Sapa – Vietnam is the favorite destination for many travelers. It is one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 ideal destinations in the world, and among one of the top 9 destinations in the UK’s leading travel publisher – Rough Guides. Sapa surprises tourists with its extraordinary landscapes where we can see vast rice terraces; Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range – the endless lush eastern part of the Himalayas; isolated ethnic villages on the peaceful riverbanks.
Hiking tours in Sapa take us to discover the life of the 5 ethnic minorities: the Hmong, Dzao, Tay, Dzay and Xa Pho, most of them still wear their traditional costumes and keep life as their ancestors lived it. The climate in Sapa is mild all year round which will make your trip to Sapa more enjoyable.
- 1 When to visit?
- 2 How to get to Sapa?
- 3 Where to stay in Sapa?
- 3.1 The best hotels in Sapa
- 3.2 Bungalows/lodges outside the city
- 3.3 Sleeping with locals in villages outside Sapa
- 4 Where to eat and drink? Good and cheap restaurants?
- 5 Top 21 things to see and do in Sapa
- 5.1 Admiring the fabulous rice terraces
- 5.2 Discovering the culture of ethnic minorities
- 5.3 Trekking in the Muong Hoa Valley and visit the petroglyphs
- 5.4 Conquer Mount Fansipan
- 5.5 Sapa cableway – Fansipan in 15 minutes
- 5.6 Cat Cat Village Hiking and Hmong Culture Discovery
- 5.7 Hiking in Ta Van Village and discovering Dzay culture
- 5.8 Treking to Ta Phin Village and discovering the culture of the red Dao
- 5.9 Visiting Sin Chai Village
- 5.10 Discovering other villages on motorbikes or with organized tours
- 5.11 Visiting an ethnic market in Bac Ha
- 5.12 Bathing with herbs
- 5.13 Visiting the Sapa Culture Museum for free
- 5.14 Shopping for locally made quality handicrafts
- 5.15 Drinking a glass at Color Bar Sapa
- 5.16 Enjoying a coffee in the clouds at Gem Valley
- 5.17 Walking in the city and visiting the Stone Church of Sapa
- 5.18 Visiting the Silver Fall
- 5.19 Walking and visiting Love Waterfall
- 5.20 Enjoying the panoramic view of Ham Rong Mountain
- 5.21 Visiting The Love Market in Sapa
- 6 Traveling to Sapa without a travel agency? Possible or not?
- 7 List of travel agencies based in Sapa Vietnam
- 8 Move ?
- 9 What to bring on the trip to Sapa?
- 10 Mosquito protection in Sapa
- 11 Budget for Sapa Vietnam?
- 12 Travel tips to Sapa Vietnam?
- 13 Some interesting things to know about Sapa
- 14 Hesitations between Sapa Vietnam and other destinations?
- 15 Combine Sapa Vietnam with other destinations?
When to visit?
The best time to admire the rice terraces in Sapa Vietnam falls between the end of May and the end of September.
At the end of May, the rice fields are filled with irrigation water brought from the top of the mountains through the bamboo canals, and the terraces look like thousands of mirrors that reflects the splendid sunlight, silver during the day and gold at sunset.
Before the harvest time in late September or early October, the rice terraces are covered in gold creating a picturesque landscape. Thus, the landscapes are less impressive in the remaining months.
From the end of January to March, fog and drizzle may prevent your visibility and adds inconvenience to your hiking trip. You can find the travelogue for Sapa at the end of this article.
How to get to Sapa?
From Hanoi to Sapa
Traveling from Hanoi to Lao Cai on highway, most travelers choose the express bus to go to Sapa because it takes only 5 hours.
Some prefer the night train to Sapa because they want to enjoy their whole day in Hanoi before coming to visit Sapa. The ticket price of a soft sleeper berth in an air-conditioned 4-soft-berth cabin on train costs about 26 €.
But you have to pay attenton that trains only take tourists to Lao Cai Station which is a 45-minute drive from Sapa. In front of the station, you will easily find buses or taxis to Sapa.
Motorcycles are prohibited on Hanoi Lao Cai highway. The bike is not a suitable way to go to Sapa because the road is too long and zigzag.
