In the North of Vietnam lies the village of Sapa. It is surrounded by mountains and vivid green rice paddies. But is also home to many minority groups such as the Hmong, Dao, Tay, and Giay. We decided to combine best of both worlds by going on a 2 day trekking with the Black Hmong.
The Sapa Sisters
The Black Hmong. Sounds like a kick ass tribe doesn’t it? Well they are. Because, in 2009 a few of the Black Hmong women set out on a mission to help the Hmong women earn a sustainable income so they would be able to buy food, land, houses and send their children to school. And they would do it by hiking. Together with two foreigners, they set up office in Sapa and started a hiking company called ‘The Sapa Sisters’. All of their guides would be Black Hmong women living in the villages around Sapa. Through private and customised tours they would introduce tourists to their villages, the land and their traditions.
The company sounded like the perfect for us so after an 8 hour train ride and another hour of hairpin turns in a minivan we arrived at the Sapa Sisters office. We were offered breakfast, a shower and some time to get into our hiking gear. We stored away our big backpacks at the office, strapped on our daypacks and met our guide Lang.
A little fierce woman with a big smile introduced herself: “Hi I’m Lang. I’ll be your guide for the next 3 days. Today I will take you to Tavan village. We will do a homestay there. On the second day we go to Supan village. There we go on a second homestay. Yes? On the third day we go to the Bac Ha market. Ok? “
We could adapt the route when we wanted to. We could add some extra miles when we wanted to or take a shortcut if the rain would come pouring down. It all sounded good to us so off we went.
Day 1 – The Hike to Tavan Village
We started walking downhill from the Sapa office when we noticed that we immediately got company from 2 other Black Hmong women.
Me: “Lang, do these women trek with us?’
Lang: “No, they are Black Hmong women who will walk with us to the next village and then try to sell you some things.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her honesty.
But I was pretty happy these women were accompanying us. You see, it had rained the day before the trek and the path downhill had turned into a slippery slope. On multiple occasions they offered a hand and kept us from falling down flat on our faces. We felt a bit like idiots. We were wearing our rugged hiking boots and could barely keep up straight while these women hopped along on slippers.
But after hiking a while we reached our first viewpoint. There were hills covered in rice terraces as far as we could see. The Fansipan mountain range provided for an even more dramatic backdrop view. Wow.
Lang: “Not so nice right now. ”
Me: “What do you mean not so nice? This is incredible!”
Lang: “The rice has been harvested. The colour is a bit brown now. It’s much nicer before harvest in August, September. Very green then.”
Lang got us a little snack to try. Sugarcane. You chew on it. Get all the flavour. Then spit it out again. I started chewing and tasted this refreshing sweet sugar flavour. Exactly the energy boost we needed.
As we hiked on we started asking Lang about local life here in the valley. We learned about bride napping, shamanism, the opium fields, educations and family life. San had noticed that Lang had a bit of tummy going on. So I put on my brave shoes and asked: “Lang are your pregnant?”
She smiled. Lang: “Yes it’s my third baby.”
Me: “How many months are you?”
Lang: “Six. I will keep hiking until the day I have the baby. It’s better. It hurts less when I keep moving. How about you? You have children?”
Lang: “Good. Problems now. Children later. “
Me: “Do many people fall into the rice paddies?”
Lang: “Yes. Hihi. They get very wet.”
We found out very quickly that I have little balance.
One of the Hmong women steadied me just in time.
In the evening we arrived at Homestay Kim in Tavan village. We got to take a nice hot shower and then met the other guests for dinner. Kim made nems, fried tofu, pork and had even slaughtered a chicken for us. At the end of the meal they brought out the happy water aka rice wine. We all slept in one big room but after those shots of rice wine I slept like a baby.
Day 2 – The hike to Supan village
An early breakfast with banana pancakes and coffee had to prepare us for day two. We would hike through Gian Ta Chai, a red Dao village to Supan village where Lang lives. Today we had no Black Hmong women hiking along so I decided to use a bamboo stick to keep me from falling into the rice paddies.
The second day was another treat. More beautiful landscapes to admire and even better, less tourists. Most tourists sign up for a one day trek. So many of them don’t go beyond Tavan village. By the time we arrived in Supan village there were no other tourists in sight. Just water buffalos.
Lang walked us to her house where she lived with her husband, her children, her father in law and her great-grandmother in law who was 103 years old. The house was being completely renovated. Her job as a guide had made it possible for the family to buy some bricks. The mud floor would also be replaced by concrete.
Lang then brought us to her cousin Chi. We would spend the night at her house. Chi turned out to be an excellent cook. We had a fantastic meal and stood out on the terrace that night. We watched the fog creep down the mountain and were a bit saddened that we had to leave this place the day after. The nature, the peacefulness, the warm and cheerful Black Hmong people. We would have to exchange that for the never quiet, hustling and bustling Hanoi again soon.
There is no point in trying to go on a hike by yourself. The hiking trails aren’t marked, most of the time they aren’t even real trails.
We really recommend the Sapa Sisters guides.
All Sapa Sister guides speak English and know the area like the back of their hand.
Price: 86$ (80€) per person for a 2 day trekking including meals and accommodation.
You can get a customised quote based on your preferences.
How to get there
We took the Sapaly train from Hanoi to Sapa. It was an 8 hour bumpy ride. We bought tickets in advance through the Sapa Sisters. Price: 82$ (75€) return per person
The pick up from Lao Cai station to Sapa is an extra 6$ per person.
We heard the bus is cheaper and faster but less comfortable.
What to pack on your hike
Like we said, we only took daypacks because you don’t need a lot.
– Soap, shampoo, towel
– A fresh pair of clothes
– A warm sweater. It cools off at night
– A petzl. It gets really dark at night
– Mosquito repellant
– Sunscreen. High altitude + bright sunny days = getting burnt faster than you might think
– A decent pair of high ankle hiking boots