8 TIPS FOR TREKKING IN NORTHERN VIETNAM
Hire a guide
While the half-day or full-day hikes can easily be experienced by travelling on your own, there are plenty of reasons to consider hiring a local guide when exploring the hillside. They are typically locally based and have a keen knowledge of the best lookout spots, changes in weather, and terrain.
Treks are easily organized on arrival in popular trekking destinations like Sapa, so it isn’t essential to book in advance. But, there is also the option to use a local Vietnam travel company or tourism office to arrange the guided tour. The guides are friendly and English-speaking so give the most enjoyable experience while exploring the countryside.
Travelling light is the most practical option when planning the trekking tour. There is rarely any need to pack bedding or towels, even when staying in a local family-run guesthouse or homestay for the night. Most homestays have an open-concept with plenty of mattresses in a single room with a mosquito net overhead. But there is still a pleasant selection of fresh towels, warm blankets and clean bed sheets for guests. While it may be tempting for some to travel with a sleeping bag and similar supplies, there is rarely a need to go trekking with such a heavy pack.
With a long trek ahead of you, only pack what is deemed absolutely necessary. A backpack isn’t likely to feel too heavy when first tried on, but will soon start to get heavier throughout the day.
Wear comfortable shoes
Sturdy and comfortable shoes are a must-have item on the trekking trip. Certain terrain can be quite demanding. Many of the routes go off-the-beaten-track which means walking through a bamboo forest, hopping across ditches, and scrambling up a mountain. A pair of running shoes with solid grip and good support is practical for the short trips. But, for the 2-day trek or longer, such as climbing Mt. Fansipan, it may benefit to invest in a pair of hiking boots.
The popular trekking destinations like Sapa have plenty of shops that sell or rent a wide range of trekking gear. This is useful for the travellers that prefer not to carry a lot of trekking gear while experiencing other aspects of the Indochina holiday. Any supplies like hiking poles or boots are available in town at very affordable prices.
Pack snacks and water
Pack enough snacks to keep the energy up while on the trekking tour. Even though there are stops along the route for lunch or dinner, a healthy selection of snacks avoids going unfed for long periods of time.
You can quickly get thirsty on the hiking trails, so make sure to take an appropriate amount of water for the duration. Also, if you do start to run low before reaching the intended destination, there are regular makeshift stands selling water close to many of the towns in the region.
Accept the touts
For travellers that plan to stay a day or two in a popular trekking destination, there is a likelihood of coming across the local touts. The Hmong tribe women take this business very seriously and will make every effort to push a sale with the passing tourists. Even after making it clear that there is no intention to buy any good, the women can continue to walk alongside for quite a while.
Don’t forget the camera
The scenery in North Vietnam is truly stunning, so you will want to travel with a fully charged camera. There are plenty of places to stop and take photo breaks while trekking through the paddy fields, ethnic villages and mountains. A guide on the 2-3 day trek can benefit by pointing to the best lookout points for taking the memorable snaps.
Be prepared for rain and mud
Many of the popular trekking routes are in the mountainous regions of Vietnam. This means there is a high risk of rain throughout the year, which leads to the damp and muddy trails. For easy travel in these conditions, a light rain jacket or poncho is appreciated. Also, try to wear clothes that can get muddy without too much concern. Most of the guides on trekking tours wear the rubber rain boots which are very affordable and available in plenty of shops in town.
Also, with a lot of walking through muddy terraces and trails it helps to bring some support. A purpose made hiking stick bought at the local shops or self-made with some bamboo is a practical option to move more freely through the most difficult and sticky terrain.
Where to stay?
For the multi-day trekking adventures on the Vietnam tour, there are plenty of choices for overnight accommodation, but the most authentic option is to organize a stay in a local homestay. This is a great way to learn more about the local culture, enjoy the home cooked meals, and create the treasured memories.