Sapa located about 350 kilometres northwest of Hanoi, is a small mountain town where you’ll find the Fan Si Pan—the country’s highest peak along with Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. Sapa, the Vietnamese town is home to different ethnic tribal groups. The Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho, these are the five main ethnic groups in Sapa. Since the Vietnamese from the lowlands (better known as the Kinh) did not colonise the highest valleys, it is said that Sapa was initially occupied by the first four groups. These days, Sapa which is blessed with awe-inspiring natural beauty, welcomes a diverse range of visitors, attracted by the highland tribes, iconic rice paddies and forest treks.
Getting to Sapa
The overnight train from Hanoi [a nine-hour ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai] is the best way to reach Sapa. Tickets need to be booked in advance from Hanoi Train Station. A cabin with a bunk bed is advised. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour of road travel (either by minibus or taxi) from Lao Cai to get to the desired destination. The town is very small and the steep streets are easy to navigate, hence getting around Sapa is mostly done on foot.
The Weather in Sapa
Around January until June, the dry season begins, while March to May is the best time to visit. January and February are the coldest and foggiest months of the year. There are times when visitors find themselves blocked by a thick wall of fog as temperature drops to almost freezing points. Before visiting, tourists should bring with them the necessary gear appropriate for the weather like good trekking footwear or rubber boots which are a must.
History of Sapa
In the 19th century, when the French arrived in Tonkin, Sapa was acknowledged and included on the National map. Sapa became a key location for the French military as well as missionaries. For decades, this mountainous backwater was unknown to tourists, but in 1993 Sapa became accessible to many when it was formally promoted as a tourist destination.
What to Do in Sapa
The Best Things to Do in Sapa
- Visit tribal villages
- Fansipan mountain
- Hoang Lien National Park
Sapa is known for Hiking and enjoying nature. The most prominent attraction in Sapa is Fansipan, 19 kilometres from town, the highest mountain in Vietnam. This may seem like a short distance, but the rough terrain and unpredictable weather make the trek not so easy present with some difficulties. Tourists will enjoy this attraction the most, as the peak is accessible all year round, especially the ones who have mountain climbing experience though technical climbing skills are not necessary.
Hoang Lien National Park, where Fansipan can be found is an attraction in itself. Nature lovers will truly appreciate this park due to its picturesque mountain landscape and several forests. It is a habitat for a diverse set of animals and species which can only be found in northwest Vietnam and are highly endangered. Other attractions like the Cat Cat Village and the Ta Phin Village and cave are part of the Hoang Lien National Park. There’s a small museum and a modest cathedral also in Sapa town. Taking a stroll up and down the steep streets of this tiny mountain town is highly recommended.
Sapa Restaurants and Dining Scene
The Best Restaurants in Sapa
- Moment Romantic Restaurant (Vietnamese and vegetarian)
- Le Gecko (pastries and crepes)
- Delta (Italian restaurant and wine bar)
- Gerbera Restaurant (Vietnamese hot pot)
Head to Cau May Street, is the main street where most of the restaurants and cafés are located. For a good quality Vietnamese meal, Moment Romantic Restaurant is recommended, a mid-range restaurant with a diverse menu, fresh ingredients and many vegetarian options. Delta Restaurant is known for its reasonable prices and well-made Italian dishes like pizza and lasagne. They also serve Vietnamese dishes. If you’re looking for a local experience, try a Vietnamese hot pot to warm you up on a cold night at Gerbera Restaurant enjoying the rustic charm of this local restaurant and its authentic décor.
Visitors will love Le Gecko, especially ones with a sweet tooth. This establishment’s pastries are the best in town. It also serves light meals. Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate here after a chilly day is a nice treat. Other dining spots worth visiting include Nature Bar and Grill, and Rose Garden.
Nightlife in Vietnam is amazing but Sapa isn’t known for its hectic nightlife scene. There are a couple of bars where you can meet fellow travellers and sink a few beers. Most of the restaurants tend to close early in the evening especially the ones that sell beer and other drinks. You can find a few karaoke joints but there are no night clubs or dance halls. The most popular bar in town is the “H’ mong Sisters.” It has TVs, pool tables and a well-stocked bar. Head to the Wooden Pub, if you’re looking for live music in Sapa.
Vietnam shopping is something one can’t afford to miss. There are no shopping malls in Sapa, like most rural areas in Vietnam. Instead, shopping takes place at markets with an assortment of goods like fresh ingredients, handicrafts and clothing which locals buy and sell. Tourists can also purchase souvenirs. If you want to buy something, bargain hard.
The Best Markets in Sapa
- Sapa Market (daily wet market in town)
- Bac Ha Market (large Sunday market)
- Coc Ly Market (Tuesday market with authentic feel. 1.5 hours drive from Sapa)
Sapa Market, located next to the bus station, is open daily from 06:00 to 14:00 hours. It’s easy to find this local market as the town is very small. Don’t forget to visit on Saturday as it is the most popular day.
For those who want to experience shopping the way locals do without being dampened by commercialisation, visit the Bac Ha Market and Coc Ly Market. You should book a day tour from a travel agent in town, if you want to visit these tribal markets. Every Sunday, the different hill tribes meet in the morning to sell their wares. If you miss the Bac Ha Market, you can visit the Coc Ly Market, which is smaller and less varied.
Sapa is an incredibly picturesque town and the right destination for tourists who want to learn something new. Sapa is host to many hill tribes, rice terraces, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. Finding this guide useful? Check some of the best Vietnam holiday packages and book your trip now with Pickyourtrail. You can also leave a Whatsapp inquiry for more options. Download the best travel app from Playstore and IOS as well.