When you visit the mountain resort town of Sapa, Vietnam, one of the activities you can do is hiking. For the serious hikers, you can hike the trail to the peak of Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina region (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). For most people, the more popular hike is to visit the nearby villages where the local tribes live. Typically the hike is anywhere between 3 to 15 km in distance, and in most cases you can do the hike as a half to full day activity.
In planning to do the hike, you can also decide whether you want to go by yourself, or hire a guide. Going by yourself is obviously cheaper, and you can go at your own pace, but you need to make sure you have a good map or know the route, and you are adventurous and willing to perhaps interact with the locals who you encounter during the hike. Otherwise, it may end up with a long day (because you get lost) or you won’t learn or appreciate the culture as much as you only see the scenery without talking to the people who live there.
A more popular option is to join a tour group led by a local guide. These are either offered by tour company/outfitters if you come to Sapa as part of such tour, or you can inquire some of the hotels in town who may have arrangements with local guides who can take guests on half day or full day hiking tour to the villages. In some cases, the route taken was chosen to be less strenuous for the guests (e.g. they would go downhill to the valley, and then the guests would be picked up by minivan to go back on the uphill part), and it would include a lunch break at the village in the middle.
During our visit to Sapa, we spent our first day there on a guided hike arranged by our hotel, Sapa Rooms. They hired local girls who are fluent in English to guide the tour groups. In our case, it ended up to be only four people, so it was still feeling like a private tour. That tour took pretty much a whole day, since it was at a leisurely pace and included lunch break in the middle. On the second day, we ended up going to another village on our own. So we experienced both options for hiking to the villages.
The photo below was taken during our first hike. This was around an area where we went down to the valley, and then had to go up a little bit on a narrow, muddy path. You can see here the line of hikers waiting to climb up.