Find out what trekking in Sapa Vietnam is like and my experience during hiking in February. Learn about how to get there, guided vs guided tours in Sapa, homestays and more in this trekking Sapa in February guide!
One of the bucketlist places to visit in Vietnam is Sapa. Think photos of nature, trekking through endless rice fields and with the sun hitting at the perfect angle. Well, of course, things are never what they seem and my trekking in Sapa experience certainly was not like this. This is exactly why I decided to write this trekking Sapa guide and cover absolutely everything you need to know before traveling there.
A days journey from the main northern international hub of Hanoi, many people make the journey to discover a different side of the country in Northern Vietnam. It is definitely on the main backpacker trail and numerous hostels in Hanoi advertise multiple day trips there. It certainly is a unique part of the country and completely different from any other city I visited on my trip.
Once you get to Sapa one of the best things to do is go trekking, allowing you to explore the magnificent rice fields which line the hilly countryside make for the most picture-perfect opportunities. Though, the weather during February can be very different from the rest of Vietnam which is why you need to prepare yourself accordingly for trekking.
Trekking In Sapa: What You Should Know Before Visiting
- When To Visit Sapa & Sapa In February
- Traveling From Hanoi To Sapa
- What To Pack For Trekking Sapa
- Guided Sapa Trekking Tours
- Trekking Sapa Without A Guide
- Homestays In Sapa
- Staying In Ta Van
- Should You Travel Sapa In February?
How I Book Cheap Transport In Vietnam: 12.Go Asia
When To Visit Sapa & Visiting Sapa In February
Before adding Sapa to your Vietnam itinerary I highly recommend doing research to prevent you from disappointment. It is located North in the country and lays about 1500 meters above sea level.
There are basically two best seasons which are the ideal times for when to visit Sapa. The first is September to mid-December which is perfect weather for trekking Sapa. The days will be clear with mild temperatures, making it the perfect opportunity to see the countryside. It is outside of the rainy season so the trails will be dry. If you are brave there is even the possibility to hike the impressive Mount Fansipan. The second best time to visit Sapa is from March to May. The days here should be sunny and good weather as well.
In contrast, you definitely do not want to go trekking in Sapa during the wet season from June to Septemeber. It generally lasts 3 months and is often overrun with domestic tourists. The second bad time visit is from late December to February.
Unknown to me until my arrival, February is winter in Sapa. Temperatures here drop down to the negatives overnight and we were not prepared. There was a constant fog over the town which never lifted and I swear I lost a couple of shades of tan! Luckily, it did not rain during the day while we were there. Though, just like clockwork at about 6pm each night it would bucket down.
We did not get any of those picturesque views over the rice terraces. Well, actually the rice terraces were empty, being basically just mud puddles for the winter months. The hiking paths were just like this also. Though, we found a good alternative for trekking Sapa which I will cover below.
Traveling From Hanoi To Sapa
If you are in Northern Vietnam there is a high chance you will be going trekking in Sapa. Though the journey traveling from Hanoi to Sapa is not that quick. The two most popular options are either by bus or by sleeper train.
I personally chose to take the bus and it quickly became a regrettable decision. Being nearly 6 foot tall, I definitely do not fit comfortably into those unique Vietnamese style long-distance buses. They are seriously one of the most uncomfortable things for tall people. Luckily on the journey to Sapa, we were right down the back of the bus which provided a bit more room. Though, the journey back was certainly not pleasant. About an hour or so into the trip we saw a bug, then there was another and another. Soon enough we quickly realized this bus was absolutely infested with beetles and cockroaches!
After that, we only took trains for the next 3 weeks. I know if I also go to Sapa again it will definitely be by train rather than the bus.
A great option for booking transport in Vietnam is 12.Go Asia. I have used them plenty and I highly recommend. If you are unsure of who to book with they allow previous customers to leave reviews so you can decide what train/bus would be best for you.
