Trekking in Sapa with our children was one of the things I was really looking forward to during our time in Vietnam. I had visions of 3 days walking through rice fields and meeting locals in the villages.
We opted for a 3 day/2 night trip in the hope it would really allow us to get off the beaten track.
GETTING TO SAPA
We opted to get an overnight train to Lao Cai (near Sapa) because my kids are not good at long car/bus trips. There are a number of train services, we chose SapaLy which cost us $41USD per person (each way). Luckily kids under 5 years are free if they share a bed so we were able to sleep our family of 5 into one cabin.
The kids thought this was a great adventure!
We did not let the girls actually sleep on the top bunks. The safety rails are very low and with all the rocking and rolling of the train we didn’t think it was safe for them.
From Lao Cai we had had booked a transfer to Sapa. After finding the man with “our sign” we joined about a dozen other people in a van. The drive to Sapa is a steep, windy mountain road and gets very bumpy near the end. Unfortunately my 4 year old got car sick but thankfully didn’t throw up in the vehicle. She did throw up everywhere though as soon as we sat down in the hotel café for breakfast. I felt so sorry for her. She then fell asleep in my arms for over an hour and woke up in time to start walking. The café had given me a baguette to take with us for her which she happily munched on as we walked as if nothing had ever happened!
WHO WE TREKKED WITH
I booked our trek with a company called Sapa Sisters . I chose them because they were the only company who actually answered the questions I had about hiking with children. They proved to be a good company to deal with and would happily recommend. However, I am sure there are also many other companies who would be equally as good.
We had a lovely guide Lan who did a good job trying to understand that just because we had children didn’t mean we wanted the “easy” routes. She was kind and helpful and lovely to spend time with.
If you trek in Sapa you WILL be followed, many times a day, by women and children who want to sell you things that they make. This is how they make money. If you have no intent of buying from them do not let them follow you as they will then be upset that they have walked with you for nothing.
Our guide told me that if I really didn’t want to buy things to firmly, and clearly say “NO FOLLOW, NO BUY” to anyone striking up conversation on the trail and to ensure they knew it was the case. The women all come and start a conversation like “What’s your name? Where are you from?” as a way of getting you to engage. I found that as long as I was firm and polite I only had to repeat myself two or three times before they would leave me alone. My six year old found it a little uncomfortable to constantly have people coming up to us and didn’t understand why they didn’t go away the first time we said “NO FOLLOW. NO BUY”. These are all good travel lessons for her to take through life.
Our first day was mostly fine weather and we managed a huge 18km with the kids. This allowed us to head north to the village of Ta Phin where not many tourist go. I couldn’t believe my 4 year old hiked that far but she loved walking through corn fields and seeing water buffalo and lots of baby animals in the villages.
Unfortunately the weather gods were then unkind to us. Days 2 and 3 were wet and thick low cloud settled into the valley restricting our visibility to about 50m. This also meant the dirt tracks through rice fields and bamboo forests were too muddy to hike with the kids so we were limited to roads only. This made the walking on those days feel touristy and boring.
Being wet meant our girls didn’t feel so enthused about the walking which I totally understand. We opted to get a few vehicle drop-offs along the way over those 2 days to ensure maximum happiness.
Homestays were a lovely experience. Accommodation and sleeping arrangements were always clean but very basic. We always had access to a Western toilet and warm shower though. We loved that the girls could help prepare meals and that we would eat with a family each night.
There were two real highlights for me on the trip:
1. Watching my children walking through the corn fields on Day 1
2. Listening to the laughter of 5 girls on our second night. Our host family had two daughters who spoke no English but they connected well with my three daughters. As the evening went on they started teaching each other to count in Vietnamese/English using a deck of playing cards. It seems the Vietnamese (or local dialect) word for Queen is “Wee” which caused my children to burst out laughing each time. In turn the local girls would burst into laughter. It was so beautiful to watch them that night.
Would I go back to Sapa? No. I feel like once is enough – I would choose to explore other more remote area of Vietnam next time.
Would I recommend Sapa to other families? Yes – absolutely!