So you’re on a budget and you want to go trekking in beautiful Sapa in North Vietnam? Same! We all know that travel agencies love to take advantage of tourist wallets. Don’t fret, it’s easy to trek Sapa without a guide, DIY style!
We spent a few days in the beautiful mountain town of Sapa, but we spent two full days exploring the hills and rice fields that it is famous for. As soon as you hop off the bus, you’ll be swarmed with local ladies selling you souvenirs and offering to take you trekking. Stay strong, don’t give in. You can absolutely hike in Sapa solo.
Trekking the Sapa Mountains on Foot
Sapa must absolutely, positively, be on your Vietnam bucket list, guaranteed. We were completely floored by the allure of the manicured rice fields.
Is it allowed and/or possible to trek without a guide?
Absolutely! It’s Vietnam we are talking about. People often ask about regulations and blahblah… What are you even thinking?! Rules are more like suggestions, so even if there are regulations (there aren’t) would anyone even care? No one is going to stop you from wandering the fields where ever you like. So no need to worry.
If you’re asking “will I get lost?”, then perhaps it depends on your definition of lost. We personally think it’s a good thing to get lost, as we did. As long as you have a decent sense of direction, you’ll be able to go back in the direction you started to get back to your homestay/hostel. We had no map, no guide, and we did a day hike wandering down any path that looked interesting.
The only real reason one would hire a guide is perhaps to learn more about the culture and to talk to the locals in their language. But I wouldn’t recommend it because all guided tours we saw, tourists were only taken down the main roads and it looked hella boring (plus they probably spent a lot of money).
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What route do I take?
Its hard to explain the route we took, but for a start, head down the main road. Sort of south-east, down Huong Hoa street, past the Sapa View Hotel. Keep going down that road and eventually you’ll pass a little house-looking building and they’ll demand some money that they say going to the preservation of the local villages (I’m calling BS on this one). We had to pay 75,000 VND (~$4.40CAD) per person, but I think its all corrupt, so don’t feel bad if you sneak around or sprint by it.
Just after passing a lookout point, we spotted a narrow dirt path leading down the hill, off the road. And that’s where the real adventure began. We followed the foot path through rice fields, to farmers’ homes, and down across the stream. I can’t really explain exactly the route we took (because quite frankly, I have no idea). But we adventured on for a few hours without any other tourist in sight.
What to expect?
Let these photos attempt to capture the beauty of the land. We felt like we were exploring a mystical land that only exists in video games. From the perfectly green rice paddies, to the butterflies following us through the trail, it a cut scene straight out of Legend of Zelda.
We knew that we had gotten off the beaten track because we did not see a single tourist during our hike. No women trying to sell us embroidered clothes, no children asking us for money, just us and a handful of locals doing their day to day tasks.
Once we knew it would start getting dark soon, we turn backed and basically retraced our steps to get back to our hostel. I really wish we had left earlier, giving us more time to trek through the valley to the other side of the hills.
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Is it safe?
Of course its safe! (This is a silly question, but people ask it). Asia is very safe. You won’t get robbed. The hill tribes don’t want to steal your identity. The local are super friendly, especially if you get away from the tourist area. People aren’t asking for money 24/7 once you get off the beaten track.
On that note, in Sapa all the little girls put on their whiney voices and chant “buy from me, buy from me”. You’ll soon understand and you will get used to it. If you buy from these children, it will only keep them out of school and on the streets. I know they are cute and a polite “no” will do. If they persist (and they will), we might try to sell something of ours to them. They usually get a good laugh out of it.
Alternative Option: Explore Sapa on Motorbike
Renting a motorbike in Vietnam is easy and inexpensive. We rented a bike for the day for 100k VND (~$6 CAD) and just went on our way, no guide needed.
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Where to go?
We headed down that same road, and just further along is a larger dirt road through the Lao Chai and Ta Van villages, among others. It’s funny because the road we took on our bike, is the same one the tours go on their “village treks” because we saw about a bazillion tourists marching down the streets. After the villages we just continued down the main road, stopping many times to enjoy the beauty and snap some photos.
With a motorbike, you have the freedom to go wherever you want. It is difficult to get lost because there aren’t many roads. We didn’t go very far, but you don’t need to head far to see the mountains, because it is beautiful everywhere.
