3-day Sapa Trek: A Traveler’s Review

Sapa is a region in the Lao Cai province of northern Vietnam famous for its steep rice terraces and indigenous cultures.

One of the best ways to explore Sapa is by hiking and spending the night at homestays. But you might be wondering—is the 3-day Sapa trek the right fit for you?

I understand where you’re coming from. Before booking my 3-day trek, I was teetering between whether to take the 3-day or 2-day hike.

I decided to take the 3-day trek and will reveal later in this post whether I thought it was worth it. But for now, I’ll walk you through what you can (mostly) expect from a 3-day trekking tour in Sapa.

Accessibility Note: The 3-day Sapa trek isn’t accessible for wheelchair users. Check out this guide for details on alternative accessible options in Sapa.

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A Disclaimer

Most 3-day Sapa treks vary in the experience they offer and the sights you’ll see.

Even if two people book the same tour with the same tour agency, there’s a chance the trek will look different for both of them, as the guides may tailor the tour to the group’s interests and fitness levels.

I traveled to Sapa during the low season and ended up being the only paying customer on days two and three of my trek. My local guide was a sweetheart and gave me the option to stay in one of two towns for my second homestay, explaining that the second choice would offer me more hiking opportunities on day three.

So, take what I share in this article as a base for what to expect on the 3-day Sapa hike. It’s likely your 3-day trek will look a little different, though.

If you have your heart set on seeing a particular town or group of indigenous people in Sapa, be sure to arrange that with your tour agency in advance.

Day 1: Hiking Into the Valley

I took an overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa the night before my trek, arriving in Sapa at 5:30 am. That was plenty of time before my tour’s 9:00 am start time.

Some people prefer to spend a full day in Sapa the day before their trek.

The good news is you don’t need to spend time in Sapa to acclimate to the high altitude before your trek. Aside from Fansipan Mountain, Sapa is only about 5,400 feet above sea level.

Starting the Trek

Although I ended up being my guide’s only 3-day trekking customer on days two and three, the first day of our trek followed the full-day trekking route. So, we walked around Sapa town, picking up some other trekking companions.

Then my group walked from Sapa to the starting point of the trek, passing the popular photography spot of a hand sculpture reaching out over the valley.

Our guide didn’t take us there, and my guess is that most trekking guides don’t make that stop since many non-trekkers take photos there, which could delay the trek’s pace.

So, if you want to take a photo with the hand sculpture, check with your trekking company whether that stop is included or allow extra time in Sapa town to visit it.

The Downhill Climb

A woman with a basket walking on the edge of a rice terrace.
Walking along the edge of rice terraces. I visited in the winter, so it wasn’t the rice-growing season.

The entire first day of my 3-day trek was hiking downhill.

Some spots were extremely steep. And although I got lucky to visit Sapa when it was dry, the dirt paths were still slippery at times. Needless to say, this downhill hike tapped into thigh muscles I had forgotten (or didn’t know) existed.

I can’t imagine how slippery the path would be during the rainy season. As a silver lining, you can rent boots in Sapa town.

The Views

Before you even arrive at the path’s starting point for the 3-day Sapa trek, you’ll get beautiful glimpses of the valley between the buildings.

And once you arrive at the trail, the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking.

Although the views were stunning during my entire 3-day trek, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the views during the first few hours on day one.

Mountains with rice terraces in Sapa.
A view of Sapa’s rice terraces during the first day of my 3-day trek.

Since you’ll likely want your camera out a lot, I recommend using a lanyard so you can hang it around your neck.

Between the slippery path in spots and times when you’ll need to balance on the edge of rice terraces, it would be easy to take a wrong step and accidentally fling your phone or camera into rice paddy water.

Our Helpers

As my guide and I met our fellow trekkers for their full-day hiking tour, local women began joining us. As with so many locals in Sapa, they were friendly and had excellent English skills.

The women trekked with us, helping us navigate the trails in slippery areas. I soon gathered, and my guide later confirmed, that these women would try to sell us their artwork at the end of the hike.

A line of people walking down dirt steps in Sapa.
Walking down dirt steps with our helpers (those wearing baskets).

