Sapa, in the northwestern highlands, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Vietnam with amazing scenery and fascinating culture.
Our guest blogger, Luna Anderson from HikerTrack, recalls her unforgettable experience in Sapa, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Vietnam. Renowned for its temperate highland climate, culture influenced by indigenous hill tribes, and amazing scenery, Sapa is one of the destinations we missed on our visit to Vietnam. What a great reason to return!
I have been back from a journey to Vietnam to visit my friend, who is an English teacher in Hanoi. She took me to a lot of famous tourist destinations in this beautiful country. We spent three days in Sapa and the time is one of the most unforgettable ones in my journey.
The town’s tourism is based on its comfortable, cooler climate, picturesque scenery, and cultural values. Many visitors come to escape the heat and humidity in Hanoi and the coastal lowlands.
Sapa is the home of a wide range of ethnic minorities – such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao hill tribes – as well as the Kinh majority. Villages lying in the mountains leave an unforgettable impression of tribal cultures in the minds and souls of visitors. Summers are cool with lovely, fresh breezes; winters are cold but not unbearable.
Sapa is one of the hard-to-find places in this region which experiences snowfall in winter. If you are lucky, you can get some pictures with frosty branches and leaves. Most of the time, there is a sea of clouds and fog embracing the town. I found the climate there so lovely that I wanted to stay in Sapa all year long.
Where is Sapa Located?
Sapa is in the hilly northwestern region of Vietnam, close to the border with China, a little more than 300km from Hanoi.
How to Get to Sapa
From Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, you can get to Sapa by two types of vehicle. One of them is the train, which I took as my transportation means. There are a lot of options for tourists to choose, but I found sleeping seats the most comfortable since the journey is a bit long and the speed of the train is limited. If you want a more frugal choice, take air-conditioned soft seats. In the time of holidays, it is hard to get a train ticket to Sapa if you don’t book days or even weeks before the departure.
Another choice is taking a bus. There are sleeping buses departing from Hanoi at night, so you can get to the town in the early morning. Click here to pre-book your luxury bus ticket complete with hotel pickup in Hanoi and drop-off in Sapa.
For both the transportation means, you should buy the return ticket in advance to avoid the unexpected. I booked my train ticket online here.
What are the popular places to see in Sapa?
The town is full of tourist attractions. Tourists who have traveled here said that the unique atmosphere of ethnic minority cultures made them love Sapa at first sight. I felt like that, too. However, I think nature is one of the essential factors contributing to the attraction of the mountainous area.
Tours to Sapa Vietnam:
If you search for a travel guide in Sapa, you will see many recommendations mentioning Ta Van village, Lao Chai village, Ta Phin village, Cat Cat Village, Ham Rong Mountain, Silver Waterfall, etc. Although I found the guides tempting enough to make me want to spend a month here, I have to choose only some due to the time limit. All the tourist spots are around the town, not in one direction. Local people told us to rent a motorbike for moving around, which a reasonable price (80000 VND – 120000 VND/day).
You can get yourself a motorbike at the service area of any hotel in town. If they don’t have bikes available, they can help you get one from other places in the neighborhood. They will take the vehicle to the hotel for you, and buy you gasoline if you require.
Fansipan Mountain – the “Roof of Indochina”
The most famous destination in the vicinity of Sapa is Fansipan mountain in the Hoang Lien Son range. This is the highest peak in Southeast Asia, rising over 10,000 feet. Fansipan offers some of the best trekking in the Indochina Peninsula. Choose from a 2-day, total 26km trek including overnight camp, meals, with a Hmong porter – or- a less strenuous tour option from Hanoi via express bus with an excursion to a Black Hmong village, overnight in Sapa and cable car the following day to the Fansipan summit.
Click here for complete details and additional tour options.
Ham Rong Mountain
Because we didn’t have the chance to reach Fansipan, we opted for Ham Rong Mountain. Not as high as Fansipan, Ham Rong is more accessible for hiking and sightseeing. The name means “the dragon’s mouth,” and the mountain has a unique shape, which, with a little imagination, resembles this. You will find a stone garden, gardens of traditional medicinal plants, gardens of orchids, and housing of ethnic minorities.
