When visiting a place like Sapa, where most of the things you are going to do will be in the mountains, the first question that comes to your mind is if you can do it on your own or you need to hire a guide. It will all depend on the time you are going to stay in the area, because it is not the same if you stay only 1-2 days or a week.
It is perfectly possible to visit by foot Sapa and the surrounding villages without a guide, as the valley has a river and all the roads and paths lead to that river, so the only thing you need to do is follow the river. If you want to visit the nearby villages, it is possible to do it on your own too, as they are perfectly marked with the signal posts. Apart from that, you will find a lot of people on your way that will be pleased to help you. This is a good way to know the place in you own pace. You will be able to meet native people, take pictures and stop everywhere you want, while doing some sport.
Another way to visit the surrounding of the town is by renting a motorbike. For a very reasonable price you will find a motorbike for rent in a lot of places in town and the surrounding villages. This is the best option if you really want to visit everything on your own, stopping when you want and not going in the hurry of being part of a group. Once you get out of the town, it is easy to find the places you want to visit or see. All the roads are full of sign posts and there is no way of getting lost. If you don’t have a specific place you want to visit, the best idea is to get a motorbike and get lost in the roads, because everything in Sapa and the surroundings is worth visiting. All around the ways you will find people who will help you if you need indications, so don’t be afraid of renting a bike and getting lost in the area.
If your idea is to spend only a few days and do as much as possible, hiring a guide should be the best idea. With this option you will go straight to the place you want to visit and won’t loose time stopping by. Wherever you are staying, be a hostel, a hotel or a homestay, they will have many different trekking tours that you can book. For a reasonable price you will be guided by a native woman to through the valley, to the mountain or to the bamboo forest. They offer different length walks; some of them last only 4 hours and in others you will overnight in the mountain, in order to make a longer trek to the highest mountain in Indochina, the Fansipan mountain. When getting a guide, you will get to know more about the area you are visiting, as they always tell you interesting facts and are pleased to answer all your questions. You can also hire a driver who will take you to the place you want to visit, making easier to visit further places without having to drive.
If the place you are staying doesn’t offer trekking tours, you will always find an agency in town that organizes them or a native woman that will take you trekking for a reasonable price.
So, as said before, it all depends on the time you will stay in Sapa and the budget you have. If you are staying for a long time, you can both walk/drive on your own and get lost in the impressive area, and get a guide that will take you to the mountain and tell you interesting facts about the place.