Travel is one of those things that naturally gives rise to queries, concerns and doubts, so we’re here to put your mind at ease. For questions frequent and otherwise, this is the spot.
Q. How have I contributed to the local economy and ethnic minorities by booking an ETHOS experience?
A. You have empowered our trekking guides by creating a stable income. You are their window on the world and can contribute to their continued learning of English. Our tours aspire to provide good quality and nutritious food to all host families and homestay owners.
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Q. Do you have an office in Hanoi?
A. No. The Hanoi locality is purely for administration and not staffed by English speaking staff.
Q. Where can I store my luggage when I leave for a trek?
A. We offer a secure lockers and a storage room to leave your luggage while you are out on any ETHOS experience.
Q. Is there somewhere to freshen up?
A. Yes, we offer a shower and bathroom within our community centre in Sapa. Whether you have just arrived off the over-night train/bus or coming back from a trek, there is a bathroom for you to freshen up. We also provide towels, plenty of hot tea and breakfasts if required.
Free wifi is also available.
Q. Do I need a sleeping bag?
A. All homestays have warm blankets. A sleeping bag is not required. For your own comfort, a sleeping bag liner is recommended, although we provide these if required.
Q. Can you make the transport arrangements from Hanoi to Sapa for us?
A. Yes, we are happy to arrange trains and transfers, buses, or private transport for you.
Q. Can you make accommodation bookings for us?
A. Yes, we can help you arrange accommodation. Let us know your budget and we can plan accordingly.
Q. What is a homestay like?
A. Many of our guides welcomes guests into their family home. All homes have beds, mosquitoes and blankets. Limited electricity is also available but homes don’t have a hot shower or western style toilet. Some homes have long drop style toilets in outhouses. The traditional homestay option is only available for small groups with 1-4 travellers.
The alternate is guesthouse style accommodation shared with other travellers. The guesthouse style homestays are quite large and built from wood or brick. There are no separate bedrooms or en suite bathrooms and only some homestays have wifi. The guesthouses do have electricity. Typically, there is one big open space upstairs, which is then divided into zones with mosquito nets.
In both types of homestay, expect to experience village life in all its glory. On the plus side, you will get some quality time with the wonderful Black Hmong community. Hmong homes are set within the famed rice paddies and have incredible views if the weather permits. On the downside, expect to be awoken early by roosters or the families livestock. You can choose towards the end of your trek which type of homestay you want to stay.
Q. What do I need to bring on my trek?
A. Bring a small backpack with change of clothes and personal things needed for the trek. All homestays provide bed sheets, towels and have mosquito nets over the bed but bring mosquito repellent for the evenings. Other things to bring: sun cream, extra toilet paper, warm clothes if you trek in winter, early spring or late autumn and swimsuit if you come in the summer.
Q. Are there options for vegetarian and vegan guests?
A. Many of the tribes within northern Vietnam eat a predominently vegetarian diet. Markets offer a great array of fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and wonderful home made tofu, meaning that accomodating for dietary requirments is usually very easy.
Q. What is not included in the price?
A. •Insurance. The customer is required to have full travel insurance.
•Soft drinks, beer and beverages.
Q. What extra clothing should I bring?
A. Please see our guide to the different seasons and weather patterns. This will give you a guide to the different seasons and weather patterns Sapa can present. This will also provide you with an idea on what clothing to bring for the different times of the year.
Q. Can I cancel my trek if it is raining or misty?
A. At ETHOS we do our best to minimise cancellation penalties for our guests. ETHOS is a social enterprise and like normal businesses it has to cover its operational expenses. Please review our terms and conditions for more information.
Terms and conditions
Q. Do you provide water?
A. We work in association with "Refill My Bottle" and provide 1.5 litres of filtered water for all guests. There is also the option to refil using boiled rain water during the trek.
Q. Do you have French speaking guides besides English speaking ones?
A. At this time, our guides speak English, Vietnamese, Hmong and Dao.
Q. What do you do when villagers tag-along your trek?
A. Most villager's need to find ways to survive and feed their families. They can only grow one cycle of rice in the year instead of two at sea-level. Most of them do not have much education thus it is difficult for them to seek formal, paid employment. This means that some local people have taken to selling goods to travellers during their treks. This can be uncomfortable for some travellers but does not mean tourists should feel obliged to buy souvenirs. The best course of action in dealing with them is to politely but firmly decline to purchase goods if you are not interested. If you are a textiles fan, look for items that are hand crafted, well made and naturally dyed. It is quite difficult for our guides to ask them to leave as these women are often from the same villages or are directly related to them, and asking them to leave could (and has in the past) cause conflicts for them once they return to their village. These sellers are in no way affiliated with /employed or encouraged by ETHOS.
ETHOS actively discourages buying from children or giving out sweets or souvenirs. This creates a culture of expectation, contributes to the litter problem and may lead to children not attending school.
Q. How challenging are the treks?
A. All of our treks are flexible, so are happy for you to start your experience at a time of your choosing and finish whenever you wish to head back to Sapa. You decide together with the guide how you want to spend your trek. Our guides are skilled at customising adventures for you (and your children’s) dependent on your fitness levels and the weather conditions. We do both easy and difficult treks around Sapa. A normal trek is about 12-15 km/day and you walk for about 5-6 hours.
Q. How do I book an ETHOS experience?
A. You can book your trek by filling in our contact form, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also book directly at our office at 79 đường Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Sa Pa. Our Community Centre is located in a quiet suburban street approximately 1.1 km from the centre of Sapa town. More information can be found by clicking here.
Q. Do you do group tours?
A. No, we only do private tours. Past experience has taught us that each group that comes through our doors have different expectations and walking abilities. Traditional tribal homes are also not geared up to host large groups. We typically have only two to three tours each day (all small groups) and people head out in different directions. Matching people is therefore very tricky and often lessens any experience. If you find other like-minded travellers, we would be happy for you to group yourselves, but it is not something we can facilitate.
Q. What about food during the trek?
A. Lunch is included in all our treks. If you choose a trek with homestay you will also have breakfast and dinner at the homestay. Meals are traditional foods with lots of locally sourced vegetables, foraged foods, meats, rice and tofu. If you are vegetarian, simply inform our guides ahead of time and they will be happy to purchase food that fits your dietary needs.
ETHOS specialise in preparing and cooking food with a local family. Your experience will incorporate the buying of groceries together in the market. You are also welcome to take part in the cooking if you want to learn how to make Hmong food.
Q. What is the Sapa weather like?
A. Mountain weather is always unpredictable and weather forecasts are rarely reliable for our region, but we have a strong philosophy of never letting the weather beat you. Conditions vary throughout the year and it is essential to be prepared. A link to suggested kit can be found here.
Homestays and treks are particularly challenging in winter. All off road walking trails will be slippery. Hmong and Dao traditional homes are not insulated, so keeping warm is down to good preparation. Temperatures could dip to around zero Celsius at night, and thick fog is very common during December / January. It is therefore absolutely essential that you prepare by bringing proper trekking footwear, cold weather insulation layers and a fully rainproof outer layer. Thick socks, gloves and a hat are also highly recommended.
ETHOS will do our best to help make you more comfortable by providing trekkers with our very own “winter kit”. Included is a sleeping bag liner that will be used in conjunction with the blankets in your homestay. We can also provide a hot flask of tea or coffee for your trek and hot water bottles to provide extra warmth in bed.