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, we decided to explore it by ourselves and went without a guide. We noticed that every other tourist went with a guide, so we figured it’s useful to write an article on how to trek in Sapa without a guide. Don’t worry, it’s easy-peasy.
In this article you can find advice on how to start your hike or trek in Sapa without a guide. We hiked around for 8 hours, and went to enjoy the beautiful rice fields. Unfortunately, we don’t have our exact route for you, as we basically just followed our intuition. We didn’t go to Fansipan and didn’t spent a night in a home stay.
We have done numerous treks during our travels, mostly in Nepal including the Everest Base Camp Trek and Rara Lake, check it out.
Some facts about Sapa
Sapa is the capital of the Sapa District in Lao Cai Province, and is on an altitude of 1600 meters. The temperatures in Sapa can range a lot during the different seasons. Sapa’s climate is moderate and drizzly in the summer time and cold and foggy in the winter time.
Nowhere in Vietnam can you find the local ethnic minorities like in Sapa. There is a great diversity of ethnic people, including five main groups of Hmong, Yao, Zay, Tay and Xa Pho. They live throughout the valleys of Sapa, but they come to the center to trade or sell their products. This varies from rice, corn, fruits and handicrafts.
How to trek in Sapa without a guide
Cost: 135.000 VND (about 5 USD/Euro) per person incl. entree fee and lunch.
Duration: How long you want – we hiked for 8 hours (with breaks for breakfast and lunch).
To be honest, there isn’t a specific way to do it. We don’t have a specific route for you (although we have the starting point), as we basically walked in the direction we felt like.
Where to start your trek in Sapa
Start early so you have plenty of time! Head down the main road and go down Muong Hoa Street, here you’ll pass some cafés and hotels. If you keep on going down that road, you’ll soon go pass the ticket counter where you pay 75.000 VND (3 USD) per person for entering the rice fields.
After we went in, we just went straight on the road for a while. Then we found a dirt road that went down a hill and already found some of the rice fields. Quickly we also found other tourists with guides and figured we went the right way.
As we prefer the less crowded places, we eventually went right, where everyone else went left. This gave us some time walking with just the two of us. Of course, you have the possibility to get lost. But we eventually bumped into people anyway, so you can always ask directions. We didn’t even take a map and managed perfectly.
What to take in your backpack during a trek in Sapa
- Water. Take enough water. We took 1.5 L per person and finished it all.
- Food. Also, we took some breakfast and lunch which we bought back in town. Because it didn’t taste well at all, we eventually decided to have lunch in one of the local restaurants among the rice fields. We got some spring rolls, omelet, vegetables and rice. Together it was only 5 USD, so we actually recommend to eat lunch there so you don’t have to carry around food! But of course, it’s good to take some snacks with you.
- Sunscreen. It was really sunny when we were there, so we had to wear enough sunblock not to get burned.
- Hat and sunglasses. If it’s warm and sunny, it’s essential to protect yourself!
- Camera. Take lots and lots of photos.
- Map. We went without a map, but we didn’t have a specific place we wanted to see. We recommend taking a map if you want to see a certain village or find a specific home stay.
Is it easy to trek without a guide in Sapa?
Yes, it’s really easy. We could easily find great spots and we bumped into someone at least once every hour. That way, we could easily ask for directions if necessary. On our way back, all we had to do is look for the large white hotel, which was our orientation point to get back.
And is it safe to trek without a guide in Sapa?
Yep, nothing to worry about. Eventually, we started walking back around 3 pm (and we started at 9 am) so that we were sure we would be back before dark. We eventually got back in town at 5 pm. We definitely recommend keeping an eye on the time. Other than being in the dark, there is no reason to feel unsafe at all.
Also, there are a lot of local women and kids trying to sell you stuff, we noticed that they generally followed people with guides more. Maybe they thought we couldn’t afford anything as we didn’t pay for a guide ;).
Could you trek in Sapa for more days without a guide?
We are not sure because we just went for one day, but it seemed very doable. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a home stay to spent the night. On the way we also met local women who asked if we wanted to stay in her home stay, and you can always ask directions. I bet she would’ve just taken us if we had said yes. Also, if you are good in reading maps, you might be able locate a home stay you found beforehand. The paths in Sapa are easy to follow and we eventually ended up in one of the villages, and I’m sure that if they have a home stay where we could have stayed there.
But of course, we can imagine it can still be a lot easier to go with a guide if you go multiple days.
Cons of going without a guide in Sapa
You can get lost
Of course, there is always the possibility of you absolutely not knowing where to go. Although it’s really fairly easy to find a nice route, what if you are just very unlucky (or not very well oriented like me, I’m lucky to have Jeffrey)? Maybe you’ll end up somewhere with the worst rice fields (is that a thing?) and don’t know how to get back. Again, we really think it’s not that hard to find your way back, but it’s a possibility.
