The Famous Rice Terraces of Sapa

If you’ve come all the way to Vietnam and you don’t make the journey up to Sapa you are missing out on one of the best things to see and do in the whole country.  Home to Vietnam’s many colourful hill tribes, it’s an overnight bus or train ride 380 kilometers northeast of Hanoi. If you can spare the dong, taking the train is a nice treat after several overnight buses and allows you a much better night sleep with your own bunk bed in a four bunk soft sleeper room. Trains book out fast, so be sure to book at least a few days in advance. If you do opt for the bus be warned that the roads to Sapa are notorious for flooding and washouts in rainy season which can turn your 12 hour bus ride into the journey from hell.

Train to Sapa, Vietnam
My first overnight train ride!

If you’ve booked a tour as most people do, you’ll be picked up at the train or bus station and enjoy a windy ride into the city of Sapa. From the minute the sun comes up you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking views of lush rice terraces as far as the eye can see. Stacked from the valleys into the mountain tops, growing and cultivating fields of rice is the way of life for the Sapa hill tribe people.

The rice terraces of Sapa
Rice terraces and more rice terraces

If you’re on a tour you’ll likely head down to Cat-Cat village the first day you arrival with a girl from the H’mong hill tribe as your guide. Dressed in beautiful handmade clothes most of the guides are around 18 years old and speak remarkably good English. As tourism has come to Sapa, many of the young people are moving away from traditional field work to work in the more profitable tourism sector.  It’s a short easy walk from town that will take you through a traditional village and to one of the many, many waterfalls in Sapa.

We’ve timed our trip to coincide with the Sunday Bac Ha markets where all the local hill tribe people come together to sell everything from water buffalo to chickens, boots, clothes, food and more. It’s an interesting insight into the daily lives of the people her. Most of the wears are  targeted towards locals, although there are more than enough trinkets and souvenir stands for foreigners. It’s a two hour drive from Sapa, so if you able to, time it so that you leave on Sunday so you don’t have to backtrack to the train station the next day.

Day 3 of our Sapa journey brings us to our 6 hour trek through three of the neighbouring villages. Luckily the sun has come out as many of the paths are muddy and slippery even without the rain. I highly recommend renting gum boots so you don’t have to worry about the mud. If you’ve done any hiking before, the walk is easy with lots of stops along the way. The hardest part is being able to capture the views on camera as pictures can’t do this place justice.

H'mong tribe children walking through the rice paddies
H’mong tribe children walking through the rice paddies

Jen’s Overall Rating: Amazing views and the colourful hill tribe people make this a must see on your trip to Vietnam. While tours are popular you don’t need to book one and in fact may get better value for your trip if you don’t. If you’ve got time, arrive in Sapa and sort out what you want to enjoy from there.

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