Everything's Travel Guide to Sapa, Vietnam

Beautiful Sapa is located in the northern mountains of Vietnam and is made up of a main town in the Muong Hoa Valley. Surrounding Sapa proper you will find a selection of local villages which are the home of some of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam. This means that this part of the country has a distinct and unique culture which makes a visit here not to be missed if you are in the region. On the outskirts of the town you will find jade hued rice paddies that are cut into the craggy mountain sides and the air is cooler as the mountains covered in a delicate mist. If you like trekking then this is definitely the place to come as the rugged scenery and mountain air makes this the perfect place to get outside and explore.

  Tuesday, 18/02/2020, 13:26

Sapa is a small, mountain town in Lao Cai Province. It is located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border. Here's where you'll find the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains, which includes Fan Si Pan—the country's highest peak.

This quiet Vietnamese town is home to different ethnic tribal groups. There are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. It is said that Sapa was first occupied by the first four groups, since the Vietnamese from the lowlands (better known as the Kinh) did not colonise the highest valleys.

These days, Sapa welcomes a diverse range of visitors, attracted by the highland tribes, iconic rice paddies and forest treks. The whole area is blessed with awe-inspiring natural beauty. 

‎681,37 km²
Population:  81.857 people (2019)
Province: Lao Cai


Beautiful Sapa is located in the northern mountains of Vietnam and is made up of a main town in the Muong Hoa Valley. Surrounding Sapa proper you will find a selection of local villages which are the home of some of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam. This means that this part of the country has a distinct and unique culture which makes a visit here not to be missed if you are in the region. On the outskirts of the town you will find jade hued rice paddies that are cut into the craggy mountain sides and the air is cooler as the mountains covered in a delicate mist. If you like trekking then this is definitely the place to come as the rugged scenery and mountain air makes this the perfect place to get outside and explore.

How to get to Sapa 

Sapa does not have the airport and beach, so it is accessible by road only. From Hanoi, you can get Sapa easily by train, bus, private car and motorbike.

By train:

Traveling Sapa by train takes about 8 - 9 hours but the train stops at Lao Cai station only, far about 40km from Sapa town. So you have to take a taxi or motorcycle taxi to get the town. If you booked hotel in Sapa already, you can asked your hotels about their transportation.

The trains to Sapa have many types: hard seats, soft seats, sleepers with AC; fast trains, slow trains and additional trains for holidays. It starts normally at 9 or 10 pm and accesses Sapa at 5 or 6 am the next day.

Fast trains: SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SP5, SP6, SP7, SP8.
Slow trains: C1, LC2, LC3, LC4.
Additional trains for holidays: LC5, LC6, LC7, LC8, LC9, LC10
(Note: The odd number trains depart from Hanoi to Lao Cai while The even number trains depart from Lao Cai to Hanoi)

Reference train tickets:

Hard seat: 150,000 VND/way/person
Soft seat: 280,000 VND/way/person
​Sleepers with AC:

Cabin for 6 people: 480,000 VND/way/person
Cabin for 4 people: 560,000 VND/way/person
Luxury cabin (2 people): 3,200,000 VND/way/cabin                   
Price for children:

0-5 years old: free
5-9 years old: 50% Adult ticket (for seat ticket only); 100% ticket price if using a private sleeper.
>9 years old: 100% ticket price
Hanoi Railway Station: 120 Le Duan Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Tel: (84).43.9423697.

Lao Cai Railway Station: Yen  Khanh Street, Pho Moi Ward, Lao Cai town, Tel: (84)20 3830093

Warning: Tourists sometimes meet some trouble when buying train tickets so we would like to give you some travel tips below:

Sapa is a hot tourist attraction that is much crowed in high season as well as in the weekend. It’s hard to buy a comfortable seat on train because tour companies and travel agencies often keep the better seats to sell to their own customers. If you visit Sapa in the high season, especially at the weekend or on Vietnam’s holiday, you should book the train tickets as soon as possible (before 6 months). If not, you should book tickets with travel agents to get the better seats although the price is often more expensive than you book directly by yourselves about 5-10%.

Best trains to Sapa: All trains offer soft sleepers with air-conditioner: Fansipan www.fanxipantrain.com/ , Sapaly www.sapalytrain.com/ , Livitran www.livitrans.com/ , King express www.kingexpresstrain.vn/en/ , Tulico, Chapa Express www.chapaexpresstrain.com.vn/ , Victoria express www.victoriahotels.asia/vi/victoria-express-train

By sleeper bus or express bus:

If you want to avoid the noise and don’t want to be transferred too much, bus is a perfect way to get Sapa. Most buses transfer from Hanoi – Sapa via the new Hanoi – Lao Cai highway opened in the late of 2014 – a large and beautiful highway. This way saves a lot of time for transferring and reduces the jerkiness compared to the past.

