Vietnam has been drawing tourists from all over the world. It has everything you could want in a destination – culture, history, nature, and food. But there is one particular allure to Vietnam that has captured the attention of many – it is a hiking haven and a destination for adventure enthusiasts. But just because Vietnam promises to offer an adventure-filled experience, it does not mean that it isn’t family-friendly.
In this guide, you will learn about what makes Vietnam particularly Sapa, a great hiking destination for the entire family. You will also find practical information to help plan the perfect hiking trip to ensure that it is memorable and enjoyable for everyone, especially your kids. Some of the information that you can find includes knowing when to go and what to pack for the trip.
Why Choose Sapa?
Sapa is one of those destinations that will take your breath away – quite literally. It is filled with natural splendor in terms of landscapes and formations. The different formations on the land consist of hills, mountain peaks, and plains that provide a great opportunity for hiking for all skill levels. These different terrains offer unlimited opportunity to hike for those who love to go on nature sight-seeing, or to challenge yourself to push the limits of physical capabilities.
Sapa is located in the northern portion of Vietnam, which is known to be a mountainous region. Considered as one of the best places in Vietnam for trekking, there are plenty of routes to choose from and they range from easy (kid-friendly) to hard. An easy trek in Sapa mostly involves hiking the ethnic villages of Sapa. This is a great experience for families with kids to explore because it enables local immersion to get a first-hand glimpse of the local way of life. Depending on which specific route you choose, you can discover many other natural formations along the way such as rice paddies, rivers, streams, and hills.
You can also find moderate to hard hiking trails for those looking for a challenge. Some of these hikes can be accomplished in a day but others can last for several days. For families, you can find a variety of hiking routes that even your young ones can take on.
How to get to Sapa from Hanoi
Before you can embark on your hiking adventure in Sapa, it is important to know how you can get to Sapa from Hanoi. When traveling with kids, it is always a challenge to find the best transportation option. The best way to travel to Sapa from Hanoi with kids is via the night train. Traveling with kids via the bus in Vietnam can be uncomfortable and cumbersome when you have kids in tow. A sleeper train is, therefore, the best option because you can sleep throughout the travel and be rejuvenated once you arrive in Sapa.
If you book the night train with cabins, it might be more expensive but the extra cost is worthwhile because your kids are comfortable and you can get a good night’s sleep. You can also try booking the train tickets to Sapa via an agency to get discounts. To ride the train to Sapa, go to the Tran Quy Cap Station in Hanoi. The train departure schedule will vary but you should be there around 9PM. The trip will take approximately 8 hours from Hanoi to Lao Cai.
You can also ride the bus to Sapa from Hanoi but the comfort and service will vary according to the type of bus (and the ticket prices). The reason to choose to travel via bus even with kids in tow is that you can travel via the Hanoi – Lao Cai expressway for a total travel time of 4-6 hours. That is slightly shorter than taking the night train.
If budget is not an issue and you want to ensure comfort for your kids when traveling, you can hire a private car or taxi to get to Sapa.
Preparing for Your Trip
To ensure a successful hiking trip that your kids will enjoy, below are a few more practical information to help you prepare ahead:
- If you want to learn about the history and culture of the hiking trails and villages you visit, it might be a good idea to book a guided tour. A local tour guide will provide the insight you need to gain more appreciation about the villages and the sights you find along the way.
- A homestay is the most common option for accommodation when hiking Sapa with kids. There are plenty homestays available to choose from along the route of your trek. Research among the options before you choose one to stay in to make sure they are kid-friendly, too. Keep your expectations low because a homestay will have very basic facilities and, in most cases, you will be sleeping on the floor with a mattress.
- If you want to have a less tourist-dense experience when trekking Sapa with your kids, don’t be afraid to go off-the-beaten path. You can hire a private guide or explore on your own. If you fear you might get lost, you can enlist the help of local guides you find along the route or the village to serve as your guide.
- Deciding whether to hike for sunrise or sunset will vary depending on the specific hiking trail you wish to pursue. Some lookout points offer excellent sunrise views while others are perfect for sunset. Do your research beforehand so you know exactly when to go to maximize the views with each hiking route you choose. If you want to enjoy the best sunset views, trek the Sky Gate trail. But for the most spectacular sunrise views, you can choose either Ham Rong Mountain or Muong Hoa Valley trails.
- There is no need to secure a permit when hiking in Sapa. Unless you visit areas that pass through national parks and protected areas, you might have to pay the entrance fee for those. But when it comes to permit, that is not required.