From Sapa to Kunming, to go to China
From Sapa, you can go to the Hekou border post in Lao Cai City and reach China. On the other side of Hekou, you can find trains to Kunming, China.
Sapa to Muang Khua, Laos
From Sapa, you can reach Dien Bien Phu by bus departing at 07:30 and 18:30. At the Dien Bien Phu bus station, there are buses to Muang Khua and Luang Namtha in Laos.
Where to stay in Sapa?
There are hotels for all types of tourists in Sapa, from a $ 5 single room in a hostel to a $ 100 room in a 5-star hotel. In Sapa, you can stay in:
- Hotels in the Sapa Town
- Bungalows or lodges outside the city
- The dwellings of the inhabitants in the villages or outside the city
The best hotels in Sapa
Sapa is very small so the location of the hotels is less important. It is easy to find a good and cheap hotel.
Sapa Dragon Hotel
This is one of the best accommodation options in Sapa because it is a charming boutique hotel. The hotel is in a tranquil street and it takes just 2 minutes walk to the church in downtown Sapa.
The hotel has everything we want: beautiful, spacious and clean rooms with windows, comfortable bedding and welcoming staff. Family suites are also available at some hotels in Sapa.
Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa
The hotel is where you can enjoy fabulous views of Fansipan Mountain. It is a little far from the city center but you can reach the city center in just a 10-minute walk. Rooms are spacious and clean and some have a private balcony or terrace with mountain views. They are all very beautiful and well-decorated.
The hotel facilities feature an outdoor pool, spa and fitness center.
Sapa Elegance Hotel
If you love flowers, this hotel is an ideal place to stay because Hotel Sapa Elegance is surrounded by thousands of flowers. The Sapa Elegance Hotel is located right in the center of Sapa. Almost all rooms have picturesque views of the valley and Fansipan Mountain.
It’d the best value for money. During the summer, sometimes the room rate is only at 25 €.
Hotel Sapa Elite
Sapa Elite is a small hotel close to Elegance Hotel. Its rooms are large and offer beautiful views of the garden and the mountain. Like Elegance Hotel, the hotel is also surrounded by beautiful flowers. Its price is affordable.
Bungalows/lodges outside the city
Eco Palms House
This is one of the best accommodation options outside Sapa for those who do not like the bustle of the city and like to be immersed in the middle of nature.
Eco Palms House consists of 5 bungalows scattered in terraced rice fields in the village of Lao Chai, 6km from the city of Sapa. Every morning, just open the door and you can immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscape: the small palm houses hidden in the beautiful terraced rice fields and high lush green mountains.
Topas Ecolodge undoubtedly offers the most beautiful view of the Fansipan mountain and its surroundings. It consists of 25 bungalows located on a hill in the Muong Hoa Valley, 45km from the city of Sapa. Walking on the stone path to Topas Ecolodge, one has the feeling of walking in the middle of the sky among the clouds.
This isolated place is perfect for those who are seeking peace and nature.
In 2011, Facebook’s CEO – Mark Zuckerberg and his wife chose this resort for their holidays in Sapa.
Nam Cang Riverside Lodge
Nam Cang Riverside Lodge is located in a village of Red Dzao ethnic people which is 40km from Sapa, along the river and the forest. It is also a good option for those who want to stay off-the-beaten-path.
Sleeping with locals in villages outside Sapa
Staying with locals in Sapa may be different from what you imagine. Most homestays host multiple guests at the same time and you can only have a private room or a bed in a dormitory.
In some homestays, you can have dinner with the owner of the house. If you hike for several consecutive days, the homestay is almost obligatory due to the lack of hotels in distant villages. If you like to sleep at a local people’s house in Sapa, they are the best homestays.
Dung Dung Homestay
Dung Dung Homestay is located in the middle of rice terraces in the village of Hau Thao, about 9km from Sapa. From the homestay, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the rice fields. The homestay’s owner is very kind.
Ms May Kieu’s Homestay
Ms May Kieu is a woman of the Red Dzao ethnic group who always wears a red scarf on her head. Her house is located in the village of Ta Phin about 10km from Sapa, where you can walk or travel on motorbike through the rice terraces. Do not forget to bathe with medicinal herbs while staying at the homestay.
