On the way to China, we stopped in the small town of Sapa in northern Vietnam, near the border. We stayed here only one day, so we couldn’t see a lot (and the most interesting was just in the vicinity), but we were able to make some impression :-)
As well as Dalat, Sapu was founded by the French to save from the heat of the coast and lowlands. The town is located in the north-west of Vietnam, surrounded by the highest mountains of the country and boasts dizzying views!
View from Sapa to the valley and rice terraces
Weather in Sapa is characterized by the words "4 seasons in one day." From November to February it’s quite cold and foggy, a few years ago even the snow fell, so take warm clothes with you if you are traveling at this time. We were in mid-April, and the weather was very comfortable, as in Russia in May.
What else is interesting Sapa? There are many local tribes living in the vicinity: Yao, Khmongs, Thai and others - you can look at the traditional way of life, though you will have to work hard to find really real villages.
In these places, tourism is developed like nowhere else in the north of Vietnam - you will find hundreds of hotels for every taste, cafes, restaurants, travel agencies and much more. But such a development, it seems to us, is no longer beneficial, the atmosphere is lost. You feel like on a beach in Nha Trang, only local people offer to buy goods and take pictures.
The construction boom mutilated the once-cozy village with large buildings, often covering the entire view of the valley. In general, in Sapa there is no sense in lingering for a long time, it is best to go explore the villages and mountains in the district. Unfortunately, we have no time left for this.
Nevertheless, during the day there is something to occupy yourself, and we will talk about some interesting places.
Sapa Attractions, what to do
The town is very small and easily walked in half an hour. In the center is a church and a large square.
Church and central square
There, next to the square, there is a museum where you can learn about the history of Sapa for free, see photos and household items of hill tribes, and also understand how they differ from each other.
You can ride a boat or a catamaran on the lake (when we dried up), it is also located in the center.
If you go to the left of the church on the way up, you will come across the ticket office and the next staircase after them - this is the climb to Mount Ham Rongwith a beautiful view of the city. On the way there are different compositions, sculptures, flowers, and at the top there is an observation deck. We were literally nearly blown away from there - a very strong wind! In general, a pretty pleasant walk for a couple of hours. The cost of entry is 70 thousand dong.
Flowers on Mount Ham Rong
Here is a view from the observation deck on the mountain
City and lake view
Mount Fansipan 3143 m above sea level, towers steeply above the valley and the city. More recently, Sapu and the summit were connected by a cable car, which set a new world record: the biggest difference between departure and arrival points is 1410 m!
But this is not all the attractions of Sapa. What else to do here? Of course, go for a short trek to local tribes or just to the mountains. Many villages can be reached on their own by roads or trails; in more remote places it is better to book a guided tour in your hotel or travel agency.
The nearest village is called Cat cat and is located at the bottom of the valley 3 km from Sapa. The cost of entry is 40 thousand dong. Another popular route is the village. Ta phin 10 km from the city - this is the home of the Red Yao tribe.
On the way to Cat Cat Village
Sapa Attractions - Rice Terraces
We saw similar tribes when we lived in Chiang Mai in Thailand and went to the national park. Doi Suthep, so this time we missed it, but you’ll definitely go, it’s quite interesting, especially since there is the opportunity to live in guest houses in conditions “as close to fighting as possible” :-)
In the town you can order various tours to other, more remote areas, just ask and they will tell you everything. And in Sapa it's nice to sit down in the morning or at sunset at a table overlooking the valley, order yourself Vietnamese coffee and just enjoy the moment :-)
How to get to Sapa?
By train + minibus
The path here lies through the small town of Lao Cai, which is on the Chinese border and 40 km from Sapa. You can, of course, come from the other side, but this is a separate trip to the north of Vietnam, mostly people travel from Lao Kai.
And it can be reached by train from Hanoi. There are 3 trains in total, one day and two night - they leave from the railway station of the capital at 06-10, 21-40 and 22-00 and spend 8-9 hours on the way. The fare is from 110 thousand dongs in a seated wagon to 384 thousand dongs in an air-conditioned compartment in Vietnamese railway wagons and is much more expensive at private companies.
Trains consist of wagons belonging to both the Vietnamese railways and private companies, and commercial wagons are not always better. On the Internet, cases are described when people bought a ticket for a private compartment car at an agency for expensive, and ended up traveling in an ordinary sitting hard class. So it is recommended that you either use trusted agents or buy yourself at the station - this is not a big deal.