Monther and child, Sapa
When to Go Hiking
Vietnam, like most of Southeast Asia, has two seasons: dry and monsoon season. While most of the kid-friendly hiking trails listed above are designed for easy hiking and for beginners, you would want to avoid hiking during the rainy season. Not only are the hiking conditions far from ideal, but it can also be cumbersome to hike in the rain and you won’t get the same kind of picturesque views on a clear day.
The weather in Sapa region will vary according to the season. The summer months have subtropical weather and might have occasional rainshowers from time to time. But during the cooler months, you can expect the temperature to drop and get quite chilly (since this is a mountainous region). The highest time of the year is July and August. Meanwhile, the months of December and January experience the lowest temperature. In terms of rainfall, the months of May to September experience the highest amount of rainfall. If you want to see the rice paddies in its greenest glory, you can hike immediately following the rainy season.
You should take note of these months when you are planning your trekking trip to Sapa with your kids. You will want to avoid hiking during the peak summer months because the heat can be unbearable, especially for your young ones. It is also recommended that you avoid hiking during the rainy season because the hiking trails are harder to navigate when wet.
What to Bring with You?
Use this list as reference of essential items to pack with you when you go hiking Sapa with kids:
- Hiking Shoes: Wearing proper hiking shoes is a must when you want the trip to be enjoyable, especially for your kids. A pair of hiking shoes is designed to sustain the amount of walking and the changes in the terrain and type of path you are walking on. As a bonus, they can keep your feet dry in the event that you are caught in a downpour in the middle of your hike. Make sure you get a good quality hiking shoes designed for kids so they can conquer the hike with ease. And don’t attempt to wear hiking shoes for the first time – choose a pair that you’ve worn before.
- Lightweight and Compact Jacket: Even in the summer, you can use the jacket to provide an extra layer of protection from the heat. And when it is cold during the hike, this will help keep you warm without being too bulky in your backpack.
- Water-Resistant Leggings or Pants: Choose a bottom that you’re comfortable with but is also resilient enough to help you survive the elements.
- Sun Protection: The risk of sunburn and heat exhaustion is real especially when hiking on high altitude, such as in Sapa. Make sure you get enough sun protection by wearing sunscreen or a hat.
- Water: While there are some restaurants and cafes that you can find in most of the hiking routes, not all of them have these places that you can go to for refreshments. The general rule when hiking is to consume ½ liter of water per hour of hiking. Take that into consideration when planning exactly how much water to bring with you on the trip.
- Healthy but Energizing Snacks: Choose healthy snacks that are easy to bring on-the-go such as granola, dried fruits, nuts, beef jerky, trail mix, energy bars, and sandwiches. These are not only healthy options but should give you and your kids enough energy to sustain the hike.
- Other items you need for the family hiking trip in Sapa are insect repellant, first aid kit, hiking sticks (optional), and wet wipes.
Best Kid-Friendly Hiking Trails in Sapa
Hiking in Bhutan is a life-changing experience, more so for kids. It will educate them on a wide variety of life’s elements. Experiencing a culture that is so different from your own can open up your mind to limitless possibilities.
Cat Cat Village
1. Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village is one of the best kid-friendly hiking trails in Sapa, Vietnam. This trail is only 1.15 miles from Sapa town, which make it easily accessible. From the town, the hike is headed downhill from there. There are some portions that are stroller-friendly but most of the time you won’t be able to use it. Unless you really need to, it is best to leave the stroller behind. Besides, the terrain won’t be too challenging so your kids won’t be as physically challenged in this trail.
There are shops, restaurants, and cafes along the way. There are no facilities like restrooms available along the trail because this is a tribal village, after all. But you can always stop into these restaurants, cafes, or shops when your family needs to relieve yourself.
Many of those who have visited this route believe that strolling should be incorporated into your hiking itinerary. This route provides one of the best views that you can ever get of the Vietnamese countryside. Along this destination, you can find more hiking trails that vary in terms of difficulty level. Each hiking route is popular with tourists because they have something unique to offer.
One of the most interesting stops that you can find in the Cat Cat Village hiking destination is Black Hmong. This is one of the oldest villages in this part of Vietnam. You can explore this village to discover how the locals live their life, as well as see a glimpse of their architecture and culture. If you have more time, your family can stop by to see how the traditional clothing is made. For a more different experience than seeing textile weaving, you can find a variety of flowers that bloom along the trail – Sin Chai.