His house offers 3 private rooms for tourists. Through the visit, you will have the opportunity to discover the Red Dzao culture and the life of their 4 generations under the same roof.
Where to eat and drink? Good and cheap restaurants?
There is a wide range of choices of restaurants, cafes or bars in Sapa. If you stay in the homestays / bungalows outside the city, you can either have dinner on-site, or take a taxi to the city center.
Red Dzao Restaurant
Red Dzao Sapa Restaurant serves authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a nice wooden house. The staff here is friendly and the price is not expensive, about only $ 10 per person for a meal.
Address: 4B Thac Bac Street, Sapa
Baguettes & Chocolate
This is the place where you can find cakes, baguettes and pies…etc for brunch or sandwiches for lunch during your hike. Most of its employees are students from Hoa Sua School for underprivileged youth and are undergoing training in hospitality and catering.
Address: Thac Bac Street, Sapa
Fansipan Terrace Cafe and Homestay
The café is located on a terrace field with picturesque views of Fansipan Mountain. You can also enjoy cakes and fruits.
Address: 67 Fansipan Street, Sapa
Some Sapa’s specialties
While coming to Sapa, you can taste some famous specialties such as: the salmon grown at the foot of the mountain Fansipan; wild boar pork and wild chicken meat of ethnic minorities; grilled eggs and vegetables in downtown Sapa at night.
Top 21 things to see and do in Sapa
Admiring the fabulous rice terraces
According to the Travel and Leisure – the America magazine, Sapa has the most magnificent rice terraces in the world. This is also the main reason travelers come to Sapa.
Discovering the culture of ethnic minorities
There are 5 ethnic minorities in Sapa, each of which has their own unique cultures.
The Hmong occupíe most of the population of Sapa. They also live in southern China, and some other countries in Southeast Asia. The Hmong in Sapa always wear their traditional indigo blue suit. Most Hmong men stay at home to feed pigs and keep their children. Hmong women work in rice fields or sell handmade bags and tablecloths to tourists coming to town.
The Red Dzao women shave their eyebrows and always wear a red scarf over their heads. They always wear embroidered trousers with lively colors. Red Dzaos do not use drugs and medications to treat diseases but rather medicinal plants picked in the forest.
The Tay, Dzay, Xa Pho ethnic groups can be distinguished in their traditional clothing.
Some of the ethnic minorities in Sapa Vietnam can speak English. This makes the exchanges with them easier.
Trekking in the Muong Hoa Valley and visit the petroglyphs
The Muong Hoa Valley is located 10km from Sapa, between two mountain ranges. It is the most famous destinations for impressive rice terraces of Sapa.
At the end of September, several professional and amateur photographers come to Muong Hoa to take pictures before the rice harvest.
In 1923, petroglyphs were discovered in Muong Hoa Valley, Sapa. The perimeter of petroglyphs covers an area of 8km2 and includes 200 blocks of different sizes with diverse patterns whose meaning is still not very clear.
Conquer Mount Fansipan
Mount Fansipan is the roof of Indochina, which rises 3143 meters above the sea. The fauna and flora are diverse. Trekking to Mount Fansipan takes 2-3 days and needs a trail guide. During the winter, between December and March, the trekking sometimes might be canceled because of the snow.
Sapa cableway – Fansipan in 15 minutes
You can also reach Mount Fansipan by cable car. According to Guinness World Record, Sapa – Fansipan is the longest cable car (6,292.5 m) and has the highest vertical drop in the world (1,410 m). It reaches Mount Fansipan in 15 minutes.
Return ticket: $ 15 per person.
Cat Cat Village Hiking and Hmong Culture Discovery
Cat Cat is a village of Hmong ethnic people nestled in a beautiful valley which is 3km from Sapa. The Hmong people build their homes and live on the slopes of the mountains. The hike to Cat Cat Village is easy with a simple map and lasts about an hour and a half. Most of the road is concrete and suitable for trekking enthusiasts.