Walking up the stone stairs, we soon found the Heaven gates I and II. My friend and I stood for a long time enjoying the beautiful landscape and the cooling breeze. From the top of the mountains, I cast my gaze further and further, committing all of the beautiful scenery to memory. Even though time has passed, it is vivid.
Check out a three day tour to Sapa from Hanoi which includes trekking to ethnic villages and Ham Rong mountain.
Ta Phin and Other Ethnic Villages
Ta Phin is one of the four famous ethnic minority villages in Sapa, The others are Cat Cat, Ta Van, and Lao Chai. Residents there are mainly the Red Dao and the Black Mong. I saw the village as a source of cultural activities in town. In Ta Phin, we can easily find tribal women and girls going in ground, chitchatting, and laughing together.
My impression with the Dao and Mong there is that they are so friendly and honest. I even got a discount for buying indigo colored clothing from an old woman who had a charming smile. If you want to buy some souvenirs for your family and friends, consider the embroidery products in the village. Your loved ones will undoubtedly find the clothing beautiful and unique.
Sapa Full-Day Trekking and Ethnic Villages Tour takes you to Lao Chai in the Muong Hoa Valley.
From Hanoi: Sapa Homestay 2-Day Tour by Sleeper Train visits Cat Cat Village, Lao Chai and Ta Van villages with an overnight hotel stay in Sapa.
A 5-Hour Trek Excursion through Hoang Lien National Park includes a visit to the Black Hmong village of Sin Chai.
A 2-Day Group Trek through the Muong Hoa goes to Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai villages, a homestay in Ta Van village – home to the Zay tribe, with visits to Giang Ta Chai and Su Pan villages.
Sapa Catholic Church
It is an exciting destination for you regardless your religion. People who are not Catholic can also go to the church to admire its beautiful construction. The building has been renovating lately, after being wrecked by time and the weather. However, we can still see the French imprint in the construction.
The church is located right beside Ham Rong mountain, so you can get there more conveniently after going hiking. It is the center of the town, standing beside Hoang Lien Hotel and the former District Commissioner. You should consider taking a look at the spots as the architecture is worth admiring.
Go Camping in Sapa
As a mountainous town, Sapa has many places for you to set up a camp and enjoy a night outside. There are agencies offering you the tent hiring service, but if you want to use your own stuff, it’s fine. All you need to grab is a tent suitable for the number of people in your group, some warm, comfortable sleeping bags and fresh meat, fruit, and vegetable for a barbecue.
Because we were only two people with little luggage, a small tent worked well. If you take interest in the activity, you may ask the travel agency to find a camp site or look for it on the Internet. Remember to bring warm clothes, given that the temperature at night can be very low and you can catch a cold even when you have a decent sleeping bag.
Homestays and Accommodations in Sapa
If you’re not a camper, there are plenty of options to get an authentic Vietnamese experience in Sapa, ranging from homestays with local families to luxurious hotel and spa accommodations.
Meet H’Mong, Black H’Mong and Dzay minority people on a 3-night, 2-Day Sapa Hill Tribe excursion from Hanoi with homestay.
Homestays and Hotels in Sapa Vietnam:
What to eat in Sapa?
Owing to the fast development of tourism and economy of the province, there are more and more restaurants around the town. People recommended us a lot of dining spots, but if you want to get to know the real culinary culture in Sapa, you should buy your meals in the food market. It is easy to find, just opposite the Catholic Church.
The most delicious and impressive dishes in town, in my opinion, is the grilled. The barbecue there is a little spicy but bearable for most people. The ingredients are all fresh and homemade. I have tried the fermented pork, and it was an enjoyable experience. If I hadn’t had to visit other destinations in Vietnam, I would have bought some and brought it home to share with my family.
My trip to Sapa is totally satisfying, and I will definitely come back when I have a chance. Hope you may use my experience in your journey. May your days in Sapa be unforgettable!
Author Bio: Luna Anderson is an avid camper from Phoenix, Arizona. She loves outdoors and she wants to show people the endless possibilities of this world and open your mind to experience over possession. You can find useful tips on hiking, camping and survival skills in her blog .