First day of my Sapa trekking tour started with a trek to Cat Cat Village.
It was to be a three hour hike and we were told that after we were done, we could go back to our hotels and that we’d have the rest of the day free to sightsee Sapa on our own.
My first Sapa trek : Cat Cat Village ?
Okay, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting something more like a semi-intense hilly course which took the whole day and then we’d stay somewhere in one of the villages we ended up in. But the receptionist at tour trekking central assured me that more was to come, while not coming across as very sure himself. Frankly, by his look, it seemed that as a “solo traveling female”, he didn’t know where to put me.
We had an English speaking Vietnamese guide, who walked us down the road, letting us stop for a quick breath of tea before we continued on.
Descending “the souvenir trail”
But on the course, I quickly determined that my three hour hike down through Cat Cat Village to the waterfall and back was something I hardly needed a guide for. The hike is a soft trek and while the elderly couple on our tour had some difficulty walking down this cobble-stoned paved trail, I realized it can feel steep if you’re not a fit person. And if you’re already having difficulty walking downhill, then maybe you should consider not taking a trek at all, but sticking to the roads in town.
For me and the Spanish couple also on the tour, we wanted to get off the paved trail. Being on it felt like a huge of a letdown. The village felt like a staged souvenir shops. Run by hilltribe families, small houses (I think I only saw a couple) and organized crafts shops lined the walkway as mothers weaved crafts, while tending to toddlers. Stone work, wire work, textile crafts, et…
The artwork was beautiful and I know the hilltribe families need to make money to survive, but I wasn’t there for souvenir shopping. The village felt just plain inauthentic and while, some local life abounds making the trekking occasionally feel worthwhile, the overall feeling is just of it being a tourist attraction.
(Above photo & video of the event below) Family cleans a pig for a special celebration feast.
Video of local men building a home
The waterfall area has a P.A. system, which streams traditional Vietnamese music to “enhance the atmosphere”. Okay, that’s a bit cheesy and I felt like I was entering the movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but this is Vietnam. After seeing the waterfall, the hiking path continues, allowing you to trek back through the hills to the top.
For lazy hikers, you can hire a motorbike ride
If you feel too tired to return, you can hire an xe oem (motorbike taxi) to give you a lift to the top! Really?! This is what the elderly couple on our tour did and with seniors, I get it, but this a tourist’s hike. If you can’t handle this, then you are old.
Overall, it was an easy day but I had come for a real trek…
Trekking Permits & Hiking Cat Cat Village on your own
Hiking Cat Cat Village is definitely doable on your own. Just ask a local to point you in the direction of the village and you’ll see a sign letting you know you’re at the entrance.
However, unless you’re with a tour or trekking guide, you will have to pay admission tickets to enter and you’ll need to buy them in ADVANCE and not at the door. You will be disappointed if you arrive without a permit in hand. This rule of attaining permits before trekking applies throughout all of Sapa, to any main minority village area, as well as the Radio Tower. If you plan to hike this on your own, visit the Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to pick one up first.