Entry ticket: 40 000 VND
Hiking in Ta Van Village and discovering Dzay culture
Ta Van is a small village of the Dzay ethnic group, one of the 6 ethnic groups in Sapa. This is one of the places where you can find the most fabulous rice terraces. Most homestays in Sapa are concentrated in this village. The village is located 9km from the city of Sapa. Several travel agencies offer trekking in Lao Chai and Ta Van villages for half a day.
Entry ticket: 40 000VND
Treking to Ta Phin Village and discovering the culture of the red Dao
Ta Phin Village is a village of the Red Dzao ethnic group, which is about 12km from Sapa. From Sapa you can hike through spectacular rice terraces, rivers, Hmong villages and reach Ta Phin village during the day. There are some homestays in Ta Phin, like Ms May Kieu’s Homestay.
Visiting ticket: 20 000 VND
Visiting Sin Chai Village
Sin Chai is a Hmong village that is less touristic than others. The Sin Chai Village tours can be combined with the Cat Cat village tours.
Discovering other villages on motorbikes or with organized tours
There are many other ethnic villages around Sapa, you can rent a motorcycle in the city and visit villages that are on the roadsides, with a map. To go off the beaten path, you need the services of a local travel agency.
Visiting an ethnic market in Bac Ha
This is something not to miss during your trip to Sapa because it’s not only a trading but also the meeting place for a large number of ethnic minorities to demonstrate their traditional costumes.
Just a 3-hour drive from Sapa, Bac Ha is a small market town with several ethnic markets, such as Bac Ha Market on Sunday, Can Cau Market on Saturday, Coc Ly Market on Tuesday, Cao Son Market on Wednesday, Lung Khau Nhin Market on Thursday.
Bathing with herbs
Red Dzaos are specialists in using medicinal plants. You can have a bath in a barrel filled with medicinal plants in homestays or in the “Red Dzao Spa” in Ta Phin Village which is 25-minute drive by taxi from Sapa. According to Red Dzao women, a bath should only last 15-20 minutes maximum. Otherwise, it may make your discomfort. The price for a herbal bath is only $5.
Visiting the Sapa Culture Museum for free
The Sapa Culture Museum is located at No. 2 Fansipan Street and opens from 09.30 until 17.00 daily with free entrance. The 200 exhibits in the museum were created to tell the history, the daily life and culture of the ethnic minorities that coexist in Sapa.
Shopping for locally made quality handicrafts
Indigo Cat Sapa which is run by a Hmong woman is the best place to buy quality handicrafts in Sapa.
Address: Indigo Cat Sapa: 46 Fansipan Street
Drinking a glass at Color Bar Sapa
It is an original bar held by a Vietnamese artist. Here, you can enjoy good cocktails and meet artists in a pleasant setting.
Address: 56 Fansipan Street, Sapa Vietnam
Enjoying a coffee in the clouds at Gem Valley
Gem Valley is a café and also a “homestay” of an artist who left Hanoi to settle in Sapa. Some said Gem Valley had the best view of the rice terraces in Sapa. It is located at the entrance to Cat Cat Village. The price is affordable.
Walking in the city and visiting the Stone Church of Sapa
The city of Sapa is very small. Only with a map taken in the hotels, it is easy to discover the city on foot. You can visit the Sapa market, the lake, the stadium, the square and the stone church which is in the heart of Sapa. The church was built in 1935 and is the vestige of the French colonial era.
Visiting the Silver Fall
It is located outside Sapa, at the edge of the Highway 4D. Some tourists go on trekking to the Silver Waterfall then return to Sapa by car.
Walking and visiting Love Waterfall
Love Waterfall is located 14km from the center of Sapa, behind the Silver Fall. The waterfall is in Hoang Lien National Park and to reach it you have to walk for about 20 minutes through a bamboo forest. The waterfall is not impressive but also desirable to visit if you have several days in Sapa.
Enjoying the panoramic view of Ham Rong Mountain
Ham Rong Mountain is just 500m from the Stone Church of Sapa. The visit to the mountain and orchid garden is quite interesting. From the mountain, we can enjoy a panoramic view of Sapa and its surroundings.
Visiting The Love Market in Sapa
The Love Market in Sapa was on Sunday morning, but lovers could meet each other since Saturday night. But unfortunately, this market has disappeared.