Sleeper buses pick you in Hanoi Old Quarter area (Opera House) with the price of 250,000 – 350,000 VND/ticket (12 -17 USD). They will bring you directly to Sapa town in 6 – 7 hours. The buses often start at 7.00 am from Hanoi and 4:00 pm from Sapa.

Hanoi - Sapa Express Bus also departs daily at 7:00am from Hanoi and 4:00 – 6:00 pm from Sapa via the Hanoi - Lao Cai highway. It takes about 6 hours depending on traffic and weather situation. The price of a ticket is 250,000 VND.

By private car:

Although traveling Sapa by a private car is more expensive, you will be much more comfortable than traveling by buses. Your time is very flexible as you can start to go and stop whenever and wherever you want. Because all best attractions of Sapa are often far from each other, you cannot visit these places by walking only. After getting Sapa, you have to rent a motorbike or car to visit each destination. If you rented a private car from Hanoi already, you can easily use this car to visit each attraction. You can save a little bit money by this way. Especially, if you travel Sapa with kids or if you cannot use motorbike, traveling Sapa by private cars is a perfect choice. Contact us at info@holidaytoindochina.com if you need a private car to get Sapa.

By motorbike:

Travel Sapa by motorbikes is chosen by those who are young and love adventure travel only because this way actually has more risks while the distance from Hanoi – Sapa is very far (350km). If you want to visit Sapa by motorcycle, you should have a local guide and prepare carefully. It takes a long time to get Sapa by motorbikes, about 10 hours, so please sure that you have enough heath, skills, and experiences to transfer by this way. Don’t forget to wear a helmet.

Best time to visit Sapa

When is the best time to visit Sapa or Which months are the best for traveling Sapa is one of the most popular questions before anyone plans a trip to Sapa. To answer this question, Holidaytoindochina will give you some specific and useful information about the weather of Sapa below:

As stated above, Sapa is often colder than other places of Vietnam. The temperature remains stably cool throughout the year even in summer. Sapa has fully the characteristic of tropical climate with 4 seasons: spring (Feb – Apr), Summer (May – July), Autumn (Aug - Oct), and Winter (November – Jan).

February – April: Spring is wet, humid and cool. However, Spring is also a season of flowers and festivals in Sapa. Come to Sapa this time, you will see a lot of brilliant colors of flowers, ethnic clothes, ethnic festivals, etc. If you love the chilly weather, taking photos and want to explore the unique culture of Vietnam ethnic groups, you can visit Sapa this time.

May – July: Summer in Sapa is the hottest time in Sapa but not too hot as summer in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Hoi An, etc. The average temperature is 13-15 degree at night and 20-25 degree at noon. Someone feels that, in summer, one day in Sapa has 4 seasons: spring at the morning, summer at noon, autumn at the late afternoon and winter at night. Summer is also a season of rice planting season when you can see the beautiful green terrace fields. It’s also a season of many sweet fruits and a good time for trekking and hiking. If you don’t care about the heat, Summer is a good time to visit Sapa.

August – October: Autumn is considered as the best time to visit Sapa because it’s time for rice harvest in terrace fields. The harvest in Sapa begins exactly at the last September and early October. At this time, the weather is relatively stable with blue and clear sky, cool wind and dry trekking roads. If you are lucky to get Sapa this time, you will have an opportunity to watch the change color of rice terraces from green to yellow color. You can sometimes see the smoke of burned straw by the local people at the late afternoon – a sad but romantic and beautiful view.

November – January: Sapa is not only a place that is famous for beautiful terraces but also one of the rare places having snow in Vietnam. In winter, Sapa is very cold, especially at night with the temperature of 10 degree, sometimes dropped off 0 degree. This is also one of the main reasons attracting tourists to Sapa more and more in winter. Winter is also a season of night street food in Sapa. If you will have a chance to enjoy top street food in Sapa such as Cap Nach pork, Thang Co, salmon hot pot, grilled corn and sweet potato, seven colors sticky rice. There is nothing more wonderful than that you are walking around Sapa night market in a cold weather with a hot grilled corn.

In conclusion, you can visit Sapa anytime you want because Sapa has its own beauty in each season. However, you should not visit Sapa in rain months because the trekking road will be very dirty and hard to go, and the scenery is worse than normal. Therefore, April, May, September and October are the best months to visit Sapa.

