Why Travel To Sapa. Located in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam, Sapa is by far one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It is well worth the long journey from Hanoi and was the highlight of our Vietnam-Thailand trip. Sapa is the home of five ethnic minorities, include the H'mong, a formerly nomadic people forced to settle. Still suffering from overt oppression, the H'mong struggle to meet basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. As tourism in the region increases though, some have been become trekking guides, offering both hiking and cultural experiences. Our experience with one such eco-tourism group, Ethos-Spirit of Community, was truly amazing and we highly recommend working with them specifically. More on them below.
Day One: We arrived in the early afternoon in Sapa, in time to spend a 1/2 day with My, our H'mong guide from Ethos-Spirit. Before we set off, we met with the folks at Ethos-Spirit of Community, where we learned what we had in store for the next couple of days but also about the important work Ethos does in the community, combating child trafficking, drug abuse, poverty and hunger. They are truly remarkable.
After introductions, we boarded a small van and headed out to our trailhead. My (photo below), took us through the area's world famous rice terraces just outside the town of Sapa. Bring your camera because you will not be able to get enough photos of this spectacular countryside. For this first day, we spent approximately 3 hours hiking moderate terrain with My, passing vista points, H'mong tribe dwellings, and countless rice terraces. Each view was overwhelmingly beautiful. We seriously were a bit in shock at what we were seeing. The colors every where were so bright and vibrant. It was truly amazing.
My is a particularly lovely guide. Kind, bright, witty, and seemingly never tired. She has an infectious light-hearted attitude, notwithstanding the many hardships of her life.
Tips: Rice terraces are filled with water. Unless you're as sure-footed as My, you're going to end up getting your feet wet. The area also has unexpected rain storms, which we happen to avoid by mere minutes. Pack: Hiking sandals, sunblock, and ponchos.
More about Ethos - Spirit. Because they say it best, here is their brief "about us," description: "ETHOS are an ethical social impact business focusing on culture, women’s empowerment and environmental issues. We offer immersive, experiential adventures for conscientious travelers by creating unique adventures whilst empowering local minority tribal people in better providing for themselves. Our experiences are made for you & enhanced by our team of local guides who will use their vast knowledge &skills to support you in finding something special in the Northern Vietnamese highlands." There's a ton of information on their website about Sapa and their company. We were truly impressed by Ethos and we highly recommend using this specific organization for your tour guide needs in Sapa.
Getting to Sapa. The ride to Sapa was horrendous but don't let this deter you; just find a better way. A highway was more recently built to increase tourism in the area as a train ride takes a few hours longer. In hindsight, we should have taken the train and if we were concerned about losing a day, we could have taken an overnight train. Drivers, including our own driver, routinely, very dangerously passed vehicles at high speeds. The method of passing vehicles is to force oncoming traffic to avoid you and swerve onto their should as your car goes into their lane - head on. The same also happens to your car, where you are routinely forced onto the shoulder. It was insanity and we did, in fact, pass a terrible accident. When we return one day, we will take the train.