Traveling to Sapa without a travel agency? Possible or not?
It’s easy to travel to Sapa without a travel agency. With the map given by the hotels, we can ourselves visit the villages of Hmong like Cat Cat, the villages of Dzay like Ta Van … With a motorcycle, we can even go further, in the Tay villages in Ban Ho, Ta Phin of Red Dzao…
You can also hire a Hmong or Dzao woman who will accompany you to her village or to a village you want to visit. The cost is about $ 30 for half a day, including lunch.
Getting a local travel agency with you on your trip will certainly allow you to experience local culture and life more deeply.
List of travel agencies based in Sapa Vietnam
Ethos Sapa: Highly recommend for you. Ethos Sapa is a tour company which recruits and trains local ethnic minorities to become their tour guides. The agency creates exceptional tours and off-the-beaten-path experience; for example, the discovery of the life of Lao Lu ethnic groups in Lai Chau.
Vietnam Nomad Trails: This agency offers both private trekking tours and non-private trekking tours for solo travelers.
Sapa O’Chau, Sapa Sisters: These are also excellent travel agencies in Sapa Vietnam.
The city of Sapa is very small and it is easy to travel on foot. You can also rent a mountain bike, a motorbike or a jeep at most hotels and shops in Sapa. The motorcycle taxi is also convenient to go to villages but you have to negotiate the price before getting on the bike.
What to bring on the trip to Sapa?
Bring as little as possible but everything you need. Traveling lightly means you can avoid a lot of hassle, so do not bring things that you will not use.
Thanks to its particular geographical condition, Sapa is one of the places where the climate is the most favorable in Vietnam. The temperature is cool all year round, but in the winter you can see severe changes with frost and even snow (especially between mid-December and mid-January).
The weather in Sapa Vietnam is characterized by the subtropical climate. However, due to the high latitude, the weather in Sapa is fresh all year round. In summer, Sapa is not as hot as the coastal plains. The temperature in summer varies from 10 to 18 degree C during the night and 20-32 degrees C during the day. When the sun is shining, it may be difficult and even during cloudy days, so you’d better bring along sunscreen. Rain and fog are also possible to happen all year round.
In winter, the city of Sapa is covered by fog and the air is often cold. The temperature can drop below zero degree Celsius.
Baggage and bags: Most hotels in Sapa have a temporary room for hikers to rest on arrival or departure from / to Hanoi. Most hikers leave their main luggage in the room and take a light backpack for their hiking. A backpack for the day of hiking is a good idea, it can be bought in Sapa if you need it.
Clothing / Shoes / Waxed: bring clothing according to the weather at the spot. Keep your change of clothes in a waterproof bag to keep them dry if there is a sudden downpour. The climate in Sapa is totally contrary to the rest of Vietnam. Essential items for hiking are: warm clothes, thin clothes (it’s cold in the morning but the weather can get quite hot during the day when walking). A pair of hiking shoes is essential. From January to March, it can be quite cold, foggy and rainy. A fleece and a raincoat / poncho are recommended. These items are also available in Sapa at a good price.
Photo equipment: do not forget to bring your camera.
Recommended travel inventory for Sapa Vietnam
- Long sleeve shirt
- Pants (like cargo-style lightweight pants, avoid jeans)
- Shorts: optional
- Swimwear: Optional
- Lightweight pants and jacket, waterproof and windproof
- Walking shoes
- Sun hat
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Travel towel
- Insect repellent (recommended)
- Sun protection
- Travel insurance
- Earplugs and eye mask: optional.
Mosquito protection in Sapa
There are mosquitoes everywhere in Vietnam, especially in the North and in the Mekong Delta. Never forget to take a skin repellent.
You must wear clothes covering the maximum body surface, especially after sunset and in the secluded parts.
The use of skin repellents is highly recommended and does not use DEET mosquito repellent for children under 12 years old.
Sleeping under a mosquito net is considered the best mosquito protection by the World Health Organization. The mosquito net is available in all homestays in Sapa.
Budget for Sapa Vietnam?
