After my experience in the jungle in Colombia that highlighted how seriously unfit I am, as well as being more of a princess that I thought, I was a little wary of facing another trek even if it was just for two days. But let me tell you, the Sapa Valley Homestay trek is one of the most beautiful excursions I’ve ever done. An eight hour, overnight train ride from Hanoi (God bless Valium), you’re suddenly catapulted into a lush, green oasis, with immense valleys of rice fields.
We opted for the 2 day, 3 night Sapa Valley Homestay trek with Vega Travel (2 on the train and one homestay) and I highly recommend them. The tour has a wonderful pace – not too fast, not too slow and the path itself isn’t too tough, except from the fact that it had rained the night before which meant plenty of sliding around in the mud.
Our guides were women from the Hmong tribe: only around A metre and a half and dressed in their colourful hand woven garments, they must be some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. I was amazed to see our guide who looked about 15 already had a baby strapped to her back, as did many of the other women. Life starts early for them; it’s normal to be married by the age of 17 and have 2 kids by the age of 24. I loved how affectionate they are with one another, all taking care of each other’s babies, taking turns to carry them on their backs if one was tired. They have very little but seem happy, I think we could all learn a lot from these women.
A group of the women accompanied us for most of day 1, often holding our hands to make sure we didn’t slip onto our backside in the mud (which a few did anyway) and always waited for everyone, explaining things about their culture and the plants as we went which was great. They are so acclimatised to living up in the mountains and would leap past us like mountain goats, never missing a step or slipping. We learned that there are a few schools, but mostly just primary schools, as they start working to help their families as soon as they can. They don’t really use medicines like we do and instead see the Shaman if they are sick, which is more like a spirit doctor, who prescribes them rituals (such as rest or even sacrificing a chicken) and plant concoctions to cure them which probably sometimes work better than modern medicine as they come directly from mother earth. Only if they are truly sick do they go to a hospital which is quite far from their village, but this doesn’t happen often as they are very familiar with the plants and herbs that can help them. My guide told me that if she has stomach issues (diarrhoea), her mum makes her drink a disgusting plant mix that makes her better! So different from all the paracetamols and meds we take!
We walked through the Sapa Valley, where we saw some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen in my life – just so much beauty, the lush green land, the rice fields, so peaceful, the air so fresh and the sun kissing our backs and shoulders.. I loved every moment. I loved seeing the farmers and their water buffalos, the kids playing in the crops and the mud, so carefree and unfussed about getting dirty.
The Sapa Valley Homestay
We spent the night with a family who owned a big house right among the rice fields. We had a stunning view of the valley, made even more incredible by the sunset reflecting in the water on the crops. Staying in the midst of it all felt surreal, I felt so lucky. My love of travel was just further reinforced, these sorts of views and moments are what given me energy and motivation to sit at a desk all day if it means that I can feel this, even just a few times a year.
The family themselves were lovely and even without speaking any English made us feel very welcome, constantly refilling our glasses with corn wine and serving us one hell of a feast for dinner. I’m happy we opted for the Sapa Valley Homestay rather than a hotel. They even taught us to make spring rolls and put the 12 of us to work! We had a lovely evening chatting with our fellow travellers, eating and drinking. All of us blacked out pretty early between the physical exhaustion, the sun we’d copped during the day and the alcohol and had an great nights’ sleep which worked out well given the rock hard beds!
The second day was more of a stroll than a hike, but no less packed with magical views as we wandered through a different part of the valley. Each moment felt like the perfect shot, so its no surprise I took hundreds of photos, which will make the job of selecting the top ones for this post pretty tough!
We finished up with a delicious lunch with gigantic portions of stir-fry, in a little local restaurant where dozens of women from the various tribes came to see if we wanted to buy any last-minute souvenirs. Then it was time to head back to the city where we found an extremely local spot to have dinner, those ones with the mini plastic stools and low tables, where you can’t understand anything on the menu. We tried to use Google Translate for a few things but when it translated one dish to ‘mud’ we thought it was best to just stick to our beloved (and safe) pho as we still had an 8 hour train journey back to Hanoi ahead of us 🙂
What to bring on your trek?
- Comfy shoes with a sole that grips
- Light waterproof jacket
- Hoodie/jumper for the evening once the sun goes down
- Small backpack