Disclaimer: I say Sapa is traveling toddler approved because our son loved it but it might not be “traveling parent approved.” So read on to see if this is a trip for your family or not, it’s not an easy one depending on your physical fitness abilities but it was a lot of fun.
So in the last post about Halong Bay, I told you about how we had booked a package deal with Indochina Junk for a tour of Halong Bay and Sapa. The people at Indochina Junk coordinate with a tour company in Sapa to make this a seamless process; all you have to do is show up. The van from Halong Bay to Hanoi took us to a beautiful hotel (this is all part of the package so no extra planning on your part) right by the train station where we could relax, shower, have dinner and nap. Since our train didn’t leave until almost 10pm we took full advantage of the down time. At 9pm, we scooped up the sleeping toddler and made our way to the lobby to meet the representative from Indochina Junk, who took us directly to the train station and put us on the train to Sapa. The walk took about 5 minutes to the station. I was happy to see we were among many families being herded by tour guides to get tickets and find the proper cabin.
Our guide set us up in our cabin and wished us well. We waited around 20 minutes for the train to start its journey. At this point our son, the lover of trains, was wide awake and so happy he could bust. As far as he was concerned he was on “Thomas the Train” ready for his overnight adventure. We were a little concerned as to how he would sleep, if he would sleep at all for that matter. Once the train set off, our son looked out the window in amazement and complete silence for an hour. He finally sat back on his dad with a pillow still watching the world go by and eventually drifted off to sleep. We were elated that he had such a wonderful reaction to this new adventure. He slept all night. Chris and I on the other hand did not sleep as well. The beds were pretty hard; I felt like I was sleeping on the ground but honestly I expected that. What kept me awake was the constant rocking and sometimes violent motion. I basically napped on and off all night but that was all I needed to handle our trekking for the day.
We woke our son up with enough time to pull into the city. He was so happy to see he was still on the train and now it was daytime! We pulled into the Lao Cai station and found our new guide holding a sign with our name on it. Like I said, this trip couldn’t be any easier. He took us to the car and we started our one hour drive up the mountain to Sapa.
*Travel Tip* Bring Dramamine or motion sickness medicine for the train ride but especially for the ride up the mountain in the car. The switchbacks up the mountain are brutal.
Trekking Day 1
Our guide took us to the hotel we would be staying at for the evening to change and shower as needed.
*Travel Tip* This is when you need to put on your sunscreen. We didn’t realize we would be out all day and would not be coming back to our bags. By the end of the day, we had a pretty bad sunburn. Lesson learned for trekking day 2.
After we were all dressed and ready, they allowed us to leave our baggage in the lobby and we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. The trekking began around 9am and we made our way out to the car with the baby backpack to start our adventure.
*Travel Tip* This is where this trip might not be for everyone. Chris carried our toddler on his back for the majority of the trekking for the two days. In a lot of places along the mountain the path is extremely narrow and the fall would be detrimental to the point where young children cannot walk on their own, they would need to be carried. For our second day of trekking the path was too difficult with the toddler on the back in the carrier; the guide advised us against that part of the trek because it would be unsafe.
*Travel Tip* If you are looking for a recommendation on a baby backpack for trekking you can read my review of the one we purchased here on Pure Wander Magazine.
We started trekking through the Cat Cat village. We made it to the bottom of the path through the village of the Black Hmong people to reach a large waterfall. There were a lot of other people on treks and tours around this area but I would say it was so crowded because it is the easy part of the trek. Here you can relax, have a snack and a drink, and listen to the rushing water. It was around 11am at this point and we thought that was our trek for the day but we were surprised that was not the case. We made our way back up through the village and started walking along the rice terraces through the local’s backyards. Our son was amazed with all of the farm animals. I guess we should have assumed we would be seeing water buffalo, pigs, ducks, hens and rosters but it didn’t really register that we would be walking through farm land. It felt nice to be “off the beaten path” and away from all of the other tourist groups.
We trekked 7km up and down the mountain to the next village, Y Linh Ho Village. We had no idea how strenuous the trek would be but even with a toddler and a 16 week pregnant woman we managed just fine. During our walk, we had picked up a local lady, who said she was walking to the other village. She tried to talk with us, asked us our names and tried to make friends and walked with us for three hours. She was very helpful in the unsafe parts of the trail and would show us where to step or lend a helping hand. We really appreciated her help and our guide asked us later if we would be interested in buying any handicrafts from her. Obviously, I was more than happy to do so because she was so helpful to us but as soon as we started to look at her basket of goods the used car sales man came out of her and she was extremely pushy. Turns out she wasn’t really going to the other village but when you start your treks a woman or two will follow you for the entire day in the hopes you will buy something from them.
*Travel Tip* Be prepared to be followed and harassed by the local village women. They mean well and just want to make a living selling handicrafts but it didn’t register until the second day that they really do no take no for an answer even with the guide telling them that we are not interested. If you want to help them out and purchase some handicrafts bring your cash.
After our very long hike, we had a moment to enjoy the views of the river. The only problem was that we were at the bottom of the mountain. We had a huge climb to the top that was brutal but we finally made it. We had a very full and exciting day of hiking that left us starving. The guide led us back to the hotel around 3pm where we enjoyed a huge set lunch of local Vietnamese food that set us up with a full belly for the rest of the evening.
It was now time to relax and explore the town of Sapa, which took about an hour. There isn’t much to do in town… there was a small square with a large rock to climb on, which our son made the most of (no playground so not so toddler approved). A little ways down the road there is a lake where you could ride paddle boats but this time of year the water is very low so it would be difficult.
Trekking Day 2
We were so tired after day 1, we slept soundly that night. We awoke well rested, had breakfast and started another day of hiking. This day was a little easier as it was a lot of downhill. We were dropped off at the top of the mountain, where another village lady latched on to us, and walked down through the village of Lao Chai along the Muong Hoa River. We hiked from 8:30am until noon when we reached the local restaurant situated along the river for another huge set lunch. Here we also enjoyed several different dance performances from the local village women.
After lunch our trek was finished for the day because the huge trek that was ahead of us to the Giang Ta Chai was too dangerous with our toddler on our back. Remember the village lady who had latched onto us at the beginning of our day? She sat and waited for us to finish our lunch and harassed us the entire way back to the car. She kept saying “I followed you all day you have to buy something from me” to which I responded “we didn’t ask you to follow us. No thank you.” She had a very hard time understanding that she wasn’t a help to us on our trek, unlike the lady the day before. There were about three or four times she actually tripped me because she was so underfoot although I am sure she was trying to assist. I had to tell her several times to stop touching me for fear of falling on my face. The guide kept telling her that we weren’t interested, since I had assumed it was a language issue but that wasn’t it at all, she simply didn’t care. That was a little annoying but they are people trying to make living.
With our trekking over for the day, we took a ride to a nice overlook where our guide pointed out where we would have walked and the village we would have seen. Although our trekking was finished for the day, our guide offered to walk us around town and show us the Catholic Church that has been there for over one hundred years. The adventure was done and it was time to rest before our overnight train back to Hanoi.
We loved every minute of this trip. The package deal with a reputable company just made life so much easier. Our toddler loved being outside and walking when he wanted to but I believe he loved being carried even more. The mountains, the farming and animals, and the ability to watch village people maintain the same way of life for 700 plus years was humbling. We highly recommend this trip to anyone in need of fresh air, some exercise and adventure. To see more photos from our trekking you can click here.