Many travelers coming to Vietnam want to see Sapa for its picturesque rice terraces but don’t know when is the best time to visit. Well the truth is whenever you come to SaPa you are sure to enjoy stunning landscapes but locals will tell you the most picturesque time is September just before the rice is harvested. The rice terraces turn a wonderful golden yellow making it one of the most unique landscapes we’ve come across while traveling through Vietnam. In the spirit of full disclosure this post was created with a partial partnership between LiveTravelTeach and Utopia Eco Lodge. You can find more details about this sponsorship at the bottom of this page but rest assured everything here is my own opinion.
Can you trek Sapa on your own? Its definitely possible to see some of Sapa on your own but to get the best views and stay safe on the rice terrace trails you will want a guide. Regardless of how you do your trek in Sapa you’ll want to spend at least one night in the valley and one of the best ways to do that is in a homestay like Utopia Eco Lodge. Whichever homestay you choose they are sure to have guides or like ours did, kids who are happy to show you around in exchange for some English practice.
Getting to Sapa from Hanoi
There are 4 ways to get to Sapa Vietnam. By bus, train, motorbike or group tour.
Bus is the cheapest way to get to Sapa from Hanoi and perfect for budget travelers. A 5-6 hour trip can be done during the day or as a sleeper bus for as low as 200,000 VND ($9)
Train is a bit slower and costs more but is the most comfortable way to get from Hanoi to Sapa .
Motorbike is the most adventurous and scenic way to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Its over 300km and it can be done in a day but you’ll probably want to take 2 days to enjoy it more.
Group Tours leave Hanoi everyday and have packages as low as $90 for 2 days-1 night or up to $500 for a 5 day-4 night adventure. You can book these at any travel agent in Hanoi.
Our trek took us to Tavan village about 10 km away from Sapa city. Along the way we saw villagers harvesting rice with sharp scythes then shaking the grains out onto large tarps. This hard work is ongoing in September, Sapa’s best season for trekking. The weather is beautiful with a cooling wind blowing white clouds through blue skies. The golden fields are even more amazing in person and were the exact reason that Sapa was high on our list of things to do in Vietnam.
Know Before you Trek in Sapa – There are MANY villagers trying to sell you souvenirs. I recommend buying from your guide rather than the random people you see on your hike. If you are paying for a trek then you are under no obligation to buy! If they are giving you a free trek then its a nice gesture to spend a few dollars on a souvenir.
Walking along the village roads you’ll share the path with everything from water buffalo to motorcycles, trucks and pigs. Locals dress in traditional garb both to pose for photos and while they work in the fields. The multicolored outfits are also available for sale if you want to buy one as a souvenir.
We enjoyed 4 nights at Utopia Eco Lodge with scenic views and the milky way galaxy in the night sky. Our glamping style bungalow was right next to the Muong Hoa river providing a soothing lullaby at night. The food was all fresh and eaten family style at their riverside picnic area. If you’re up for a bigger adventure or traveling on a budget you can rent one of their tents plus they have a great family room for anyone who wants a bit more luxury or is traveling with a large group. They have limited space so make sure you reserve ahead of time! Find out more about them on the Utopia Eco Lodge Facebook Page.
We met these three “mamas” on the side of the road and I just knew I needed to take their photo. Their wizened faces giggled with glee when I showed them their own pictures. They could barely speak English but readily embraced visitors here in Sapa. Most adults will ask for a small amount of money to take their photo but gladly smile for even 10,000 VND ($.45). Kids on the other hand could either ignore you while you take photos or strike a pose before trying to sell you a bracelet or asking for candy.
After our photoshoot with the mamas we had to cross an overflowing stream. Normally this waterfall doesn’t leak onto the road too much but we just had Typhoon Doksuri come through and dump buckets of water on the region. From there the girls led us down a winding road to the Muong Hoa river below but were happily surprised when we pulled out the drone! They loved looking at the “flycam” video while it soared above the rice fields. We were happy to be here in September and get the best shots of these wonderful landscapes.
When is the best time to trek in Sapa?
We stayed a few more days because of the wonderful weather this time of year. Other than that massive typhoon when we arrived we didn’t see any rain and enjoyed the best weather during our stay in Sapa. We loved it here and the locals agree that early to mid september is the best time to trek in Sapa.
The good news is even if you can’t visit during the “best season” there are still plenty of good times to visit Sapa. The months before and after monsoon season come with the best weather and are the most popular among tourists. That means Sept-Nov and March-May are also some of the best times to visit Sapa. You’ll have pleasant weather without much rain making it the perfect time to trek around Sapa’s rice fields.
Another good time to visit Sapa is from March to May. You’ll have a chance to see green rice fields and more blooming flowers during Vietnam’s spring. For a more in depth look at the best times to visit Sapa check out HanoiSapaTrain.com!
Crossing a rickety bridge we got to the heart of Tavan Village where you can find a few shops and lots more homestays. There were even a few massage parlors here which are great after you’ve spent all day trekking around the rice fields! We stopped briefly in the shade and bought the girls ice cream while munching on some chips of our own.
