Visitor Experience: Trekking Sapa, Vietnam & Making an Impact

After working for seven years in the corporate world, my boyfriend and I decided to take a break and travel to Asia — which led us to Sapa, Vietnam.

Our Sapa, Vietnam Packing List

We packed our bags, did research, and collected tips from friends and family — but the list was not yet complete. And then on my last day at work, my colleagues gave me a final surprise: a gift card. They told me, “Now it is time to experience the world, meet local people and make your impact.” Now our packing list was complete, and we were ready to start our adventure.

Why We Chose Sapa O’Chau

We travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, and finally, Vietnam. In the Northern part of Vietnam, close to the border of China, was the beautiful city of Sapa. We chose it as the place to have our experience, which we learned would support the education of students from ethnic minorities. Additionally, a trek in the mountains of Sapa sounded like a great experience!

Sapa Vietnam

A collage of our trek through Sapa, Vietnam.

A Very Personal Tour

The day of our trek arrived. In the lobby of our hotel two young ladies, Chu and Mei were patiently waiting for us to start the experience in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam. The trek started by walking outside the city and exploring the villages and the rice fields of the area.  While we were walking, Mei was showing us different types of flowers, which are used to make medicines by their ethnic minority. Chu was grabbing leaves and petals rapping them in her hands in order to show us how they dye their clothes and create beautiful patterns in the garments. Learning about the traditions and customs made us feel so comfortable and cozy. It seemed like we became part of their small society.

Our Tour Guides

The tour guides’ personal stories were also so fascinating. Mei was explaining to us that in her village not many children have the opportunity to go to school due to financial or geographical limitations. Students need to walk at least 15 km to Sapa Town where the high schools are located. Mei was one of the children who pursued her dreams to study and become a tour guide by attending the Sapa O’Chau high school.

Chu, on the other hand, was a student who took a day off to follow Mei on the trek as a form of training. With us, she was able to practice her tour guide skills, hoping one day she would also become one. She was speaking so proudly about her school, her fellow students, and their volunteer teachers who are teaching them English, arts and crafts, mathematics, and other courses.

As they guided us up the mountain, we learned that the rice fields, villages, people, animals, and everything arounds us had a story to tell. The girls shared with us their stories about the mountains were their ethnic minorities live. And it felt as though we were travelling with them through these places they spoke about. They also told us about their parents. One parent travels from city to city to sell local products while the other stays back home to harvest the rice and look after the family.

The Food and Culture of Sapa, Vietnam

After visiting 3 villages and walking in the rice fields, it was time for our lunch. We stopped by a local restaurant and the ladies brought us a tray full of local dishes. The food was so tasty, like a homemade dish from your grandma. Eating with the locals and tasting their recipes and spices was what made this stop extra special.

After the lunch our guides had another surprise for us. We learned how to make traditional handicrafts with the help and guidance of local people.

Visiting the beautiful villages of Suoi Ho, Matra, and Ta Phin, walking through the breathtaking rice fields, eating with locals, hearing recipes for herbal medicines, experiencing the traditional handicraft weaving, having the chance to meet people from ethnic minorities such as black Hmong and Red Dao — all made us forget the 14 km that we walked. The time passed so quickly.

Seeing the Impact of Our Visit on Sapa’s Students

But still the trek wasn’t finished. Chu and Mei both insisted that we visit their school and meet the rest of the students. The school was in the city of Sapa, and by the time we arrived it was already late. Despite the long walk and the late hour, we were all excited to continue this experience.

As soon as we entered the classroom, the girls introduced us to the students and volunteer teacher. After some minutes, Chu directed us to their school library, introduced us to the cook of the school, and invited us to stay for a dinner with the rest of the students.

Sitting there together with the students and volunteers, we witnessed how grateful these children are for having books, rooms to study, teachers to teach them and place where they can host their dreams. They are so grateful for things that we most of the time neglect or forget!

This was the moment I realized that these type of immersive experiences not only bring us to different destinations, they also increase our chances of meeting new people, getting to know other cultures. And of course, they remind us to be grateful for what we have.

Thank you Mei, Chu, my colleagues, and for this amazing experience.