields turn a magnificent golden color. 

If you hike during the wet season, you’ll need to be extra careful as the hiking trails are muddy. The chances of slipping are much higher. The guide may also make the executive decision to cut the hiking distance shorter during the rainy season. 

We hiked at the end of November and had a fantastic time. The weather forecast had rain for 2 out of the 5 days there, but it only rained in the evening of 1 night. The weather was foggy in the morning but eventually cleared up after in the afternoon. The temperature was between 12-14°C (54-57°F) so it was comfortable to walk around without a jacket. 

We also returned to do a hike during the May time frame. It was the start of the summer season, so there were clear skies and sunny days. Even though we live in Vietnam and are used to the humidity, it was still hot and humid for us.

Gorgeous green rice terraces and rice fields when trekking through Sapa

Experience gorgeous views of Sapa in November.

How Many Days Do You Need to Trek in Sapa? 

We suggest a minimum of 2 days so you can walk at a more leisurely pace and soak in the beauty of Sapa. 

Check out our Sapa 2 days trekking post for more inspiration. 

If you have 4+ days to hike Sapa, it’s even better as you get the chance to visit more ethnic villages and see a variety of landscapes. 

One of the unique opportunities during your Sapa trek is to stay overnight at homestays. You get the chance to stay overnight at a family’s home, eat a meal with the family, and also learn more about their lifestyle. You can also meet other travelers staying at the homestay.

With the homestays, you can either request your own room or stay in an open shared area with individual beds and curtain covers. Bathrooms and showers are shared with the other guests.

Day hikes to visit the ethnic villages are also doable if you prefer to stay at your accommodation in Sapa town. However, you miss out on the homestay experience. 

Where Should You Go on Your Sapa Trek?

There are a variety of hiking trails and villages that you can visit. Some options include:

  • Cat Cat and Y Linh Ho Village – Cat Cat is a popular area and is close to Sapa town. 
  • Sa Sen and Hau Thao Village
  • Lao Chai and Ta Van Village – We did this trail and loved it! Check out our experience here.
  • Ma Tra and Ta Phin Village 
  • Fansipan Mountain – Summit the highest peak in Vietnam at 3,143 meters (10,312 feet)
A couple sell steamed buns on a motorbike along the Sapa 2 day trek through Lao Chai village.

A couple sells steamed buns in Lao Chai village.

How to Choose Your Sapa Trekking Tour Operator

While some travelers choose to trek in Sapa without a guide, it’s recommended to have a guide for the longer trekking routes.

There are many different routes to take and the trails are not marked. The local guide will know where to go and how to tackle obstacles along the trail. 

To choose a trekking tour operator, you can either pre-book before your arrival in Sapa, ask for recommendations from your hotel, or visit tour agencies when you arrive.

All Sapa trekking tours are quoted in U.S. dollars (USD) and payment is by Vietnamese dong (VND).

The cost of the Sapa treks varies, so here are some things to consider:

  • Number of days of trekking
  • If the tour is a private or join-in group tour
  • Cost per person per day
  • What the trek includes such as water, meals, porters, transportation, homestay, etc.
  • How many kilometers/miles of walking is covered each day 

Our 2 day/1 night trek was $30 USD per person per day which included meals and overnight at a homestay. 

During our research through Ho Chi Minh City’s Female Expat Facebook Group, we saw a few tour agencies recommended – Zaazaa Trekking, Ethos Spirit, Sapa O’ Chau, and Sapa Sisters.

**Our Recommendation**

If you’re looking for a female-owned tour operator, then contact Zaazaa at Zaazaa Trekking on Facebook right away. She’ll provide you with a WhatsApp phone number to continue the conversation. 

Zaazaa is a local guide who lives in Sapa and owns her small business tour company. 

We loved working with Zaazaa to plan our treks. She is responsive over WhatsApp and has affordable pricing for her treks. She’ll provide many options for you to experience the best of Sapa.

During the high tourist season, she is in high demand, so you must contact her in advance to plan a trip.

If she isn’t available on a particular day, she may ask a family member to guide you on her behalf. Otherwise, everything is taken care of before your arrival. 

If you have any dietary restrictions, please let Zaazaa know in advance.

As with the payment, you’ll need to pay a small deposit and the rest of the amount at the start of the trip or pay the full amount when you meet Zaazaa. Even though Zaazaa gives a quote in U.S. Dollars, you’ll need to pay in Vietnamese currency.