The trek quickly took us through back alleys and into the rice fields themselves. Yellow stalks of rice surrounded us as we hiked along the thin trails outlining each terrace. We went in and out of a few farms slowly climbing to a higher viewpoint.
Local farmers worked in some of the fields while others were already cleared. Across the valley you could see high mountains touching the clouds. Beyond those clouds lies Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak!
You can quickly reach the top of Fansipan by cable car from Sapa City. It costs 600,000 VND ($27) and takes about 15 minutes
It was apparent to us that September was the best time to trek in Sapa because of these magnificent views. We’ve visited rice terraces in Indonesia, Thailand and other countries around Asia but never before have we seen such magnificent golden hills.
How much does Sapa Trekking Cost?
There are a few ways for you to trek in Sapa making it available both to budget backpackers and luxury travelers. The most common way to trek is through a homestay found in Sapa city.
You will need to pay 75,000 VND ($3.30) per person for a ticket when leaving Sapa and trekking in the villages. This supposedly comes with some kind of government insurance and is the bare minimum you’ll need in case you want to trek without a guide.
Homestay Trekking can be bought when you get off the bus in Sapa city for 450,000 VND ($20) and typically comes with an overnight stay and all meals.
Sapa trekking tours from Hanoi are available in a wide range of packages. They tend to be “all inclusive” for between $90-500 depending on the length of your tour.
We wound our way through the fields making good time even though the path was muddy and slippery. Thankfully our little guides could see that we wanted a break and found a little hut to relax in the shade.
Continuing onwards we eventually came to a “bamboo jungle” as the kids called it. In here the trek got even more slippery and the kids kindly offered to hold our hands! I felt as though I was helping them more than them helping me but Ronda said that holding their hands definitely made her feel safe. These 9 and 10 year old kids were expert trekkers and new the trails like the back of their hands. We would veer just off trail into the forest for a second to avoid massive muddy puddles and each time we came to a tough section of the trail the kids showed us where to go.
Trekking in Sapa comes with its fair share of risks no matter what season you go in. I HIGHLY recommend getting travel insurance before coming to Sapa. Thankfully I didn’t need it while I was there but World Nomads gave me peace and mind in case anything did happen.
Climbing down we caught a few more glimpses of the rice fields through the trees and could start to hear the rumbling river below us yet again. Before long we were at the bottom and washed our shoes beneath a huge waterfall! Finally, the kids took us through their village to meet their parents where we happily bought a few souvenirs as a thank you for such a wonderful day trekking in Sapa.
Where to Stay in Sapa
There are two places you can stay when you come to trek in Sapa. You can either stay in Sapa city or in the homestays near the trekking. Check out some of these recommendations for where to stay in both places. If you are traveling during the high season (March-May or September-November I would reserve ahead of time. If not then you should be able to simply show up.)
Our recommendation is to find a nice hotel in the city for the night you arrive but spend most of your time out in the villages!
Budget Hostels & Homestays in Sapa
Freedom Homestay – $6 dorms – The Freedom homestay is the highest rated homestay that puts you right in the heart of all the trekking.
Green Valley Hotel – $10 and up – If you want to be near international restaurants, the bus station and the cable car to Fansipan then Green Valley Hotel is the perfect budget hotel for you! Its listed as a 2 star hotel and just a 15 minute walk to the Saturday night market.
Midrange Hotels and Homestays in Sapa
Utopia Eco Lodge – 4 person tents from $13 or bungalows for $36 – The Utopia Eco Lodge is right next to the river and great for those who want a combination of nature and modernity. We stayed here for 4 nights and loved it! They also have a large family room with an attached bathroom great for larger groups.
Sapa Freesia Hotel – Rooms from $54 and up This 4 star hotel is in the heart of Sapa city. Its perfect if you want to take the cable car up to Fansipan on a midrange budget. Spend a night or two here before you head out on your trek into the rice fields. Sapa Freesia Hotel is especially highly rated by couples!
Luxury Hotels in Sapa
Eco Palms House – Mountain Retreat – Bungalows from $89 and up – The Eco Palms House is the only way you’ll get luxury while in the heart of the rice fields that you came here to trek through. If I came back to Sapa with a higher budget for my trip I’d definitely stay here! They also offer dorm beds from $18 and up.
Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa – Rooms from $140 and up – If you want luxury than the Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa is one of the best places for you to stay before you trek into the rice fields. The Aira is in the heart of Sapa city and as the name suggests has a spa for you to relax in. Couples have highly recommended the Aira.
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Disclaimer: This is the internet and It is safe to assume that links and content contained on a webpage provide compensation to the website’s owner. The opinions in this article are my own and the information is accurate as of September 2017. This particular post was created in part as a partnership between LiveTravelTeach and the Utopia Eco Lodge. Free rooms and meals were exchanged for creating a drone video, the ad you see in this post, a social media campaign, and photographs of their resort. All photos in this post were taken as a collaboration between Mike Still and Ronda Christensen.