I had mixed feelings about this, as they were genuinely helpful (a 70-something-year-old helped me navigate the slippery parts of the path). And yet we had no choice in the matter.

Needless to say, by the time we arrived at our lunch stop and the women informed us they’d be leaving, we all felt a combination of obligation and desire to buy something from them.

Luckily, no other helpers joined me and my guide on the following two days of my Sapa trek.

Based on my observation, all tour groups embarking on the Sapa trek had these helpers. So, I don’t think it was a unique scenario that my guide had pre-arranged.

However, vendors were present at all the restaurant stops during my trek, and they were the definition of persistent.

So, I found it helped (a little) to wear the bag I bought from my helper for the remainder of my trek as proof that I had already made a purchase.

Lunch in Cau May Village

We trekked for close to three hours before arriving in Cau May village, our lunch stop. Lunch was at a large open-air restaurant by a river.

The restaurant seemed to be a popular stop for people on the full-day trek, as it was packed to the brim with tourists and vendors. They had everything well-organized with serving food, though, which was in the form of many family-style dishes brought to our table.

If you have special dietary needs, let your tour agency know in advance. I’m a vegetarian and the restaurants and my homestays accommodated me beautifully.

All the meals I had during my 3-day trek were abundant and filling.

A Little More Trekking

I assumed my guide and I would spend the remainder of the day trekking. Instead, we trekked for about another hour, which was more like a walk through Cau May village.

Along the way, our guide stopped to show us the traditional way of making rice flour using water to power the machine and how they dye clothing with locally grown indigo.

A woman at a weaving machine.
My guide teaching us how to weave.

My guide then arranged a return taxi for the full-day trekking people on my tour before walking me to my host family’s house.

Arriving at Homestay #1

We arrived at my homestay around 2:30 pm, and my host mom gave me green tea. After chatting a bit on the porch, using my guide as a translator, my guide left and I walked back into town to explore some more.

As a solo female traveler, I felt safe wandering the village alone. That was the case everywhere I went in Sapa (and Vietnam as a whole, for that matter).

I made some street dog friends, bought an orange-colored banana, and waved at the locals.

Dinner Time

Upon returning from wandering around I took a shower, which was in a clean and spacious area beside the house. The water was hot, which was gratefully the case at my second homestay as well.

I then read on the porch while enjoying the gorgeous mountain views until dinner at 6:30 pm.

I was the only guest that night at my host family’s small home, and we ate together. They made delicious fried spring rolls, sauteed greens, fried eggs for me, and fish for them.

They also poured us a round of shots.

Keep in mind, though, that water and other drinks (aside from tea or coffee in the morning) aren’t included in most 3-day Sapa trek tour packages. So, pack water or bring cash to purchase it in town.

Heading to Bed

A bedroom with a queen-sized bed.
My bedroom.

Everyone dispersed to their rooms after dinner, so I did the same. The early bird in me didn’t mind having an early evening, and the temperature was already quickly dropping, so it was nice to crawl under my warm comforter.

Most homestays in Sapa have WiFi, so I caught up with my family and friends.

My room was small but had a queen-sized bed. And to my surprise, despite the temperatures dropping into the low 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I stayed nice and warm all night, thanks to a thick comforter.

Day 2: Bamboo Forests & Panoramic Views

I learned that the locals and chickens wake with the sun in Sapa, though guests aren’t expected to do so. After talking myself into getting out of my warm bed to get dressed in the frigid air, I sat on the porch and read.

My host mom made a delicious banana, honey, and crepe breakfast, which I ate alone on the porch.

A plate of crepes and a cut-up banana.
Banana crepe breakfast.

My guide then picked me up at 9:30 am to embark on day two of our 3-day Sapa trek.

Two Hiking Choices

I doubt most trekkers get as lucky as I did to have a guide that offered me two trekking options this day. My guide informed me that I could either spend the night in Hau Tho or Ban Ho.

It appears that Ban Ho is the most common village for 3-day trekkers to spend the night.

However, my guide explained that Ban Ho is in a more developed part of the valley and involves a shorter trek on day three.

