Sapa is a farming region in Northern Vietnam where the rice paddies are carved into the side of the mountain. We decided to check it out via an organized group trip. We did two days of hiking around a one night homestay, where we spent the night in a big farm house with a real Vietnamese family.
When we visited in September, we were towards the end of the rice harvesting season, so we saw yellow rice that was ready for harvest and brown fields that were done already. Because of the steep terrain and consequently small paddies, no machinery is used. The entire process is done by hand, and the rice grown here is used only for home consumption. There’s only one annual rice crop in Sapa because the winter is too cold for growing. Much more rice is grown and exported from the Mekong Delta in the south, where the harvest is done by machine and there are two or three crops per year.
Sapa is also home to a number of different ethnic Vietnamese groups, including the Black H’mong. It’s actually not a racial thing, they got the name because they wear all black. Other H’mong tribes wear different colors. During the first morning of our hike, these sure-footed ladies escorted us through the rice paddies and then, unsurprisingly, tried to sell us things at the end.
With this group trip, I can’t take any credit for planning or organizing. We went with a company called Vega for a two day, three night trip, though the first and third night were on an overnight train. If you want to see Sapa and are up for a group trip, I thought this was a great way to do it and would recommend the company. Our guide was a local, and he took us through many farms and rice paddies that we never would’ve walked through on our own.
Aside from the unique scenery, the best part of the trip was our trekking group. Our guide, Tu, really made the trip. He cheerfully led us over hill and dale, through rice paddies, and in and out of towns, farms, and backyards, all while he answered all our questions about farming life in Sapa and anything else we could think to ask. The group was made up of Spanish doctors and Belgian engineers. And then of course, there were us, the less useful retired Americans.
It was really, really nice to spend some time outside being active on our trip. The temperatures were significantly cooler than we’d had in other parts of Vietnam, since we were up in the mountains, though they were still warm enough that a dip in the river was a refreshing end to the day!