Ta Phin Village
2. Ta Phin Village
Another easy hike that you can explore if you want to see how the old tribes of Sapa lived is Ta Phin Village. It is located 12 km from the town of Sapa, which is roughly 30 minutes from Sapa. The accessibility of this hiking destination is yet another reason to bring your family here for a good hike, and your kids will love it.
You can find a number of hill-tribe villages in this region most especially the Red Dzao and Black Hmong villages. As you would expect, this region is dominated by the lush green rice paddies and highland valleys that are surrounded by mountain peaks. These villages are as traditional as it can get. In general, most people finish their hike between 2-4 hours, depending on your pace. But you can easily spend a whole day hiking this area if you want to take it all in, especially if you want to mingle with the local families and marvel at the idyllic village.
Since this area is relatively undeveloped, it also means that you won’t be able to use your child’s stroller along this trail. There are some portions that come with an even terrain but not all of them are paved. In terms of restroom facilities, there is none of that available along the route. But you can always ask local villagers to let you or your kids use their bathroom when you need to.
Y Linh Ho Village
3. Y Linh Ho Village
From Sapa town, you can head to Y Linh Ho village with your kids for a lovely hike along traditional villages and small commune in Sapa. This village is located uphill but this is not as tough of a mountain terrain that your kids cannot handle. This village is made up of small hamlets that are scattered on a steep mountain and peaks. There are also Black Hmong villages that that are known for their traditional weaving to produce traditional clothing.
The village houses are built on a farmland wherein they make a living by cultivating corn and rice. Since this area is characterized by steep hillside so trekking is the only way to explore this village. Since this trail is somewhat steep and hilly, you won’t be able to use your stroller in here. It is best to leave your stroller behind and let your kids navigate the trail on foot. If you need a bathroom break, you can ask the local villagers if you can use one at their home since there are no restrooms along the way.
Muang Hoa Valley
4. Muong Hoa Valley
Another picturesque hiking trail that is also kid-friendly is Muong Hoa Valley. This is a favorite among families and tourists who visit Sapa specifically for hiking. As always, there are many tribal villages that you can pass along as you navigate your way through this valley on foot. Your young children will be in awe by the sight of the colorful flowers that are in bounty. If you time your hike well, you will be able to see the rice paddies in their glory as they are well irrigated and the sea of green all around you is quite a scenery to behold.
One of the highlights of this trail that your kids will be excited to witness is the Silver Fall. When you go to this spot, you will be feasting your eyes on more mountainous views and lush forest, particularly those that are part of Hoang Lien National Park. You can opt to have a picnic or rest by the waterfall. Either way, you can end your hike there or you can continue on to see more views.
If you are thinking about bringing a stroller for your hike, you might want to think twice about that. The trail is easy but there are numerous changes in elevation – after all, this is a valley. You might be better off letting your kids explore on foot since it won’t be as challenging. This area is quite touristy so it is a bit developed and you can find restroom facilities in shops and cafes. The restroom facilities are quite limited, though, so make sure you use one when it is available.
Giang Ta Chai Village
5. Giang Ta Chai Village
The long list of tribal villages in Sapa that are worth hiking through with your kids and family continues with Giang Ta Chai Village. While the previous villages offer you the beautifully terraced rice fields, this hiking route has something unique to offer – a gorgeous bamboo forest. This bamboo forest is part of and located within the Hoang Lien National Park. Aside from this bamboo forest, you can also pass a picturesque waterfall in the village.
As you marvel at the natural scenery that will leave you in awe, you can take your kids to the village to learn about the ethnic groups in Sapa. You can see how they go about their daily life and meet the local Hmong people. As you continue with your hiking journey, you will stumble upon the Muong Hoa stream wherein you can find more bamboo groves and century-old trees.
Ham Rong Mountain
6. Ham Rong Mountain
This hiking trail is great for kids and the entire family because there are plenty of fun attractions to see. In particular, the Ham Rong Botanical Garden is a favorite among tourists who hike this trail. The hiking route is also very accessible as it is a bit close to the center of Sapa town.
The botanical and orchard garden are the most popular tourist attraction along this trail, which is home to a wide variety of flora species. The orchid garden is also home to more than 6,000 orchid plants with up to 194 orchid varieties on display. If that is not enough, your kids can marvel at the sight of the wild peach forest in Ham Rong Mountain. There are plenty of indigenous flowers and plants that are scattered on the hiking trail that leads to this mountain peak. When you hike on certain times of the year, the mountain is covered in fog. This is a heavenly sight and creates quite dramatic scenery that you must strive to witness at least once.