In contrast, Hau Tho is in a more remote area (way more remote, upon seeing both villages) and offers a longer hike with more scenic views on day three.

I chose Hau Tho, and off we went.

Hiking Through Bamboo Forests

Day two of the 3-day Sapa trek involves a combination of uphill and downhill hiking. We started off by hiking uphill, arriving at a bamboo forest.

At that point, the sun was out in full force, which was wonderful for seeing the valley views and made entering the bamboo forest all the more enticing. The temperature drop inside the forest was amazing!

You likely won’t be overly impressed by the bamboo forest if you’ve seen bamboo before.

But it was fascinating to learn how the locals use it to create fences and dry bamboo for firewood.

Visiting Waterfalls

A small waterfall.
One of Sapa’s waterfalls during the winter when there’s less rain.

My guide took me to two waterfalls on the second day of my trek—one near the bamboo forest and the other by our lunch stop.

The waterfalls aren’t that impressive in the winter, as it’s the drier season (though rain occurs year-round in Sapa).

If you travel to Sapa in the summer, pack swimwear so you can take a dip in the waterfall. But you won’t want to do so during the winter—the water is way too cold.

In contrast, you’ll get to enjoy fuller-looking waterfalls during the summer.

Lunch Break

Lunch on day two of the 3-day Sapa trek was by the river between the villages of Ta Van and Muong Hoa. This time, I had the option to choose from the following dishes:

  • Fried rice
  • Fried noodles
  • Pho

Each came with either chicken, pork, or vegetables, per one’s preference.

As with all the meals during most Sapa treks, the food was included but drinks weren’t.

Arriving at Homestay #2

The hike from the restaurant to my second homestay involved about 1.5 hours of walking along a river and then up the opposite side of the valley.

My guide wasn’t kidding—my homestay was in a super remote area, but it still had electricity, hot water, and WiFi.

The porch of a bamboo Sapa home.
My second homestay.

So, although I also arrived around 2:30 pm on this day, the nearest town was too far for me to walk to without getting lost. I enjoyed sitting on the porch reading, though, and drinking the green tea my host mom offered me.

I had a larger room at this homestay, and it had the capacity to house more tourists. There was one other tourist staying there, so it was nice to have someone to chat with.

Dinner

Yet again, my second host family cooked a delicious Vietnamese dinner, and we ate together. My host mom spoke excellent English, so it was nice not having to rely on Google Translate to communicate.

She made us fried spring rolls, two types of green veggies, and all the rice we could have possibly wanted. Pig tongue and other pork parts were available for non-vegetarians.

Off to Bed

Yet again, my second host family headed to bed after dinner. I ended up staying on the porch, chatting with their other guest until 8:00 pm.

Then I headed to bed for another comfy night under my warm comforter.

Day 3: Mini Hike & Return to Sapa

My host mom was thrilled to see me up early on the last day of my trek and encouraged me to watch the sunrise on a nearby rock overlooking the countryside.

As with so many areas in Sapa valley, there wasn’t a designated trail, so I resorted to walking through either my host family’s or neighbor’s garden, both of which seemed acceptable to do in Sapa.

Watching the sunrise over the mountains was the perfect way to start the last day of my trek.

Sunrise in Sapa valley.
Sunrise at my homestay.

Breakfast

I was served another delicious banana, honey, and crepe breakfast on my last day of the 3-day Sapa trek.

As I’ve come to expect in Vietnam, my guide was right on time to pick me up. The guest staying at my homestay joined us for our last trek that morning, which was welcomed and represents how laid-back the Sapa tours are.

Final Hike

We hiked from my host family’s house to Ban Ho, the busier village where I had the option to spend the second night. My guide was right about Ban Ho being more developed, and I was so grateful she had suggested that I stay in Hau Tho.

The hike involved a combination of uphill and downhill climbing, offering more stunning views over Muong Hoa Valley in Sapa.

A cement path leading through Sapa valley.
Some of the paths were cement for scooters during the 3-day trek.

We hiked for about two hours before arriving at a store-like restaurant for a local lunch.