Things to see and do in Sapa

1.Get out into the local villages

Sapa Homestay

Sapa is basically a collection of small local villages which are dotted around the mountains.

This means that this is the place to come if you want to get out of the cities of Vietnam and experience something a little more rural.

You can stay in the local villages in a guesthouse with a local family and this will also give you a glimpse of how people have lived here for centuries.

The homestay programs here are not for everyone but for many who have tried them they are the highlight of a trip to Vietnam.

2. Visit Sapa Museum

Sapa Museum

Sapa doesn’t have too many ‘attractions’ in the main town but one of the few it does have is the Sapa Museum.

As such, this is the main (and only) place to come if your want to find a showcase of the history and culture of the region which stretches back to the French colonial period.

You can also explore galleries which are dedicated to the various ethnic minorities that live in this part of Vietnam and this is a great place to find out all about this unique section of the country.

3. Buy some local handicrafts

Sapa Handicrafts, Red Dzao Women, Sapa

Sapa is known for its villages which are made up of local families who are also ethnic minorities in Vietnam.

These families include the Dao, the Yay, the H’mong and the Phu La and each of these ethnic groups is known for making amazing local handicrafts.

When you travel to the villages you can see how these are made and also pick up some traditional weavings or carvings which make great gifts and souvenirs.

4. Go hiking

Sapa Hiking

Sapa started out life as a scenic hill station during the colonial period and many people came here in the days of old to escape the heat and to enjoy the scenery.

The cool climate here also means that this is one of the best places to go hiking in Vietnam and much of Sapa is covered in lush green hills.

As well as the rolling mountains, you will also find gorgeous glittering waterfalls and stunning valleys which are dotted with craggy caves.

You can take a guided hiking tour of the best spots around Sapa or you can go it alone if you fancy an adventure.

5. Have a drink at Cafe in the Clouds

Cafe In The Clouds

One of the great highlights of a trip to Sapa is the chance to take in the lush views and there is no better way to do this than by having a drink in one of the mountain bars.

One of the most famous is Cafe in the Clouds and as the name suggests you can spend time here enjoying the mist creeping across the eerie landscape and marvel at the vistas over the emerald green valley below.

You can get a range of drinks here as well as basic local and international dishes and this cafe also has Wi-Fi if you need to get online.

6. Join a H’mong Sewing Class

The H’mong indigenous group in Sapa is known for its sewing and weaving.

If you want to have a go at this firsthand, then you can visit Indigo Cat which is one of the most famous craft stores in town.

Here you can take a class where you can learn how to sew your own handicrafts and you will be taught by members of the local H’mong community.

If you prefer then you can simply visit the shop to buy some of the souvenirs on display which include beautiful textiles as well as other delights like local teas and spices.

7. Hike Fan Si Pan

Fan Si Pan

Fan Si Pan has the claim to fame of being the highest mountain in Indochina and is located at some 3,143 meters above sea level.

The mountain is around 9 kilometers outside the center of Sapa and it can take a full week to get to the summit.

If you are feeling fit however and if you have the time, then this is an experience of a lifetime and you will be able to take in gorgeous views over Hoang Lien Son.

If you prefer, then you can also do some shorter treks which will take you part way up the mountain.

One of the highlights of trekking around Fan Si Pan is the chance to check out the local flora and fauna such as cute monkeys and antelopes.

8. Dine at Hill Station Signature Restaurant

Hill Station Signature Restaurant

As Sapa used to be a famous hill station during the colonial period, it seems only appropriate to dine at Hill Station Signature Restaurant which specializes in delicious H’Mong cuisine.

This is also an eatery with a view and you can enjoy vistas across the valley as you try dishes like pork with lime as well as trout wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in ash.

Another reason to come here is to try the local corn and rice wine.

9. Visit Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

The charmingly named Cat Cat Village is one of the oldest villages in the Sapa region and it is also known for being the home of the H’mong ethnic group.

The village is famous for its traditional industries such as flax and cotton production and there is a strong tradition of weaving here.

When travelers visit, they can learn all about these traditional techniques as well as spend time studying the H’mong culture.

10. Check out the barbecue restaurants

Sapa Barbecue

Vietnam is known for its delicious barbecued meats and these can be a welcome treat in the cold climes of Sapa.

If you want to find a high concentration of barbecue stalls in Sapa then you need to head to D Phan Si where you will find a number of simple joints set up along the road.

These stalls barbecue a range of meats including chicken, pork and beef over hot coals and these are served with vegetables and sometimes rice wraps so that you can roll everything together to make a toothsome kind of spring roll.

