Vietnam is made up of over 52 different ethnic groups, all with their own customs, dress, architectural styles, and languages. Trekking through the mountains along the Vietnam-China border, you will stay in the homes of Red Yao (Dao), Zay (Dzay), Black Hmong, Xa Pho, and Tay villagers. This journey takes you through terraced rice fields and farming villages, enjoying local hospitality along the way.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the famous rice terraces of Sapa, hundreds of years old
  • Stay with rural families from ethnic minorities in homestays on the trek
  • Travel local style on overnight trains
  • Enjoy views of Mt. Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa Night train
Day 2 Sapa to Gaing Ta Chai village Homestay in a Zay village
Day 3 Trek from Gaing Ta Chai to Ban Ho Homestay with a Tay family
Day 4 Trek from Ban Ho to Thanh Phu Homestay with a Tay Family
Day 5 Trek from Thanh Phu to Nam Cang Nam Cang Riverside Lodge
Day 6 Final trekking day from Nam Cang to Lao Cai Berth, in a shared carriage of four berths
Day 7 Free day in Hanoi Hong Ngoc Dynastie Hotel
Day 8 Departure from Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa

Rural Vietnamese homes flying the flag of Vietnam
Rural Vietnamese homes flying the flag of Vietnam

Be picked up from your hotel in Hanoi for a short transfer to the train station for an overnight train to Lao Cai.

Day 2: Sapa to Gaing Ta Chai village

Trekking through the hills of northern Vietnam
Trekking through the hills of northern Vietnam

Arrive at the Lao Cai Train Station early in the morning. The town of Sapa is about an hour away, at about 4921 feet (1500 m) above sea level. After breakfast, meet your local guide and be transferred to a small village to start the trek. It is a village of Black H’mong people, known for their shamanistic culture.

The start of the hike is uphill, through bamboo. At the top of the hill, enjoy a picnic lunch at a nice spot with a sweeping view down to the large valley of Muong Hoa. From here you can see Mt. Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, at 10,311 feet (3143 m). Descend and finish the day's hike at a homestay in Giang Ta Chai village.

Trekking: 8 miles (12.8 km) trekking / 6 hours

Day 3: Trek from Gaing Ta Chai to Ban Ho

Farmers tending their buffalo
Farmers tending their buffalo

Today, continue hiking along the foot of Mt. Fansipan. The trail heads up a short steep uphill to an ethnic Red Dao village. These people are famous for their beautiful embroidery and rich culture. One unique custom is that the women shave the front of their hair and eyebrows after marriage. The Red Dao (or Yao as they are called outside of Vietnam) are a Daoist community. They believe that nature is filled with spirits. So wherever you see Red Dao you will see very healthy forests, as they contain the spirits that protect them. 

From here, trek through beautiful bamboo forest and lush green jungle. Arrive in Seo Trung Ho, another Red Yao village, where your picnic lunch will be served.

In the afternoon there's a big steep climb over the mountain of Ma Quai Ho before descending to Ban Ho village. The trail, covered with trees and bamboo forest, passes through the homeland of Red Dao in the remote mountainside. Ban Ho is inhabited by ethnic Tay people, who live in beautiful stilt houses and make very delicious cuisine. Spend the afternoon walking around and experiencing local rural life.

Spend the night here with a friendly family.

Trekking: 9.7 miles (15.7 km) / 6.5-7 hours

Day 4: Trek from Ban Ho to Thanh Phu

Local villagers
Local villagers

Today's hike is more challenging, with many short ascents and descents along the mountainside. Although the overall distance is less than on the other days, the terrain is more challenging. First, hike uphill to the Red Yao village of Nam Toong. Along the way, you might meet some local people headed to their farms, or see some animals roaming free.

After crossing the river via a pretty suspension bridge, stop for a break to enjoy lunch. From here, take a short walk to visit a village of Xa Pho people, one of smallest ethnic groups of Vietnam. The people here live in a much more simple manner, but they still maintain their rich culture and lifestyle.

Continue on a short walk to Thanh Phu, home of the Tay people, where you will stay the night. There will be time to relax, enjoy a cup of tea, or wander around the village for the rest of the day.

Trekking: 6.4 miles (10.4 km) / 5 hours

Day 5: Trek from Thanh Phu to Nam Cang

Vietnam's hill ethnic groups wear traditional dress
Vietnam's hill ethnic groups wear traditional dress

From Thanh Phu village, take a dirt trail along the small valley where rice is grown. The steep rice terraces are hundreds of years old. Along the way, learn more about farming culture in the mountains. Stop for lunch at another Red Dao village, Nam Nhiu. In the afternoon, hike through the Nam Cang Valley, with its rice terraces flanked by mountains. End your day at Nam Cang village, inhabited by Red Dao.

Trekking: 7.6 miles (12.3 km) / 5.5 hours

Day 6: Final trekking day from Nam Cang to Lao Cai; Night train to Hanoi

Rice terraces in the mountains
Rice terraces in the mountains

Today your hike will take you higher up into the mountains. The trails here are only used by local farmers, and you will need to cross a few rivers before reaching the very remote Red Dao village of Nam Ngan. You will often be invited into homes and served tea or maybe a bit of rice wine, as it is the custom for locals to host travelers as they pass through. After leaving the trail, descend to a wider path and soon arrive in the village of My Son.

After a local lunch, you will end your remote hike near the beautiful Muong Bo River. From here you will be driven back to Lao Cai, and will have a chance to shower and eat dinner before boarding the night train back to Hanoi.

Trekking: 8.2 miles (13.3 km) / 6 hours
Transfer: 1.5 hours; Train: approx. 8 hours

Day 7: Free day in Hanoi

 Tran Quoc pagoda in Hanoi Vietnam
 Tran Quoc pagoda in Hanoi Vietnam

The train will arrive at Hanoi Station in the early morning. You can take a taxi from the station to your hotel in the center of Hanoi (early check-in may be available). The day is free to explore Hanoi on your own.

Day 8: Departure from Hanoi

Prepare to depart Hanoi for onward travels, or make your own arrangements to stay longer in Hanoi.