Upon arrival at Lao Cai Railway Station, go to the square and to the left, there you will see small buses under the stella with the inscription “Bus station Lao Cai-Sapa”. The fare is 28 thousand dongs (some 30 thousand), and the journey is about an hour and a half. Departure time from Lao Kai from 05-20 a.m. to 6 p.m. (detailed schedule in the photo). The road abounds with sharp turns, ups and downs, it cradles quite strongly, especially if a frisky driver comes across :-)
Bus Schedule Lao Kai Sapa
The bus stop in Sapa is located opposite the church and the park, they bring people there, they must also come there in order to go back to Lao Cai.
From Hanoi, Sapa can be reached directly by bus. The easiest way is to buy tickets from agents in the tourist area, they will cost about 220 thousand dong ($ 10). There are both day and night flights, and travel time is 6 hours.
There are also the so-called express buses to Sapa by Sapa Express, departing at 07-00 in the morning, they cost $ 17.5 (more expensive), and they also go on time.
In Sapa itself, it is most convenient to move on foot, or you can rent a bicycle, though it is not easy to ride through the mountains. You can remove the bike for $ 5-6, but in no case do not give your passport as collateral.
Sapa Hotels and Food
When choosing a hotel in Sapa, you should pay attention to the availability of hot water and heated blankets, because the cheapest places may not have such amenities, and in winter it is cold outside. And good hotels are quickly dismantled, especially for holidays and weekends.
We lived in a hotel Green valley in the south of the city - there are quite good rooms and a great view of the valley from the shared balcony. They paid $ 13 for a double room.
Find hotels in Sapa using this form
Many cafes and restaurants can be found on Ngo Cau May Street, and they have a wide selection of dishes, from the simplest and cheapest to expensive European ones, even there is a wine list. So we sat with backpacks, but in a beautiful interior :-)
Mini Tea Room
Marked on the map all the points that are mentioned in the post - just zoom in or out with the mouse wheel.
Features of rest in Sapa
The mountainous region of Sapa is slightly less popular among tourists than Halong and Hoi An, but the natural beauty and attractions, as well as the highest peak of Indochina, the peak of Fanshipan, nevertheless attract visitors from different countries. This area is especially suitable for hiking and trekking, during which it is so great to enjoy the panoramic view of the emerald green rice plantations terraces.
The Sapa settlement on the top of the hill was “discovered” by the French colonialists, who desperately wanted to escape from the burning heat of the Vietnamese plain. They chose high cool place, not so wetlike, say, Hanoi. When you climb the mountain slopes, you will fully appreciate this pleasant fact. Read completely
When is the best time to relax in Sapa?
Someone goes for wonderful impressions and a good rest "to the south", and someone - imagine! - to the north. The fact that a delightful resort can be not only a sea beach, many know. But few are guided in the most beautiful places on the planet. One of these is the amazing Vietnamese Sa Pa (Sha Pa) in Russian pronunciation simply - Sapa.
Not only the Swiss Alps to caress the eyes and admire to the silence the true connoisseurs of natural beauty - such an idea comes when you are standing on the balcony or at the hotel window, which offers a truly amazing view of the mountain valley with a town dominated by elegant low-rise architecture in the French style, and in all directions are layered terraces, variegated in their variety of flowers, created by the patient local people for a completely mundane task - to feed themselves. These unfamiliar agricultural structures are planted with rice, maize, tea, wheat and other crops. And the best photographs of the surrounding landscapes are obtained, of course, not in those moments when these narrow fields-troughs were just planted and not when the crop was already harvested. In general, experienced travelers are advised to come here in spring or autumn, taking into account, among other things, the climatic features of the area. Not just the mountainous, but the mountainous climate of Sapa is very peculiar - the heat is strong, which reigns over most of Vietnam, it is not here, the thermometer reaches the sunniest. Read completely
What excursions are worth visiting in Sapa?
Sapa Town is undoubtedly beautiful, but only after exploring the surroundings and exploring the farther corners of the province that you really get that invaluable experience and feel the beauty of Vietnam. A hike through rice fields, forests and villages where ethnic minorities live - these are memories for life, not to mention what beautiful photographs you can take there!
