Sapa trek: Can trekking in Sapa without directions?

Nga Do
Sapa has a gorgeous landscape of mountains and rice fields, and it should be on your bucket list. It’s even considered to be one of the best trekking spots in Vietnam. We decided to end our month long Vietnam trip exploring the gorgeous rice fields of Sapa. As we are travelling on a budget, guides are great, specially for a safe trip. However, trekking in Sapa without a guide is also an ideal Sapa tour.

In this article you can find advice on how to start your hike or trek in Sapa without a guide. 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. 

Sapa trek: Can trekking in Sapa without directions?
Photo by Konstantin Krismer
Is it allowed 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).

Sapa trek: Can trekking in Sapa without directions? 1
Photo by Felix_Broennimann
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.

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.

Sapa trek: Can trekking in Sapa without directions? 2
Photo by Lori_N
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.

Goods and bads of trekking in Sapa without a guide?

Good things:

– Full of unexpected things – even though you have read thousands of reviews about Sapa, you can not be sure about what you will meet, will see in Sapa.

– No schedule. Go anywhere, free to stay longer or leave earlier.

– Save the extra fee for travel agency

Bad things:

– Say bye bye to the comfortable services as TV, hotels, and other sweet things.

– The unexpected things also means the risky things as robbers, bad quality of foods, homestays.

– It’s difficult to join with the local lifestyle in villages without a guide because of the language barriers

– While enjoy the trip, you have to manage other stuffs as avoid robbers, sicks, or bad people.

Sapa trek: Can trekking in Sapa without directions? 3
Photo by Quangpraha
Notes when trekking in Sapa without a guide

There are some notes that we say again and again, please keep in mind when travelling in Sapa:

– Be careful: make copies of all your documentation in case you lost the original ones.

– In some cases you must pay money for taking photos of local people, ask them before doing.

– Do not hesitate to ask a local for assistance, they are very friendly.

– Do not leave your wallet, don’t wear jewelry and be back at your hotel early

– In Ta Phin village, there may have children sell something here, if you don’t want what they’re selling, don’t buy and say “no”.

– Bargain half prices for anything

Still need more information for trekking in Sapa without a guide or more advice from experts? Feel free to contact Vietnam Typical Tours right away, at:

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