A trip to Sapa is cheap. You can easily find a $ 5 bed in a hostel and a $ 1-2 meal in the Sapa Market. You can also stay in a luxury hotel, for example Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa, which has a room costing about € 100 per night. Accommodation in Sapa can meet anyone’s need.
For a backpacking trip, plan a budget starting at $ 30 per day: a bed in a hostel + meals + motorcycle rental.
A day tour costs from 30 to 65 € per person, depending on the quality and number of participants.
Travel tips to Sapa Vietnam?
Always ask permission if you want to take pictures in Sapa. Sapa is one of the few places in Vietnam where we have to do it.
Bring a raincoat or buy one at the spot, in case of a sudden rain.
If you want to save money, you can rent someone from ethnic minorities. He / she speaks quite good English. It is necessary to pay 10-20 € per day, according to the number of participants and the duration of the hike.
Sapa is a good destination for a family trip because children can learn a lot about local ethnic culture. The hike in Lao Chai – Ta Van villages is well suited to children because it does not last long and the scenery is amazing.
During the winter: between mid-December and March, if you want a trekking tour in Sapa, you should start a bit late, at around 9am to avoid the thick fog.
Some interesting things to know about Sapa
The ethnic minorities in Sapa speak English better than Vietnamese in other parts of thr country.
The population of Sapa is about 38,000 people, 20 times less than the number of travelers who come to Sapa.
Sapa Vietnam has the most magnificent rice terraces in the world, according to the American magazine Travel and Leisure.
Sapa is the kingdom of flowers, vegetables and fruits. You can see flowers everywhere, and vegetables and fruits are very varied.
Sapa is one of the very few places in Vietnam where you can see frost and snow.
The walk in the city of Sapa in the evening and taste grilled chestnuts is very pleasant.
Hesitations between Sapa Vietnam and other destinations?
Compare Sapa to Mai Chau
Sapa is without a doubt more magnificent than Mai Chau but she is also further away. If you want to go on a 2 day and 1 night excursion, Mai Chau is the best choice. But if you have more time, do not hesitate to choose Sapa.
Compare Sapa to Ha Giang
Choosing between Sapa and Ha Giang is really a difficult decision. Sapa is more easily accessible, so more touristy. Once in Sapa, it is easy to hike on your own or use a number of on-site travel agencies. Ha Giang is not really suitable for families, but it is ideal for adventurers who can drive the bike. As for the landscapes, these two destinations have rice terraces and are home to a large number of ethnic minorities. So, you choose.
Compare Sapa to Mu Cang Chai
Mu Cang Chai is a good alternative to Sapa, which is touristy. Spectacular rice terraces can also be found in Mu Cang Chai and villages of Hmong and Red Dao ethnic groups. But the number of ethnic minorities in Mu Cang Chai is small and in addition, there is not much choice for accommodation and food.
Other alternatives to Sapa Vietnam
If you do not want to visit Sapa, which is beautiful but touristy, you can see other places that are also good for hiking and meeting with ethnic minorities.
Combine Sapa Vietnam with other destinations?
Traveling to Sapa Vietnam and Bac Ha
Most travelers combine the trip to Sapa with the one in Bac Ha, a town which is a 3-hour drive from Sapa. The combined trip Sapa – Bac Ha normally requires at least 3 days.
Traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by RC32 via Nghia Lo, Tu Le and Mu Cang Chai
Many people fell in love with the North West Vietnam region after such a trip. The landscapes are varied and beautiful, and we have the opportunity to meet several ethnic minorities. A combined Mu Cang Chai Sapa trip requires 4 days at least.
Traveling to Sapa and Bac Ha, Ha Giang, Bao Lake, Ba Be Lake, Cao Bang …
After Sapa, one can easily continue to travel to Bac Ha, then Ha Giang, Bao Lac, Ba Be Lake and Ban Gioc Waterfall, without going through Hanoi.
Anyway, Sapa is an extraordinary region of Vietnam and to discover absolutely during your trip. On the other hand, to ensure you have exceptional experiences and not be disappointed by mass tourism, I urge you to watch the excursions of Ethos Sapa, which cost only $ 45 per person per day. I did not receive any money from this agency to write that.
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