11. Walk to Silver Waterfalls

Silver Waterfalls

Sapa is famous for its waterfalls and one of these is Silver Waterfalls.

This is a collection of gushing cataracts that tower to a height of some 200 meters.

Located just up the path from Silver Waterfalls is the beautifully named Love Waterfall which is a place that is steeped in local legend.

Locals will tell you that fairies used to bathe in the waters here and although it is a long trek to both waterfalls it is more than worth it for the pretty scenery.

12. Explore Fairy Cave

Another key attraction is Sapa is Fairy Cave which is located a little way upstream from the Chay River.

The cave looks like something out of a fairy tale, as the name suggests, and the scenery here is reminiscent of Halong Bay.

The cave is said to be sacred in Vietnam and the mountain here is also cut through with babbling streams which make the perfect place to go for a swim at the end of a long trek.

13. Enjoy the pastries at Baguette and Chocolate

Baguette And Chocolate Sapa

In Vietnam, as a result of the influence of the French colonial period, you are never far from somewhere that sells baguettes and pastries.

In Sapa, this comes in the form of Baguette and Chocolate which is housed in a former colonial villa.

They serve a good breakfast or you can also come here for a crusty baguette sandwich or a slice of tart.

One of the best things about Baguette and Chocolate is that is employs disadvantaged youth from Sapa and trains them how to cook.

14. Go boating on Sapa Lake

Sapa Lake

Sapa Lake is one of the main attractions in town and is just a 5 minute walk away from the main church.

The lake allows you to take in the beauty of Sapa from the water and this is a popular place to come for local families at the weekends.

One of the great highlights of the lake is that you can rent a peal boat for an hour and shoot all over the glassy surface of the water and enjoy the sights.

15. Visit Tram Ton Pass

Tram Ton Pass

If you want to see more of the scenery in Sapa then you need to head for the Sapa and Lai Chau road which then turns into the Tram Ton Pass.

The pass stands at an elevation of some 1900 meters which makes it the highest pass in all of Vietnam.

You will find a number of lookout points here which have amazing views over the surrounding area and you can also combine a trip here with the nearby Silver Waterfall.

16. Shop at Sapa Market

Sapa Market

If you want to enjoy a traditional shopping experience in Sapa, then head for Sapa Market which is also conveniently located close to the local bus station.

Here you will find a range of colorful local produce as well as a fresh meat section which is certainly not for the faint of heart.

You will also find some handicrafts here sold by the hill-tribes people that live in the villages around Sapa.

17. Watch the Ta Phin Commune Church Singing

Ta Phin Village

If you happen to be in Sapa during the first few weeks of spring then you can travel to Ta Phin Village where you can watch the annual church singing.

This is actually a traditional wedding tradition and you will get to watch brides and grooms parading through the village while locals sing and dance around them.

The colorful outfits worn by the young lovers are worth the trip itself and visitors are welcome to watch the festivities as long as you are respectful of the proceedings at the same time.

18. Check out Muong Hoa Valley

Muong Hoa Valley

The Muong Hoa Valley is one of the jewels in the crown of Sapa and you will find the Hoa Stream cleaving through the valley and running through to villages like Han Thao and Tan Van.

You can take a tour from Sapa that will lead you through the amazing valley and there are even paintings on stones here that are said to date back some 3,000 years.

If you walk down to the bottom of the valley then you can also enjoy some river hiking along the Hoa Stream.

19. Drink some wine in Ban Pho Village

Ban Pho Village

One of the best villages to visit around Sapa is undoubtedly the Ban Pho Village which is the home of the Mongolian Bac Ha tribe.

The village is also known for its wine making industry and when you come here you can learn how the villagers have been making corn wine here for centuries and even sample some of this signature tipple yourself.

You can also easily visit Ban Pho as part of a day trip from Sapa and as with all the villages in the region it also has spectacular views over the rice fields.

20. Admire Sapa Church

Sapa Church

Sapa doesn’t have a huge range of monuments, but one of the most recognizable buildings in town is Sapa Church which dates back to the French colonial period.

The church is closed throughout the week and only opens for Mass every Sunday, but you can check out the exterior which is very pretty or venture inside if you happen to be here at the weekend.

21. Tour the rice fields

Rice Field near Sapa

The main reason why many people come to Sapa is to visit the rice fields, and even if you decide not to stay overnight in a homestay with a local family, a trip out into the countryside is not to be missed.

You can book a guided tour from Sapa which will take you out onto the famous stepped rice terraces and you can admire the views and also learn now the locals till the fields and harvest the rice.

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