Northern Vietnam Trekking

After our overnight sleeper bus, we arrived in Sa Pa at 4:30 am and were taken to a hostel to sleep a little longer and store our luggage. We would only be needing small backpacks for this part of the trip. Around 8 am we meet our guide for the next two days, Su May. Su May is from the Red Dao tribe, which have their origins from China. Each village we walked through is a different tribe and all have their own language that is different from Vietnamese.

Day 1 route we tracked.

Our guide Su May asked us if we wanted the “concrete” or “adventure” option. Naturally we chose adventure and the route was 15km and took us the better part of the day. We started in Sa Pa, and worked our way north through Ma Cha to Ta Phin where we would spend the night in Su May’s home with her family. We had great weather and the views were fantastic!

Su May kept saying we were going to go up and down and up and drown, she was not joking. We spent the entire first day going up and down the hills and valleys.

This time of year is just after the rice harvest has been completed so most of the fields were empty or being used to grow other vegetables. The rice is bright green in July/August and harvested at the end of September. Very often we would find ourselves walking right through someone’s rice paddy, balancing on the edge was difficult but no one fell in.

After the first 10km we stopped for some fried rice lunch which was much needed. A lot of the places you walk by look like someone’s home and then you walk up and tada it’s a small restaurant. Everything is grown or harvested either in the village or nearby.

Finally we made our way around the last turn and saw our destination of Ta Phin. A village with a population of about 3000, tucked between the hills and the home village of our guide. We were only about 30km from the Chinese border. Our final destination was down into the valley, through the bamboo forest, and then back up the other side to Su May’s home.

Homestay with Su May

By far the most memorable part of the trek was the homestay with our guide at the end of the day. She built the house with her husband and has two boys, aged 10 and 12. At only 32 years old she’s done more than we have!! We were invited into her home and fed, bathed and made to feel as welcome as if we had been friends our whole lives. It is difficult to describe properly how wonderful it was to talk to Su May and be in her home. It is so easy to forget how simple and pleasant life can be, we will remember her for the rest of our lives.

We got to sit down for dinner (I even helped make the spring rolls!). Su May is also a farmer and the rice we ate with dinner was from her harvest. After dinner we were set up for a herbal bath! A tradition in her tribe for the last 600 years it supposedly helps with aches and pains. We both got a tub and after just a few minutes of sitting fell asleep! It was a tight fit but we both squeezed into our respective buckets and soaked the day of trekking away…

My “tub” on the left and Isabel’s on the right.

Half Day Back to Sa Pa

In the morning we woke up to some serious fog that was essentially like walking through rain. We had some tasty coffee and breakfast and set off for our shorter trek (10km) through the small villages to the East. Due to the fog we stayed mainly on the small streets between the villages. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the amazing views of the valleys we walked through but the weather is just part of the real experience!

Before we knew it the journey was over. Su May helped us get back to Sa Pa proper and even negotiated a foot and leg massage for us to help with the 25km we had walked since meeting her. It was a life changing experience and one Isabel and I will surely never stop talking about.


  1. Incredible. From the Rice paddy’s, to the Bamboo forest, to the comfort of someone’s home. What an experience

  2. Su a(May)zing!!! Love everything about this experience and so glad you got to enjoy it.

  3. wow, wow, wow, words are failing me… what and extraordinary experience! Thanks for also taking the time to share with us.

  4. What an experience. How cool to have spent time with her and her family and have stayed in their house. It definitely looks like you guys got the royal treatment with a herbal bath. The food looks delicious . This is kind of what our Nepal trek was like, it evens looks very similar – minus the herbal bath that is lol.

  5. Meeting with the local people is one of the best experiences. Seems your host was amazing. Adventure on! Can’t wait to read the next blog.

  6. Meeting with the local people is one of the best experiences. Seems your host was amazing. Adventure on!

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