Generally, trekking (hiking, moving from one camp site or village to another). It’s better to go camping with a guide, he knows everything here. Trekking can take from half a day or longer, depending on the budget, free time and where you want to go and what you want to see, and everything depends on the level of your physical fitness. Day trips usually end in Lao Sai, Tawan, Giang Ta Sai or Ban Ho. Read completely
What to see in Sapa?
So, what are the sights you can visit in Sapa and the surrounding area.
Bac Ha Market
This market is located some 90 kilometers from Sapa Town, in the district of Bak Ha. The market is open on Sundays. This is a large local market where, for the most part, Hmongs and other ethnic minorities from the area come to trade. Naturally, knowing that tourists will come to the market, representatives of these peoples dress up with all their might, so it’s very interesting to watch this spectacle. Unfortunately, with English there is so-so, except for a couple of phrases that will “rub” your ears very quickly. Goods range from vegetables to pets (for example, Asian buffaloes, somewhere in the center. In the order of things.). Regular buses leave for this market from Sapa (usually at 7:30). Read completely
How to have fun?
In the small town of Sapa there is not much entertainment, but it is also clear.
Trekking is the main form of entertainment in Sapa, because the entire province is surrounded by mountains - this is quite logical. Maps with routes for trekking, and a variety of routes, have been worked out for a long time. Most hotels in Sapa offer tourists half-day excursions and long trips (two to three days) from Sapa to neighboring regions and villages, but the best deals, as it turns out, come from the guides of Cha Pa Garden, Auberge Hotel, Cat Cat View Hotel and Mountain View Hotel. Read completely
In the north of Vietnam, everyone just told me about the mountain village of Sapu, which amazes with its differences from all other tourist places of the country. As a hiker, I simply had to visit this wonderful corner. Having looked at the signs of travel agencies, which are full of signs with incredible photographs of green rice terraces, I decided to go to Sapa on my own and personally understand why this place is so popular.
How to get there
Sapa is located about 400 km from Hanoi and for an independent trip it is enough to buy a bus ticket in any hostel. Ticket cost about $ 10. It will take about 10 hours, but they fly by quickly, because the Vietnamese sleeping bus is a very comfortable bus in which you can lie in comfortable chairs and use free Wi-Fi. Of course, ready-made tours are sold, at a price of up to $ 50, which includes the road, hotel accommodation, and an excursion.
As for me, excursions are not enough to fully explore this or that city. So I decided this time. Having hitchhiked from Hanoi, he spent the first night at the hostel. Prices here are slightly higher than Hanoi, but they stack up to $ 6.
What to see
Sapa is the birthplace of the Black Khmong. This is a few people who are famous for their traditional, unusual clothes. It is definitely interesting to get acquainted with the culture and life of the Khmongs, but you should not hope that walking in the tourist center of the village will turn out to meet real Khmongs. Different grandmothers in black clothes came up to me and obsessively demanded to rent their home, or offered to take pictures with them for money.
The village itself is quite comfortable. In the center there is a beautiful lake, around which are concentrated numerous cafes with local cuisine. However, the obsession of some people does not allow to relax completely.
I decided to go to the main attraction of Sapa - a hiking trail to the top of the highest mountain Fansipan. The height of the mountain is 3143 m above sea level. It offers indescribable views of the rice terraces. Unfortunately, I did not see this beauty. And all because he went to Sapa in December, when winter comes and even snow falls in the village. I was lucky with the weather, but I did not see the vaunted green fields.
You can take a taxi or a rented scooter to the start of the hiking trail. I took advantage of the kindness of the locals and hitchhiked. Once in a large area with parking, I saw two paths: one leads to the waterfall and the entrance is paid, and the other is a two-day trekking to the top of Fansipan.
As far as I know, you can only go along the trail by hiring a Vietnamese guide. However, on my way I did not meet anyone who could prevent me from doing this myself. Of course, the people who came across the path were very surprised to see me alone, but it was rather enthusiastic: "Wow, are you not afraid to get lost?" Getting lost there is simply unrealistic - there is only one path. There are several paid campsites along the way, but I used my tent in other places.
The path to the summit is generally not complicated, as it is equipped in many places with railings and steps. With sufficient funds, you can take the cable car and climb the top of the mountain very quickly. It costs such a pleasure about $ 30.
On the mountain there are restaurants, cafes and free WI-FI. There are a lot of people, but at the same time quite calm and quiet. The views from the top are amazing!