Trekking in Sapa was definitely a highlight of our time in Vietnam. And doing it solo is so easy. Here is the final insider tip: the Oreo cookies in Sapa are the most delicious in the whole world! I kid you not. I don’t know what they do to them. But be sure to pack many Oreos to keep you going on your hike.
Well okay, I hope this helped. If you have anymore questions about how to trek Sapa without a guide, feel free to leave it in the comments and we will be sure to answer!
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20 thoughts on “How to Trek Sapa Without a Guide”
Sapa is such a beautiful, dreamy and peaceful place! Although it can be a bit touristy but still worth visiting!
Thank you for your informative and amazing blog post!
Great article! So just to confirm: it’s possible to hike Sapa (and see a lot) without a motorbike? I’m a danger to everyone around me while on a bike, and would much prefer to just trek from the town center. Also, did you find any maps – even on maps.me? Thank you for the awesome post!
Definitely, we trek one day without a motorbike and then the second day we took the bike out to go further. But you can definitely wander out from town!
Google maps has some trails marked, but its not very helpful. I have not ever used maps.me but its probably worth marking for others! 🙂
As I am researching whether I can trek Sapa independently (really hoping that I can!!), I came across your blog. Thank you, thank you for taking the time to write it up. Just what I needed to head out on my own. The group tours were frightening me! Off to Sapa in November! Thanks again!
Just wanted to say that I love your blog! I’m also from Toronto and just started blogging about hiking and biking adventures in Canada and around the world – so this is awesome and right up my alley. I biked the length of Vietnam a couple of years ago, so this totally resonates with me! Sapa is wicked cool and Vietnam is overall awesome!
Yes! Sapa and Vietnam are amazing! Your bike trip sounds wicked cool.
Hi! Would you have any suggestions on where to sleep?
There are many guest houses in the town, it will be unlikely that you won’t have a place to stay! We stayed at one called the Highland Hostel. It has amazing tiramisu!
Hi Sara and Matti,
I’m in Sapa now and I just completed a full-day trek through the rice fields without a guide. This blog post was instrumental in helping me figure out the logistics. Thanks so much and keep up the great work!
This is the nicest comment we have gotten! That’s amazing to hear. Sapa is breathtaking isn’t it? Hope you had a great time!
Hey Justin and Sara
One question to ask, did u go to sapa just for one day trekking or 2 days? what villages did u visit? did u spend the night in sapa town or in a homestay in the village?
I am thinking of doing solo but still a little frightened to get lost, hahaha
Did u see other solo travelers?
any other suggestions? thanks
We were in Sapa for a few nights, but we only slept in the town so we only trekked for the day then made our way back. We didn’t stay at any homestay, but I have heard of people doing that.
There are many travellers! Sapa is a big tourist destination for people to do day trips, or trekking for days. Sapa is honestly very developed you’re trekking through manicured rice patties, rather than untouched wilderness, and we never felt like we were going to get lost. I hope that eases some of your worries. You’ll have such a great time. Excited for you!
Thanks for your post, It really strengthened my determination of solo trekking. can you tell me more details please?
Is Motor Bike driving license is required?
Can I get a cell phone reception in the mountains, you know that could be a nightmare when you get lost without mobile signal.
Did you encountered some dangerous animals like snakes or something?
Sorry for the amount of question, but its too hard to get info from solo traveller online 😀
Looking for your reply, my friend and I gonna visit Sapa 10 Aug.
All the best
Hey Chweng! Hiking saps is so much easier than you’re expecting. No motorbike licence is required. You probably can get some reception. You won’t really get lost without it though because once you are hiking the trails, they aren’t marked in online. There aren’t any dangerous animals. You are hiking through groomed farm fields, not untouched jungles. This also helps with not getting lost, you aren’t really hiking through tree coverage.
I hope this helps answer your questions! It’s all much easier than it may seem!
Just read your post and love the photos! I am going in august. What time of the year were you in Sapa?
Hey Julie, we were in Sapa at the beginning of August which is actually off season. You might get rain, but there are less tourists. You’ll have a great time! Enjoy!
Thank you so much. I am really looking forward to it!! 🙂
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