There are restroom facilities available at the orchard garden when you visit them. You can use that facility if your kids need to go for a bathroom break. The trail is not stroller-friendly because it is rather steep but nothing that would be too difficult for your child to handle, even for younger kids.
7. Sky Gate
Are you looking for kid-friendly hikes in Sapa with unbeatable views? Sky Gate is definitely something that should be on your list. Known locally as Tram Ton, Sky Gate is located within the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. This towering mountain range provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas and hiking this range with your kids makes it feel like you are in port of heaven.
If you ever looked for a hiking spot that offers views that encapsulate the beauty of Sapa, then this is the one. For your kids, being able to see all the fields of green and the relaxing waterfalls are enough to keep your kids energized throughout the hike. This is one of the more difficult hikes on this list, though, but is worthwhile because of the views that you can enjoy. You won’t find bathroom facilities and restaurants or shops along the route but they are available at the end of the trail. The trail is also a winding road, so this isn’t a stroller-friendly trail.
What to Expect
There are a lot of trekking routes in Sapa that are easy enough to conquer without a guide. For hiking with your family and kids, you can opt to do the same. Most of the kid-friendly hiking trails in Sapa can be done even without a guide because they are quite popular, so they are easy to navigate. Plus, there are no major changes in the terrain except for a few.
But it is still important to plan ahead to ensure that you have an enjoyable hike. You want to plan your route ahead of time, as well as anticipate the weather to ensure that your kids have a good time.
Unless you are hiking the tribal villages, it is quite common to encounter steep climbs (after all, Sapa is a mountainous region). When you are trekking in Sapa, make sure to prepare for these steep climbs. It is also important to be very selective about the routes you choose, especially if you have toddlers or younger kids. It pays to ask beforehand about the conditions of each trail so you can determine if they are stroller- or kid-friendly. Just to be safe, only choose routes that are indicated as beginner-friendly.
Another thing to note is that you will encounter a lot of muddy paths when hiking Sapa with kids. At some point along your hiking trail, you might have to navigate through thick, clay-like mud. Be very careful when navigating these muddy paths and make sure to assist your kids. You can either sink into the mud or you will have large clumps of mud that will stick to your shoes. Either way, they can make your path quite slippery.
A fun experience for your kids to have during the trek is the opportunity to spot a wide range of animals. Most of these animals are domesticated ones since you will be passing through tribal villages in Sapa. There will be herds of horses, goats, pigs, ducks, and dogs when you pass through the villages. It will be an interesting sight for your kids to enjoy.
Another thing to note when you trek Sapa with kids is that be prepared for stream crossings. You will encounter plenty of them along the way. Always practice safety when crossing the streams, especially when you have kids, and when your shoes are already slippery from the mud.
Finally, be aware of the cultural taboos that are present among the ethnic villages of Sapa. It is important to be aware of them, especially if you are looking for a cultural immersion experience. You must know that most villages have a ‘sacred forest’ or an area that they go to as a place of worship. The local villages are very protective of these areas so make sure to stay away from them to avoid disrespecting the locals.
It is also important to be quiet and avoid making noises when you hike the villages of Sapa. You have to remember that these are peaceful villages and you are passing through their land. Be respectful at all times. When you hike with your kids, let them know how to behave well.
The town of Sapa is a thriving tourist hotspot in Northern Vietnam. While it is visited by many hiking enthusiasts, it is also rich in a wide range of historical and cultural attractions. Sure, Sapa has become touristy in the past few years but it still retains that authentic cultural experience that tourists have come to love about this part of Vietnam.
As already mentioned above, some of the hiking trails will let you see top sights such as Ham Rong Mountain and the Muong Hoa Valley. But you can also stop by some of the other major tourist attractions including the Cable Car Station in Sapa or the Sa Pa Lake. A few other kid-friendly attractions along your trekking route includes Fansipan, Cat Cat Resort, Ham Rong Flower Garden, and the Love Waterfall.
You can spend just one day in Sapa dedicated solely for hiking one specific trail or visiting one of the tribal villages. This is the ideal option for families with kids – most of them travel to Sapa as part of a day tour experience to hike and see the beauty of the mountain province of Vietnam. But for hiking enthusiasts, most of them plan a multi-day hikes to see as many hiking trails and attractions in the region. If you plan to do that with your kids, make sure you do extensive research on which hiking routes to visit and where you can stay for the night. The safety and comfort of your children should always come first.