We had this trek with Giang's niece, Zo, who took us through the hidden gems of the breathtaking valley. Beautiful landscapes, stories, people, ethnicity. Experience we never ever had before. She was so open that we felt we are the part of everything happening there. I recommend everyone, safe eats, safe pathways, great support. Although I do not recommend this for kids under the age of 14. The security standards are not like any in developed countries.
Where do I start? I visited Vietnam for two weeks and as I'm reflecting in the airport lounge on my way back to California - I am honored to have had the opportunity to experience Sa Pa with Giang and her family. The whole experience I think was the most genuine and the highlight of my entire trip!
We started our adventure with Giang's colleague on the first day, Mi (?spelling). She was great and energetic, and took us on quite the hike up the hills/mountains in Sa Pa (we did choose this path after all as it gets the best views of the valley); and as promised, the views from the top down into the Valley was breathtaking! After another couple hours of hiking, we were taken to lunch with a local Hmong family. It was such a pleasure to be welcomed into the local family's house (and surrounded by the their extended family; vs the nuclear western families). We were lucky to be able to observe a Shaman ceremony happening at that time. After more (downhill) trekking through the gorgeous hills, rice patties, and along side the babbling brooks of water feeding the patties, we finally arrive in the village that we will spend the night.
At the village is where we met Giang, she invited us to her cousin's house that had just recently been renovated with a beautiful upper deck with great views. It is really here that we got to learn about their culture and way of life. After taking a refreshing shower and putting on new clothes, we spent the evening chatting about Sa Pa, learning/cooking the local cuisine, playing with their cute children. One thing we learned from Giang is that although many local guides speak English, they cannot read or write. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to advertise to customers (like you and I who rely on forums like TripAdvisor for reviews). Many of the available commercial tours are owned by non-local entrepreneurs and do not feedback to the local community. I was shocked to learn this and happy that we ended up with Giang. ***I urge people to at least research about the company that they are booking with. ***
The next day, we trekked with Giang through the bamboo forest to more jaw-dropping vistas before returning back to Sa Pa with plenty of time for a well deserved foot massage before the overnight train back to Hanoi.
Giang is so passionate about Sa Pa, sharing the heritage, history, and struggles facing the Hmong people. I'm so glad we had this opportunity to learn and experience this amazing place with the help of Giang and her family. Definitely recommend Giang to anyone headed to Sa Pa or even thinking about visiting Vietnam.
Not only because Giang and her niece Zo guide us deep inside the Hmong culture and life; nor because they show us their natural tresure up and down the endless imposible green rice stars; not even because they opened up their home doors and windows for us and treated us only like a mother do with her children; but also because they have been more than guides, the path itself. Efectivelly, the most fantastic and authentic Trekking experience in Sapa. O'chau:)
We booked a 3 day trek with Sapa Tribal Trekking. Giang was unfortunately not available as we booked quite last minute, but the lovely Mi took us on an epic 18km trek up into the hills to see some truly spectacular views. We stopped for an amazing lunch at Chi's house and the rice terraces on the way back down were stunning and we hardly saw a soul as we had opted for the 'hard' route. We helped cook at our homestay in the evening and were spoiled with so much food! The next day was torrential rain so we went for the 'easy route', which still took us to some gorgeous waterfalls and beautiful scenery. We met Giang in the afternoon and she took us to her Aunt's house round the corner to our homestay. We got a real insight into how the locals live and Giang is super knowledgable and eager to tell you all about her culture and traditions, even if she is a little sceptical about some! We had a wonderful evening in Supan and the host at our homestay was an incredible chef - best food we had in Vietnam!! Giang then took us to do Batik on the last day as the weather was again RAIN and we had a really lovely day!! Could not recommend this experience or Giang enough, this was definitely a big highlights of our trip and I will definitely go back and do it all again if I have the opportunity!
I researched many trekking companies. I wanted to use one that was owned by a local ethnic minority. Some have local guides but are not owned by a local. Giang owns and leads treks for her company Sapa Tribal Trekking.
I emailed Sapa Tribal Trekking all my questions, and they were always answered in a day or two. (Giang has her assistant handle emails.)
I also used Sapa Tribal Trekking to arrange/purchase our train tickets Hanoi-Lao Cai-Hanoi.
**Before we left Hanoi, Giang went out of her way to have our actual train tickets delivered to our Hanoi hotel. We had the voucher and thought we’d have to go to the station and find out where to change the voucher for tickets. This was unexpected and saved us much hassle.
We were a family of 4 (2 adults/2teens) who did a Bac Ha Market tour and a 2 day trek.
BAC HA TOUR (only on Sundays)
When we arrived at the Lao Cai train station at 6:30 am Giang was waiting for us. We walked to a nearby restaurant and had a good breakfast before starting our 1.5 hr drive to Bac Ha.
Giang was our guide and we had a designated van and driver. Giang was friendly, knowledgable, and spoke great English.
We were at Bac Ha by 9am. We walked around all the different areas of the market (handicarafts, meat, vegetables, household items) It was a wonderful experience and not at all touristy. Giang was great at helping translate while we were negotiating to purchase things. She pointed out interesting things and explained anything we asked her about. She was happy to answer all of our questions.
We ate lunch at a restaurant near the market. It was great food.
The teens were tired of walking after lunch, so she called the van driver and arranged for them to sit in the van while the two of us went in search of a local delicacy my husband wanted to try. Giang was happy to take us there and order for us. She did not hurry us at any point.
On the way from Bac Ha to Sapa, she took us to the border between Vietnam and China. We got out and walked around a bit/took pictures. You can see bike after bike laden down with boxes of Chinese produced goods being brought into Vietnam. Interesting and definitely worth the quick stop.
Once in Sapa, she had the driver take us to our hotel to drop off bags (and teens). She offered to walk us around the local Sapa Market.
If you do a market tour, know that breakfast and lunch come with the price. The market was my favorite day and did not disappoint.
2 DAY TREK
We arranged to meet Giang in our hotel lobby at 10am. We were doing the short/easy hike each day. It was raining when we started out, so Giang knew where to take me to rent rain boots. Other family members wore teva type shoes. The path was muddy, slippery and slow going at the beginning. It took us 3 hours to reach our lunch spot. Again, the food at the restaurant, Black Hmong, was very good.
After lunch we took the fast way to our homestay which was via a road. It was less scenic than walking along the paddy paths, but it was what we wanted and Giang was happy to oblige.
Our homestay was at a friend of Giang’s family home. The friend also spoke great English, as she used to lead treks. Now, she runs her homestay. She was an excellent cook and our dinner was one of our best in all of Vietnam. Giang, her friend, and my family all ate together and talked. It was lots of fun.
My husband and I had a bed downstairs and the kids slept in a large loft upstairs (each kid had their own bed). We were the only ones staying this night at the homestay, but there is sleeping for many more people up in the loft-either for a big group or a couple separate groups.
Breakfast the next morning was a big stack of pancakes with honey and bananas. Very good.
We took a short hike out on day two and returned to Sapa in time for lunch in town. Giang took us to another great restaurant. Following lunch, we went back to retrieve bags and shower. Then, we were driven by van back to Lao Cai for our night train back to Hanoi.
I can not say enough wonderful things about Giang and her company. She will adapt the trekking to suit your wants.