You might miss all the good stuff
When we went the other direction than all the other tourists, I was a bit afraid we were missing the good stuff. Of course, a guide know exactly where to take you. But, often the unbeaten path is the most beautiful and we think we have seen some of the best parts.
Without a guide you don’t get all the info
A guide can actually teach you something. We basically walked around and went “oh, wow this is beautiful” but didn’t get any information about the history, culture or local stories. We don’t know what the guides told the tourists, but sometimes you really learn interesting stuff.
Pros of going without a guide in Sapa
Very clear and obvious point. We only spent money on the tickets and food, we almost spent nothing that day. We found that a guide usually charges 30 USD for a day tour.
You can go wherever you want
If it’s not about the money, it’s about the freedom. Yes, we are on a budget, but we could afford a guide if we balanced it out another day. However, it was mostly because we felt like going our own way that day. It’s nice to make our own decisions and just go with the flow.
You can find unique places
We noticed that the tourists stayed together and went the same way. We liked the fact that we could follow our own path and find some spots without tourists.
For more inspiration on activities in Sapa check out the Top Things to do in Sapa according to TripAdvisor.
Hopefully, this article is some help for your trek adventures in Sapa. For questions or comments, either leave us a message below, or you can always sent us an e-mail using the contact form, or to email@example.com.
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Sapa is such a beautiful, dreamy and peaceful place! Although it can be a bit touristy but still worth visiting!
Thank you for your informative and amazing blog post!
I’m 2 years late to this post but oh my! Your photos are incredible. What camera do you use?
I use a simple Nikon D3300! Great for beginners!
Nice! We’re headed to Sapa today (I know…very cold right now) to do a trek. I think we’re going to trek all day the first day from our hostel, but then decide afterwards if we want to do a longer tour with a guide. This made me feel a little bit more confident that you can find good spots without a guide though!
You’ll definitely find good spots without a guide! Have a great time!
Thanks for your sharing. I intend travel to Sapa in this year. This is very helpful for me !!!
Hi, I wonder please how safe to go biking all way down to hau thou and further villages without a guide?
I wonder if I should leave my backpack at the hostel in sapa town in case It will be too late to return to sapa from hiking that far? are there guys on motorbike to ride you back to sapa town in case you get lost or its becoming darker? please advise when u get the chance please
WOW, awesome blog, thanks for sharing
I will be traveling alone, hope not to get lost, the cons if I want to get pics of myself with amazing nature as background, I wont have anybody to ask to take pic of myself with my own camera, I hate selfies, I rather use my professional camera to get good pics of the nature.
I wonder if u dont mind sharing where did u stay in SAPA?
do u think that it would be worth it to stay in homestay instead of hostel or hotel in sapa city? U said that the path starts in sapa to go hiking? please advise, thanks a lot
Yes It’s really good, but it’s hardly recommend to try to know where you go and after go trekking. You can find really near villages like Ta Phin (where you can try the herbal bath) , go in the direction of Fansipan or try to go to Cat Cat, Y Lin ho, Lao Chai and Ta Van.
Another way to enjoy one day in Sapa, is to rent a motorbike and ride to the Heaven’s Gate and along that road. The views are also stunning.
Hope that can helps you 🙂
Thanks for this, it’s fairly easy to get to the rice fields from town – there is no need to do a tour if you just want to see the scenery. A lady from one of the tribes started following us from town – we didn’t want a guide but we’re too conflict avoidant to say “leave us alone” so we let her walk with us and kinda guide us. We bought some handmade trinket for 60k from her when we reached the village as payment for her services.
Wow! It’s so gorgeous, I would love to visit it one day!
I am hoping to go to Vietnam next year so this post is so timely and helpful. We will probably only have 1 day in Sapa, will think about doing it without a guide.
I’m kicking myself to not visit Sapa when we visited Vietnam 2 months back. I’m guilty of not planning the trip properly which would have given me enough days to visit. But that aside your photos are gorgeous!
Such a useful guide – thanks for sharing. I wish I’d known this before going to Sapa – it would have been much nicer to explore at my own pace. Fabulous pictures too.
I recently went to Sapa and did a guided tour. It was ok and we did see some good stuff although it was crazy hot. Looking at your pictures it looks like you found some fantastic viewpoints which I guess sometimes the guides don’t show us as it’s out of the way. Anyway really helpful post and I will recommend people read this if they are visiting Sapa.
So true Mike! But sometimes guides know the best spots too. 🙂 Thanks for your comment 🙂
Oh my…your photos are beyond amazing! Such vivid greens! Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience!
Thank you for your kind comment!
Ik wil hierheeen
I love to hike and this place looks beautiful!
These pictures are beautiful! You have inspired me to travel here someday!!