What To Pack For Trekking Sapa
If you are traveling during the best time to visit Sapa, which I cover above, it is relatively easy packing for Sapa. Think comfortable shoes you can hike in, a jacket and some active wear. The days will be sunny and you will want layers you can put on/take off during the day. Nothing overly special will be needed and you should already have in your bag everything you will basically need.
Though, if you are traveling during the cold and wet months you will need a completely different packing list. If you are only visiting Vietnam during your travels you should have room in your bag for a few thicker pieces. This will allow you to keep warm, snug and most importantly dry. Try pack a rain jacket, beanie, at least two jumpers, and some thick socks.
Alternatively, if you previously have been traveling to other places in Southeast Asia, then it is unlikely you will have warm clothes in your bag. Seriously, I had more bikinis than long sleeve tops. The best option here is to layer up! Oh, and I also purchased an overpriced $5.00 beanie that I quickly threw out after returning to Hanoi. Though, having something to keep my head toasty was honestly a lifesaver.
You will need lots of warm clothes especially if you are planning to sleep in a homestay as they do not have heaters. Often though, the host will light a fire at night which the whole family crowd around to keep warm.
Also, a must is a waterproof pair of shoes. If you book a trek with one of the local guides you will be going off the main road and into the fields. With constant moisture in the air and rainy nights, the consistency of the ground is beyond muddy. We saw so many people freaking out having to walk along these crazy sludgy paths in their fancy white Nike sneakers. Just bring appropriate shoes. If you decide to self trek, which I will cover below, it is not as necessary to have waterproof shoes. There is a lot less mud on the road as all the dirt has been compacted. There are a few waterfalls on the way, but if you have good balance you can just jump rocks to keep dry.
Guide Sapa Trekking Tours
One of the best ways to go trekking around Sapa is on a guided tour. These are surprisingly affordable costing less than $20.00 for the day. The price general includes lunch and water as well. Though it is best to double check what exactly is included before booking.
You will be able to visit ethnic minority villages here in Sapa, which one depends on exactly what tour you book. Though, your guides will be able to take you through the beautiful rice terraces and to some of the most picturesque spots. You will be given plenty of opportunities to interact with the local villagers and learn about their way of life.
As to the exact difficulty involved in doing a guided trek in Sapa, it will depend on the tour you book. Many of them involve hiking over hills and it may not be the easiest experience if you are a senior. I would recommend having an average level of fitness to ensure you can complete the hike without any issues. Though, if this does sound like you I will provide an alternative below which will still allow you to explore the countryside of Sapa and have a great homestay experience.
Trekking Sapa Without A Guide
If you are wanting to trek Sapa without a guide I first highly recommend you download Maps.Me on your phone. On it, you will be able to get an offline version of a map of Sapa, perfect if you do not have a local sim card. Alternatively, you can pick up a map of the surrounding area from the Tourist Information Office.
If you are traveling during a part of the year with good weather then you can likely do a variety of hikes. The tracks will be maintained and dry so you should have no problem getting around. From Sapa, you can either trek to Cat Cat Village and Sin Chai which should take about half a day, or you can do to Y Linh Ho, Lao Chai, and Ta Van.
If you are going trekking in Sapa I highly recommend doing a homestay experience for at least one night. This will give you great insight into the village and our hosts will be able to answer any questions you might have about the area. Since you likely won’t be able to talk to locals due to the language barrier, this is a great option to getting a local experience while trekking Sapa without a guide. Though, I will cover more on homestays in Sapa a bit further down.
If you are going trekking in Sapa during the ‘winter’ months you will likely have to trek as I did below…
My Experience Trekking Sapa During February
Trekking Sapa during the winter season or February you will be a lot more limited as to where you can go. This is because many of the trails through the rice fields and grasslands are just muddy sludge puddles. We watched numerous people look absolutely miserable as they realized where exactly they would be hiking. Therefore I recommend doing what we did if you are wanting to go trekking.
We simply just walked following the main road to the village Ta Van. We did this and it is easy enough to follow the roads as it is all signposted. It also gave us the trekking in Sapa experience as there was no way we were going into the muddy paths. There are also some awesome animals to see along the way.