We did a 2 day/1 night trek through ethnic villages and trekked Mount Fansipan in 1 day. The three days flew by quickly!

Jackie Szeto and Justin Huynh, Life Of Doing, stand around Zaazaa, owner of Zaazaa Trekking, in Sapa, Vietnam

We’re with our guide, Zaazaa, from Zaazaa Trekking, and her adorable baby boy.

How to Prepare for Your Sapa Trekking

Trekking long distances requires good physical health. Since you’ll be on your legs for hours at a time, you’ll need to do some training. 

Check out our tips on how to train for a hike.

Here are some ideas to help increase leg strength:

  • Walk or run daily for at least 30 minutes a day. This will help boost your cardiovascular system. When you have more free time, consider walking up to an hour or longer. 
  • Practice walking uphill and downhill. Use stairs or adjust the height on the treadmill. 
  • Do bodyweight exercises such as squats and lunges to build strength. 
  • Build ankle strength by doing calf raises. 
  • Practice wearing your hiking boots and gear during your walks. This will help address irritation or chaffing that may occur on the day of the trek. 

What to Bring on Your Sapa Trekking

Packing light is key for your day hike in Sapa. Only bring things that you’ll need for the day. 

Ask your tour guide where to store your luggage such as at the tour agency’s office or your current hotel. Our tour guide hired a motorbike to transport our luggage to the homestay. 

  • Rain jacket or poncho – Rain can occur at any time. Check out the jackets that we use: men/women
  • Jacket – Any lightweight jacket would work
  • Backpack – We use these backpacks on every trip. Check them out: men and women versions.
  • Backpack rain cover – If your poncho isn’t wide enough to cover the backpack, having a rain cover will keep your backpack dry.
  • Sun hat – Cover your head and face with this hat.
  • Sunglasses – Here are our favorite sunglasses for hiking.
  • Sunscreen – Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days, to prevent sunburns.
  • Hiking poles – Optional, but will be helpful when going down muddy roads.
  • Umbrella – Can be used for both sun and rain!
  • Snacks 
  • Extra cash 
  • Camera or cell phone 
  • Travel insurance or health insurance documents – It’s recommended to have travel insurance before you go hiking. You never know what may happen on your trip and may need to use travel insurance to claim expenses.

Forgot something? Sapa town has plenty of stores that sell rain jackets, backpacks, and trekking supplies. As a heads up, they aren’t authentic, so you will be buying a knock-off version.

North Face is a popular brand for jackets. They’re cheap as the cost of the jacket can be around 200,000 VND ($8.20 USD) or less.

While we aren’t a proponent of supporting knock-off products, sometimes you need to buy something now!

Jackie Szeto, Life Of Doing, trek with Zaazaa from Zaazaa Trekking, in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam

Prepare for any weather conditions when hiking in Sapa.

What to Wear on Your Sapa Trek

It’s recommended to wear lightweight and moisture-wicking clothing. Wearing layers will be helpful so you don’t overheat. 

  • Technical t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt 
  • Hiking pants – With the muddy paths and the overgrown plants, you’ll be glad to wear long pants. 
  • Hiking boots – This is a crucial part of your Sapa trekking attire. Wear comfortable and waterproof hiking boots (men/women) if possible. It’s up to you whether you want to have boots covering your ankles or not. We prefer high-ankle boots since we tend to roll our ankles when hiking. 
  • Hiking socks 

Other Helpful Sapa Trekking Tips

1. Eat breakfast before your trek. 

The hike will start around 9:00am so it’s important to eat breakfast beforehand. You’ll need the energy and fuel to sustain your walking pace.

Your hotel will provide breakfast or you can find a restaurant around your hotel area. Many restaurants sell Western-style breakfast such as eggs with toast. 

2. Have sturdy hiking boots. 

We can’t stress enough that wearing hiking boots is a must for your Sapa trek.

You’ll walk through muddy rice fields and may need to cross rivers. Wearing walking shoes will not provide enough traction on the muddy paths. 

3. Women will follow tour groups for the first half of the trek. 

It’s common for women to follow hikers and walk for miles until a rest spot. They’re friendly and ask the hikers for their names and nationalities. Since they know the hiking routes, they’ll also help the hikers with challenging spots along the trail. 