Last Lunch & Saying Goodbye

I had the option to choose from the same food as lunch the day prior. It was a lovely end to a beautiful trek.

My guide called a scooter to take me back to Sapa after we ate. Normally, a taxi would take trekkers back to Sapa. But since I was traveling back alone, she arranged a scooter.

I hugged my guide goodbye, gave her a well-deserved tip, and enjoyed the 30-minute drive back to Sapa.

A Note on Luggage

If you book a Sapa 3-day trekking tour in advance, your tour agency will arrange a hotel where you can leave any luggage that you don’t want to bring with you on the Sapa trek.

You’ll need to carry your own belongings, so packing lightly is vital.

Since I traveled from Hanoi to Sapa round trip, I brought a small carry-on bag. However, I appreciated that the hotel allowed me to use its shower facilities upon my arrival and departure from Sapa.

This is a common situation among people booking trekking tours that involve a bus and train ride from Hanoi.

My Impressions of the 3-day Sapa Trek

You can view the exact 3-day Sapa trekking tour I booked here. I was thrilled with the quality of my guide and the punctuality and efficiency of every moving part during the tour.

That said, there were some things that surprised me.

Namely, how short the treks were each day.

Although I trekked about 20 miles during my 3-day Sapa trek, the trek didn’t start until mid-day each morning and ended in the early afternoon. This seemed to be the case with many trekking companies, based on my research and some tourists I spoke with.

So, I could see where people with high fitness levels and those who love long treks would feel disappointed by the pace and distance covered.

That said, I don’t want to leave the impression that trekking in Sapa is a walk in the park. You should have a minimum of an average level of fitness to complete this 3-day trek.

Being surefooted is also essential, as there are many slippery areas on the path and times when you’ll need to balance on the narrow edges of rice terraces (it would be a short fall if you lose your balance, but a muddy one).

Other Sapa Trek Options

If you’re on the fence about the 3-day Sapa trek, below is a chart comparing the 3-day trek to the full and 2-day treks.

FeatureFull-day Trek2-day Trek3-day Trek
Approximate distance12 km (7.5 miles)22 km (13.5 miles)32 km (20 miles)
InclineDownhillUphill & downhillUphill & downhill
TerrainDirt pathsDirt, rocky, and cement pathsDirt, rocky, and cement paths
Included mealsLunchLunch (2), Dinner (1), Breakfast (1)Lunch (3), Dinner (2), Breakfast (2)

In my opinion, there’s value in having a homestay experience if your time and budget allow it. That said, I don’t feel you need to do the 3-day trek to experience Sapa well.

I’m glad I did the 3-day trek. But knowing what I do now, I think the 2-day trek would have been just as satisfying.

And if you only have time for one day in Sapa, I say go for it if the weather is good. Sapa was my favorite stop during my 2-month Vietnam trip, and I believe it’s every bit worth the full-day trek if that’s all you can fit into your itinerary.

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of questions about the experience that each of these treks offers. So, I put together a comprehensive guide detailing the three Sapa trekking options to help you pick the best fit.

Travel Tip: If a homestay doesn’t feel right for you, booking a 2-day or 3-day Sapa trekking package with hotels is possible.

Things to Do in Sapa

Although trekking is the big draw to visiting Sapa, there are several things you can do aside from putting your thighs to work. Below are three suggestions.

1. Explore Sapa Town

I had a couple of free hours before and after my 3-day hike to explore Sapa. It was the perfect amount of time to get a feel for the small town.

Sapa is easy to explore on foot. Make sure to visit the plaza by Sapa Station, which is the center of downtown. You’ll get to enjoy pretty views of the mountains in the backdrop on a clear day.

Downtown Sapa with mountain backdrop.
A clear day in downtown Sapa with a view of the mountains.

You’ll also find many cafes and restaurants serving everything from Vietnamese to international food.

2. Visit Fansipan Mountain

You can visit Fansipan Mountain by trekking or cable car. If you wish to trek, the most popular way is via a 2-day guided tour.

However, a full-day trek is also possible if you have the fitness and ambition.