Dangers on the way
At the beginning of the winter season in the forests of Sapa it is absolutely safe and you can meet only small caterpillars, huge beautiful bugs and buffaloes. In the warm season, it may make sense to secure and hire a guide. According to the stories, in Sapa there are large pythons that can strangle a person.
In addition, it is not recommended to go trekking alone, as I did. Even with a great hiking experience, there is a chance of slipping somewhere, falling and getting seriously injured. Therefore, it is advisable to have someone nearby who can help in a difficult situation.
Do not forget that going to the north of Vietnam in the cold season, you may need warm clothes. In the mountains of Sapa and in the village itself it is very cold, and the fog hangs for weeks.
Moving along mountain roads is most convenient on a rented scooter, but again several factors should be taken into account:
- inexperience on Vietnamese roads
- sharp turns
- slippery road surface after rains.
In Sap, few speak English. It was sometimes difficult to order food in a cafe. Unlike the tourist center of Sapa, most of the local restaurants do not have a menu. But the Vietnamese as a whole are very indifferent people and, being explained by gestures, it is quite possible to achieve their goal, and at the same time amuse the locals.
In the village itself, in principle, there is nothing to do. It has its own measured and rather boring life. All visiting tourists visit Sapa for the sake of nature and are not too late in the village. I met only small companies of Europeans who modestly drank beer in a cafe in the evenings.
Positive and negative sides of Sapa
Like any other place, the mountain village in the north of Vietnam has its good and bad features.
- Incredible nature and fresh air
- Interesting black Khmong culture,
- Rest from noisy cities
- The atmosphere of an alpine village.
- Unstable and often cold weather (rain, mud),
- Knocking out money for trekking along the trail, photos with local ones,
- Boring life in the village itself
- It’s rather cold to live in hotels, not without heating equipment.
Of course, cons can be my too personal assessment, and someone will find life in the village quite interesting and inspiring. However, I had a clear impression that there was absolutely nothing to do in Sapa except for viewing its natural attractions.
According to my calculations, 3-4 days are enough to fully get enough of such a journey. Europeans, buying a tour to Sapa, usually cost 1-2 days, but they do not feel the fullness of adventure. In 1-2 days it is difficult to manage and get around all the natural beauty. In general, I highly recommend visiting this place and dispelling the stereotypical views of Vietnam as a warm country with a beach holiday.
The place is located in the north-west of Vietnam, in the province of Lao Cai, almost adjacent to the border with China. The place is considered unique for tourists by its uniqueness and beauty.
Nature differs from other cities in that Sapa is located in a mountainous area. Compared to Dalat, Sapa is more rainy and foggy. Here, the mountainous terrain is replaced by plains and rice fields. Hence the clean fresh air, warm wind, picturesque area.
Sapa's population is made up of ethnic groups. Each has its own traditions, customs, religion. The most famous categories are the Hmongs, Tao, Yao, Vietnamese and others. Everyday clothes are considered folk, for example, bright and colorful dresses.
Sapa city on the map of Vietnam:
Weather and climate
The city has a temperate climate, rains occur in summer and autumn. Winter and spring are quite dry. Summer is cool, precipitation often falls. Officially, the rainy season lasts for three months - from June to September (in fact, the rains in Sapa go year-round, just more during this period).
In winter, the mark on the thermometer can reach minus, and you can also see snow in some places. Sapa is one of the few cities in Vietnam where snow falls and impenetrable fog spreads. Snow-capped mountain ranges are something that everyone should see.
We arrived in the mountains just in one of the most successful months - in April. The fact is that it is recommended to visit Sapa in September or November, in April or in May, when a comfortable temperature is set during the day, and rains are minimized. Nevertheless, it rained every day during our weekly stay. Therefore, you should not expect to visit Sapa and not to catch the rains at all.
A typical April day in Sapa: fog and drizzle
Rains end, and Sapa is transformed
The most famous place in the city is the market where you can buy many unique souvenirs, including homemade ones: wallets, flasks, binoculars, dried mushrooms, roots, healing potions, spices, candied fruits and other nishtyachki.
Hmong wear black or blue clothes, and decorate with needlework patterns, embroideries.
In addition, in Sapa you can climb to the highest point of Indochina - Mount Fansipan (or Fanshipan). Its height is 3140 meters. Located at a distance of 19 km from the city. Read about our mountain climbing here.