At the halfway point, they’ll sell their handicrafts and souvenirs such as handbags, pillowcases, and coin purses. It’s an opportunity for them to sell their goods in a direct-to-consumer approach before heading back home. 

It’s up to you whether you want to purchase the souvenirs or not.

If you don’t purchase something, just politely decline. Once you buy something and others in the area know that you purchased something, then everyone arrives to try and sell goods. 

Justin Huynh, Life Of Doing, walks next to Sapa trekking guide and a local woman in Sapa, Vietnam

We had an elderly woman join us during our Sapa trek.

4. Do not buy souvenirs from children.

When walking around Sapa town, you’ll see children wearing traditional clothing.

They are adorable, yet they are also peddling for money by selling handicrafts and souvenirs. You’ll also get approached by children to buy souvenirs when trekking through the ethnic villages. 

Don’t be tempted by their cute faces and pleas.

By purchasing souvenirs from them, you’re encouraging them to continue this behavior instead of attending school and getting an education. 

5. Do not take photos of people without their consent. 

Sapa is such a pretty area to take photos.

Please be considerate and ask for permission if you take photos of people, especially portrait photos.

Otherwise, it’s rude and gives a bad impression to tourists. Or, you can consider taking photos without showing faces. 

6. Bring trash with you. 

Let’s preserve Sapa’s beautiful landscape!

Please remember the “pack in, pack out” approach, and bring any trash with you back to Sapa town or your homestay. 

While most of the areas that we trekked in Sapa were clean, there were pockets of plastic bottles and plastic packages. Since garbage collecting and recycling are rare on the mountainside, they’ll either pile up or will get burned. 

7. Embrace the mountain toilet. 

If you need to use the toilet during the trek, then you’ll need to use the “mountain toilet.”

Since you’ll walk through rice fields and villages, there aren’t any public toilet stops until you reach your lunch spot or homestay. Notify the guide that you need a toilet break and he/she will provide privacy.  

TIP for Ladies – You may consider wearing a pantiliner on your trekking days, so you don’t need to use toilet paper. 

8. Tipping your Sapa trekking guide is optional. 

It’s not expected, yet giving your guide a small tip is a nice way to show your gratitude and appreciation for the service. 

How much should you give?

It’s up to you as any amount will be helpful, even 100,000 VND ($4.30) would be great. We gave 300,000 VND ($13) to each of our tour guides and we had three different ones each day.  

9. Having travel insurance is recommended.

Not sure if you need travel insurance? It’s always good to have travel insurance just in case something happens during your trip.

If you fall during your trek and need medical attention, then you can use travel insurance to visit the nearest hospital and receive treatment. 

10. Once you’ve finished your trek, get a massage.

You deserve to treat yourself to a body and foot massage after completing your trek. Your body may be exhausted after the full-day trek. 

Luckily, Sapa town has plenty of local massage places to choose from. All you need to do is just walk in and enjoy it!

Pricing is similar and you can get a 60-minute massage starting at 200,000 VND ($10.80). 

11. Explore Sapa once you’re done with trekking.

If you didn’t get the chance to explore Sapa before your trek, now it’s the perfect chance to explore the area at a leisurely pace.

We recommend that you visit Sun World Fansipan Legend and take the funicular and cable car to Fansipan Peak. You can explore the temples, pagodas, and take a photo of the highest peak at 3,143 meters (10,312 feet).

For those who like waterfalls, check out Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall. You can take a taxi from Sapa city center to these two waterfall spots. If you hiked Fansipan previously, you’ll notice that the entrance to Love Waterfall starts at the same parking lot.

Another cool spot to explore is Sapa’s Gates of Heaven. It’s a beautiful area with views of the O Quy Ho mountain pass.

For visitors with additional time on the weekend, consider visiting the largest traditional market in Lao Cai, Bac Ha Market. It’s open on Sundays (although Saturdays are open to see horses and buffaloes for sale). You can see many ethnic minority people in their traditional outfits selling food and household goods.

Final Thoughts

After reading this Sapa trekking guide, we hope you’re inspired to go on a trek in Sapa! It’s one of the bucket list experiences to have in Vietnam. 

If you plan to continue your Vietnam journey, check out our other Vietnam posts:

Have more questions about hiking in Sapa? Ask questions in the comments below. 

Like this post? Save it to your Vietnam Pinterest board.

Sapa Trekking Guide - Top photo is of Sapa rice terraces and bottom photo is of two women trekking in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam

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