Fansipan is the tallest peak in Vietnam, at over 10,300 feet tall. So, altitude sickness is possible from that elevation. For this reason, some people prefer to visit Fansipan peak via cable car.

3. Explore Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village is one of the most popular places for people who don’t want to do a trekking tour in Sapa.

You can arrive in Cat Cat via car, scooter, or on foot from Sapa town. The Black Hmong people live there since they make up over 50% of the ethnic people in Sapa. You’ll also see this group during a full-day, 2-day, or 3-day trek.

Aside from the Black Hmong, other indigenous groups you may see in Sapa include:

  • Red Dao
  • Tay
  • Giay
  • Xa Pho

Cat Cat is only two kilometers from downtown Sapa. You’ll get to enjoy breathtaking rice field views, cafes, and lots of vendors selling handmade goods.

What to Pack for Your Sapa Trek

The items you should pack for trekking Sapa vary depending on the weather. Below is a packing list to get you started:

  • Clothes you can layer (it can get hot during the day and chilly at night)
  • Rain jacket
  • Umbrella (to block the rain or sun)
  • Cash in the form of small change
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Water
  • Sandals (for showering)
  • Phone/camera charger (all homestays have electricity)

I also recommend wearing hiking boots to hike Sapa if you have them. You can also rent them in town (or rain boots if it’s muddy). I wore sneakers and slipped often—and that was in dry weather.

My guide and the locals hiking with my group put us to shame, though, as they wore sandals.

Although Sapa can be hot depending on when you travel, consider wearing pants. The second and third days of the trek pass through areas with dense brush.

Getting to Sapa

You can get to Sapa via bus, train, and driving. Of these, driving is the fastest, followed by the bus and train.

At this time, Sapa doesn’t have a commercial airport. However, the Vietnamese government approved more than $305 billion to build an airport near the town as part of their plan to build six new airports in Vietnam by 2030.

Since the road to Sapa is steep and winding, most people prefer to take the bus or train instead of renting a car. You can also hire a private driver.

I took the overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa and a late afternoon bus from Sapa back to Hanoi. Read more about my Sapa bus experience to help you prepare for what to expect.

FAQs: 3-day Sapa Trek & More

Do you still have questions about Sapa? Read below to see if I answer them here. If not, leave a comment at the end of this post and I’ll get back to you.

How long should I spend in Sapa, Vietnam?

The minimum amount of time you should spend in Sapa is one day. However, it’s common for people to spend two to three nights in Sapa. Longer stays are also an option, especially if you want to combine the 3-day Sapa trek with a visit to Fansipan, Cat Cat Village, and more.

What is the best month to visit Sapa?

The best months to visit Sapa to enjoy the classic appearance of the rice fields are July or August. The rice is full and green during July. In August, it starts changing from green to yellow. However, be aware that these months fall during the rainy season.

December, January, and February are Sapa’s foggiest and coldest months, so they’re typically not the best time to visit.

The locals plant their rice in May and harvest it in September. That means from October to April you’ll see the rice paddies without rice growing.

Is Sapa worth visiting?

Sapa is very much worth visiting if the weather is clear enough to see the views. It’s wise to book your Sapa trip shortly before you travel so that you can work your travel dates around the weather.

Alternatively, most tour agencies are good about adjusting already booked tour dates at the last minute upon a client’s request. That way, you can travel when the weather is nicer if your trip is flexible.

Is the 3-day Sapa Trek Right for You?

Green rice terraces in Sapa.
My hiking group on the first day of the trek.

I’m grateful to have booked the 3-day Sapa trek and that the weather was unusually sunny and clear for January.

That said, I don’t think the 3-day trek is the right fit for everyone. Or even most people, for that matter.

Since many travelers have tight Vietnam itineraries because of visa restrictions, I think the 2-day trek is an excellent balance between experiencing Sapa well without taking time away from other worthy Vietnamese destinations.

If you have questions about trekking in Sapa, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.

I’d also love to hear from you when you return from your trek. Which trek did you book, and what was your experience like?

P.S.—Check out my guide on trekking Sapa, which compares the 3-day trek with the 2-day and full-day hikes.

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