On my first visit to Vietnam, I entered a tour agency in Hanoi and booked a 3-night 2-day tour in Sapa. This included night train, 1 night in a hotel, a guided trek in Sapa and 1-night homestay. I thought it was a bargain for the price of around 100$.
At first impression, the hotel looked good with amazing views of the Sapa mountains, but I got a terrible room on a dark floor with no view at all. The trek itself started the next morning with a big group of other tourists. The guides took us for a walk on a paved road; everything was very touristy with souvenir shops and peddlers every step of the way. The views of the terraced rice fields on the mountains were stunning but I was hoping to actually get there. All in all, it was not what I expected. I also assumed that the guides got paid very little for this, so it was lose-lose for everyone except the tour agency.
On my next visit, my wife and I planned this trip by ourselves. We booked a bus ticket, a good hotel and found a local guide’s phone number after some research on Google. This was a fantastic experience and far exceeded our expectations. The local guide came from a H’mong tribe village close to Sapa, spoke excellent English and she offered a variety of trekking options depending on the fitness level. The trek was challenging like we wanted and we walked through the villages and the rice field mountains for 6 hours and enjoyed breathtaking views. We also stayed at her home in the village; it’s very humble but gives a unique and authentic experience of their lives. She cooked us dinner and breakfast and the hospitality was amazing. The cost was just 25$ a person for both trek and homestay!
So all you need to do is:
- Buy a bus ticket. I recommend Sapa Express, it costs 16$ and it’s a direct luxury bus to Sapa. Alternatively, you can book the night train.
- Pick a hotel. I recommend HotelsCombined to find the best prices.
- Choose a local guide from our guide list and call her.