We saw herds of goats, horses, many dogs, ducks, and pigs, both alive and dead strapped to the back of someone’s motorbike. The water buffalo also liked to stalk us along the road when we were trekking in and out of Ta Van. The views were not always the best as for a lot of time the road is high above the valley which is covered in fog. Though, being winter we were limited to hiking options, so we made the most of it following the road. Though, in all honesty, I think you might just be better off doing a Homestay experience and doing small hikes around the village among nature so avoid being disappointed.
Homestays In Sapa
One of the best things to do in Sapa, and what I highly recommend is to do a Homestay experience. There are so many places to choose from, so you should definitely do some research as to which village you would like to stay in. The easiest way to book your Homestay in Sapa is through Booking.com. This is what I used to book my homestay making it a hassle-free experience. You will just need to go through the listings and choose one of the homestay options or look at the map view and choose something not in the main town.
I stayed in a homestay slightly outside of Ta Van, though it only took about a 15-minute walk to be in the town. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. Though, a lot of homestays are quite similar in terms of facilities and inclusions.
We paid $6.00 / 136,000 Dong each per night at our homestay. This amount included breakfast each day and a basic private room, which had an amazing duvet cover! One of the nights we also decided to get the homestay dinner which was $3.30 / 75,000 Dong per person. These homestay dinners are always offered as an extra and I highly recommend doing at least one. It was the best tofu I have ever had in my life and I was able to get the recipe.
We were the only people booked at our homestay during this time. Though, that makes sense because it was the low season. As previously mentioned the house was fairly basic, so if you cannot survive without heating and wifi this may not be for you. A fire was lit every night to crowd around inside the house. Though, because there is no insulation the warmth disappeared quickly. Our host family would always constantly be bringing us snacks and we even spent one-night eating raw sugar cane heated up over the fire.
Staying In Ta Van
Ta Van is a village where the majority of homestays are located. It is 9km outside of Sapa town and if you do not want to trek in you can also catch a taxi there for $11.00 / 250,000 Dong. This might seem like quite a large amount, but the roads down to Ta Van are horrible. Expect constant potholes and puddles, it is a slow 9km journey. Honestly, it makes a nice change getting off the main backpacking trail in Vietnam.
There is also a $3.30 / 75,000 Dong entry fee to get into the Ta Van area. If you book a taxi off the side of the street they will stop at the booth so you pay the money. Though, if you book the taxi through your homestay your host will likely tell the driver not to stop as the fee is included in the room price. Well, this is what our host family said anyway.
In Ta Van itself there is an abundance of homestays as well as eateries. Which is perfect in case you don’t want to do the homestay meal every night. One night we stopped in at Lucky Daisys Bamboo bar for a meal which. It had super awesome relaxing vibes and a massive fireplace. The town itself was a lot more happening than up the street where we were staying. In my personal opinion, I would recommend you book a homestay in the actual town of Ta Van, especially if you are going to stay more than one night.
Should You Travel Sapa In February?
Trekking in Sapa during the month of February certainly is not what the pictures make it out to be like. Forget sun shiny days, lush green fields and beautiful views. I don’t mean to be a bummer, but there is more likely going to be fog, rain and mud. Though, as long as you dress appropriately and set your expectations accordingly you should have a good time.
Also, on the plus side, prices in Sapa during February are extremely cheap. From accommodation deals to free food and cheap massages your money will go far in Sapa during your visit. Most restaurants will have free drinks or free meal signage outside their restaurant and you will see online prices plummet.
In all honesty, I would not recommend trekking in Sapa during February. Alternatively, I would recommend you visit Mai Chau instead. You can still do all the amazing hiking and get those awesome rice terrace photos. Though, as it is not so north as Sapa so the weather is warmer, there is less rain and there are still plenty of trekking companies where you can have the homestay experience.
How I Book Cheap Transport In Vietnam: 12.Go Asia
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