The surroundings of the city are a variety of landscapes. Thak Bak Waterfall (the second name is Silver Waterfall) is located 12 kilometers from the city. Its height is one hundred meters. A huge and powerful stream of water creates an indescribable landscape. Clean air, breathtaking view from above. You can go upstairs by stairs, there is also a bridge over the waterfall itself, which offers a magnificent view.
Entertainment in the city
The most famous attraction in the city is trekking. It refers to hiking in the surrounding villages, mountains and fields. Usually, trekking is necessarily taken to accompany local Hmongs so that they show the way and, to the best of their knowledge of English, tell about their life and customs.
As a reward, tourists buy some simple crafts from local guides. The easiest walking route is from Sapa to the village of Kat Kat, which is only 3 km from Sapa. Here there is a long-established and clear path that can be overcome without any difficulties.
The distance from Sapa to the village of Sinchai is only 6 km, but you will have to go along the serpentines, mountains and narrow trails. Near the village is a waterfall. It also offers beautiful views of the mountains. On the way, you can meet locals, find out their lifestyle, customs, buy something as a souvenir or even dine with some family.
Another trip can be carried out from Sapa to Tafin via Mach. And the distance of this campaign will be 10 km. Along the way, you can see villages with the Hmong and Zao tribes. Nearby there are caves, the cost of entry into them is 30-40 thousand dongs. It takes about half an hour by car or a special motorbike from Sapa. For transport, the fare is more expensive - $ 15.
We rented a motorbike and drove a little along the way to the village of Lao Chai to take pictures of Vietnam's famous rice terraces:
Who are the Black Hmong?
As we have already said, the main part of the population of Sapa is Hmong. In appearance they look like our Yakuts. Hmongs are separate national tribes. They are divided into two groups: black and rainbow (or colored) hmongs. Black Hmongs wear only black clothes, and rainbow Hmongs only have colorful clothes. Costumes are decorated with handmade embroideries.
Hmong teach me how to play the harp
Hmong girls are waiting for tour buses to sell more hand-made
Features of the kitchen in Sapa
The kitchen is not particularly stand out - everything is in the style of North Vietnam. As appropriate, the restaurants will offer fo soup for breakfast, rice noodles with beef (bun bo) and fried spring rolls (German) for lunch. Everything is standard.
It is worth noting that in North Vietnam they often make a rare drink - coffee with an egg. It tastes like tiramisu, and the lips after it are slightly sticky, like after fried eggs.
I also noticed a peculiarity - in every region of Vietnam they brew their own beer. Here, too, has its own brand - "Lao Cai".
There is another rare feature. In Sapa, porcupines and horses are eaten, and the future dish is often put in a cage in front of the restaurant.
Visual menu in a restaurant in Sapa
Aira Boutigue Sapa Hotel and Spa
The spa hotel is located in the city, near the central church in Sapa. Here are chic rooms made in an interesting design. For visitors, an outdoor pool, gym, spa and restaurant are provided.
Each room is tastefully decorated in a modern style and is equipped with air conditioning, heating and a personal safe. Some rooms have balconies and terraces. The room can bring food, drinks. Check room prices at Booking.com →
Sapa house hotel
Luxury hotel in the city center. Each room has a balcony, a refrigerator for drinks, a plasma TV with cable TV.
From the windows of the rooms there is a beautiful view of the mountains. The hotel's restaurant serves Vietnamese and Western dishes. There is an excellent restaurant and free Wi-Fi for visitors. The rooms are stylish and spacious. Equipped with everything you need. The front desk staff is very courteous, helpful and friendly. Breakfast is included in the price. Check room prices at Booking.com →
Sapa romance hotel
The hotel is close to the FanShipan cable car. As in all hotels, here are comfortable rooms. The bathroom includes hygiene products, cosmetics, slippers, towels. Plasma TV and free Wi-Fi in every room.
At the hotel you can rent a bicycle or motobike (150 thousand dong per day). Nearby is a lake and a park, which is located on Mount Ham Rong. Check room prices at Booking.com →
Sapa Stunning View Hotel
This is the hotel we stayed at and we really liked it - so we recommend it. Very comfortable, clean, highly rated at Booking. Breakfast is included in the price of the room (as a rule, it is fo, scrambled eggs or pancakes + a hot drink).
A distinctive feature of the hotel was the presence of carpet in the rooms and electric sheets, which saved us very much in the conditions of mountain cold and around-the-clock dampness. Check room prices at Booking.com →
Other hotels in Sapa with the best discounts from Booking: