Sa Pa is a small town in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of Northwestern Vietnam. A popular trekking base, it overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, and is near the 3,143m-tall Phang Xi Pang peak, which is climbable via a steep, multiday guided walk.
Sa Pa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). Other great mountains like Aurora & J, where Sa Pa sees the first rays of sun, make up a very steep valley.
There’s two ways to get to Sapa- by over night train or bus.
The best way to get to Sapa is using sleeper buses. You can book through your hotel from Hanoi to Sapa station or go directly to the Tran Quang Khai Bus Station. It’s quite near to the Old Quater and you can walk from there to the Station.
At the Tran Quang Khai Station The earlies Hanoi -Sapa Buses will departure at 06:00 am, and the latest departure at 22:00 at night. The average ticket price Hanoi – Sapa is 220,000 VND / ticket. The cheapest bus ticket (car) sapa is 180,000 VND / ticket, car fare (car) sapa highest is 400,000 VND / ticket.
There are 5-7 bus companies departing from either end everyday, with travel times between 5 and 6 hours. Most buses offer comfortable reclining seat, and bus fares are generally less expensive than train tickets. You can find below the most recommended bus companies:
Hung Thanh Buses:
Queen Cafe Bus: 208 Tran Quang Khai Street, Hanoi.
The train from Hanoi to Lao Cai station takes around 8 hours. After arriving into Lao Cai station, you’ll need to hire a shuttle bus or taxi to Sapa town. All trains to Lao Cai can be boarded from Tran Quy Cap station in Hanoi
Vietnam Railways trains – SP1, SP3, SP7, LC3
Note: Sapa is a popular tourist attraction, so many ticket agents and travel companies will buy most of the good seats, especially at the weekend and peak season, if you buy tickets at the station, then you can get only a hard seat. To get a good seat, you can book through the travel agency (train ticket agents and travel agents), usually service fee would be 8 to 10% of the normal rate.
Thanks to its geographic condition, Sapa has one of the most favorable climates in Vietnam. The temperature remains stably cool throughout the year though winter may see more severe changes, with frost and even snow (mostly from mid-December to mid-January).
Humidity is relatively high all year round, between 83-87% and temperature ranges within 15-30 Celcius degree. If you include Sapa in your itinerary, make sure to bring some warm clothes since it can get quite cold at night
From June to August, it is summer time in Vietnam and Sapa is a super hot weekend getaway destination for domestic travelers, which may hamper the authentic and original experience of the town.
In contrast, March-May and September- December are the two recommended periods for international visitors to visit Sapa if you want a more laid-back natural and rejuvenating holiday.
May & September is the harvesting season in Sapa so get your camera charged in full or else you will regret every single step you walk.
I would suggest to spend 2 nights in Sapa itself at least then you will also need another 2 nights travel on the train to get to/back from Sapa. It means it takes you around 4N3D for this trip (2 nights on the train)
1. Ham Rong (Dragon Mouth) Moutain – Enjoy panoramic view of Sapa.
Standing on the top of Ham Rong Mountain, you can enjoy panoramic view of Sapa, Muong Hoa valley and Ta Phin hiding in the mist. To Ham Rong, visitors like to lost in the heaven where clouds embraced all your body and a wide range of flowers are on the ground.
2. Ride a bike to Muong Hoa Valley
Muong Hoa Valley is a stunningly beautiful stretch of land lying at the bottom of Fansipan’snorthern flank. There are many green paddy fields stretching to the horizon and dotted with different minority group’s villages.
3. Breathtaking with Terraced rice fields – one of the world’s most beautiful terraced field
If you already make a trip to Muong Hoa Valley, you cannot miss the chance to experience the beauty of terraced rice fields voted as one of seven most beautiful and impressive ones of Asia and the world by readers of the UC’s magazine Travel and Leisure.
The slopes claimed from nature for cultivation in hilly or mountainous areas create the spectacular terraced rice fields. Local ethnic people here often grow rice and establish next terrace rice fields, one after another, from the foot to nearly top mountains. Being observed from a far distance, the terraced rice fields look like a picture with a beauty which absolutely melts your hear. Especially, the color of this picture will be changed seasonally depending on the time of new crops, which displays its most attractive charm.
4. Visit Sapa Villages
a. Cat Cat village
Cat Cat village is a typical village of ethnic minority. The old H’Mong hill tribe village attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive culture and unique practices which have been lost recently.
Tourists will be impressed by the peacefully picturesque sceneries of pristine nature, the traditional cultural and unique original architecture. You can admire a big waterfall on the stream and an old Hydro Electric Power Station built by the French. Moreover, the image of young women in traditional costumes, sitting by looms and making colorful pieces of brocade with designs of flowers, patterns, birds has been a symbol of this mountainous land.
Traditional wood house style is also a featured beauty that should be mentioned. Apart from that, you can try to do weaving fabric, purchase some traditional souvenirs and handicrafts as gifts. The trip to Cat Cat Village will definitely delight you.
The best time to visit Cat Cat Village is early October when the weather is not too hot or too cold. The village is about 3km from Sapa town and located on the slope of the hill. It’s quite easy to walk here.
>>> Location: 2km from the center of Sapa town
b. Ta Phin Village
Located about 17 kilometers to the East from the Sapa province, Ta Phin Village is the attractive stopover in a journey of Sapa travel. Ta Phin village is the home of Red Dao’s people possessing a rich culture that has not been damaged by the modern life. They live by the traditional career – brocade weaving. Visiting of the village, you can also have a chance to visit Ta Phin Cave nearby which own stunning and strange stalactites in different forms and shapes like animals, plants, or even fairies …
>>> Located about 17 kilometers to the East from the Sapa Town.
c. Ta Van Village
About 8 kilometers from Sapa Town, Ta Van Village (Ta Van Giay village) belongs to Ta Van commune, Sapa district, Lao Cai province with approximately 150 households. In spite of different ethnic minority groups living here, Giay ethnic minority accounts for the majority of population. In fact, the nobly humanistic values in characteristics and the special culture of Giay people is the most impressive feature for tourists when travelling Ta Van Village.
d. Sin Chai Village
Sin Chai is one of the best-view spots in Sapa, distant 4km from the city center and homed of about 1.400 Mong people.
Sin Chai is located in Ta Giang Phinh commune where the locals consider a unique gift given to the Mong by God. This village is located in the lower of Thau Stream which is never out of water and the foot of Ngu Chi Son Mountain Range. It perches on the high mountain with fog coverage on the way of “winter section” crossing the mountain side. You can reach the village by getting from Sapa then passing Lanh Waterfalls, Ngu Chi Son Slope.
5. Contemplate Sunrise and Sunset in Sapa
Sapa is not only famous for the romantic beauty of grand mountains, green forests, waterfalls or bright yellow rice terraces nestled in the soft fog but also turns into more sparkling and fanciful in the morning sunrise or flaming under the evening glow. This is an amazing image that anyone coming to Sapa shouldn’t miss.
6. Discover Markets in Sapa
Visiting Sapa, you shouldn’t miss busy markets, which express cultural distinction of the ethnic minorities here. There are some bustling fairs such as Coc Ly, Bac Ha, Can Cau… where take place several trading activities of diversified goods such as brocade, jewelry, weaving products, etc of hill tribes in the mountain area. In addition, you can see the locals in their colorful traditional dress. All of them make Sapa as one of the best places to visit in Vietnam
Bac Ha market is a perfect place for trading unique clothes and jewelry of highlands.
7. Fansipan Trekking – Conqure the Roof of Indochian
Fansipan is called as “the Roof of Indochina” with the height of 3143m, the highest peak of the Indochina Peninsula. Although the summit of Fansipan is less than half of Mount Everest, this place is a good choice for those who are eager to conquer high peaks and test their muscular power. It would be proud when you conquer a mountain at the tail end of Himalayas.
t’s definitely not an easy trek but it promises marvelous views of the Hoang Lien mountain range and pristine natural beauty. Climbers have chance to explore the diverse flora, enjoy beautiful orchids and wild flowers along the way or listen to the musical concert of insects.
What a great experience!
The ideal time to start your trekking is from mid October to mid November and in March, again. Where to refer: Vietnam Nomad Trails – 13 Tue Tinh Str., Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam
You need to do exercise intensively at least 1 or 2 weeks before the trip
8. Fansipan Legend
Since 2016, Conquering Fansipan and enjoying the magnificent scenery of Sapa would be much easier for everyone with the help of Fansipan Legend – the highest, longest and most modern cable car system of the world.
Alight from the vehicle then board a free electric vehicle shuttle service. Walk to buy tickets, 600k dongs for cable car ride, 700k dongs for cable car + funicular ride. Cable car only reaches the top of mountain but not the peak. Have to walk pit the building, up a flight of stairs, then take the funicular to near the peak of the mountain.
9. Contemplating stunning mountainous view on O QUY HO Pass
Along the way to Lai Chau, across the Silver Falls and Love Waterfall, you will see the peak of O Qui Ho Pass. One of the four great mountain pass in the Northern part of Vietnam. Standing on the top of the pass, you will see the winding paths connecting the two provinces of Lao Cai and Lai Chau. Next to it is the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
Sapa stone church built in 1895 is considered to be one of the most ancient architectural vestiges of the French. The church has been embellished and preserved, becoming an indispensable image when referring to the misty Sapa town.
Love Waterfall belongs to San Sa Ho commune, and far away 14 kilometers Southwest from Sapa. Visiting of the Love Waterfall, you will have a chance to admire the magnificent and splendid beauty of water and the vivid images of the school of fish jumping up and down.
There is a legend story often told by the locals about the waterfall, that is a sad love story of the seventh fairy in the heaven and the poor guy woodcutter. The waterfall was a place of a meeting to start their love, but unacceptable by the God.
Along the way to Love Waterfall, you will see numerous brilliant red azalea and lush bamboo forests, a great beauty of nature.
>>> Location: From Center Sapa Town towards the west about 12 km, on the way to Lai Chau.
Out of Sapa town center, go towards North about 18km, the road to Heaven’s Gate in Sapa is so snaked, and its name is Tram Ton, It is located in the middle of majestic Hoang Lien mountains. And the top of this road is Heaven’s Gate.
Standing at Heaven’s Gate in Sapa, you can see panoramic view of great valley, the bottom is many upland fields and the road is of Phong Tho (Lai Chau) – Sapa (Lao Cai). Far side is Thac Bac Waterfall
COC SAN CAVES SYSTEM IN SAPA – MASTERPIECE OF NATURE
Coc San caves is known as masterpiece of nature in Sapa, which attract a lot of visitors annually.
Coc San is a group consisting of many wonderful waterfalls and caves with different size, so you can call it Coc San caves and Coc San waterfalls. The Coc San Stream from Hoang Lien Son Mountain is the water source of those caves.
Coc San Stream is running 2kms through many cliffs, making many about 10 beautiful caves under waterfalls. The way to Coc San is very difficult and risky; people must cross many big stones and trees. The senses still remain pristine and natural. Approaching to the water falls, you will hear the sound of bubbling water joists.
Discovering the caves, you will have chance to admire many stalactites with many shape and size. The air in the cave is very cool and peace. It is best place to escape the hit and bustle of city. In summer and fall, a lot of tourists come to Coc San to visit the scenery, take pictures, and take bath in cool blue water.
HOANG A TUONG PALACE
The castle of the “king” was restored and painted in yellow. Hoang A Tuong palace, located in the center of Bac Ha district, Lao Cai province, was built in 1914 and completed in 1921. This is the oldest mansion in the northwestern region. Its owners were father and son Hoang Yen Chao and Hoang A Tuong of Tay ethnic group who ruled the region and were called King before 1945. This places is used to be the most powerful house in the Northwest region
By contrast with the colorful and resplendent cover in the day light, Sapa at night seems to be more mysterious and fanciful with a subtle charm.
1. Night Festival
There are not so many night festivals in Sapa but annually in mid-fall there will be flower garlands and colored lanterns hung in the Mid-Fall Night Festival. Participating in Sapa’s Mid-Fall Festival, you will wallow in thousands of vivid and colorful lanterns with various shapes and sizes. Especially, the splendid lantern parade will go around in all central streets and it will definitely bring you an exciting and romantic culture feast.
2. Grilled Food
Sapa town is also famous for the night market which offers different delicious dishes, most of which are grilled or roasted ones. Visiting Sapa without trying a dish of baked or grilled meat, beef, fish, and vegetables is a great pity. These specialties can be eaten with chilly sauce or lemon-salt.
The light from hundreds of small bulbs in the food kiosks along with cloth roof, plastic tables and chairs is enough to bring up the heart warming atmosphere in the cold night.
3. Going to the bars at night
Going to bars or pubs at night is one of the most attractive activities in Sapa. Bars will open in the evening until 1:00 am the following morning (some close sooner though).
International visitors are always in favor of bars and enjoy getting there most of the time. Partly because the unique atmosphere of Sapa’s bars that attracts every visitor both domestic and international. Not crowded, noisy, flashy or luxurious, the peaceful and friendly aura from these bars is enough to lure the customers in.
This is the biggest bar in Sapa. Bamboo bar attracts a lot of tourists from all over the place. It also serves with special dancing and music performances of ethnic minority tribes in the region. Bamboo bar easily leaves the impression as a unique and eye-catching decorated bar among the tourists.
Located on Cầu Mây Street, Bebop bar is a quite special bar in Sapa that looks like a café more than a bar. Not crowded and flashy, Bebop is an unbelievably quiet and mild bar. Bebop bar has two floors, a billiard table and a special area for music performance. You can play impromptu a piece of music with any instrument there. The second floor is a perfect space for a deeper and more profound sensation with a balcony looking down the street. Get a hot cup of coffee and the taste of the town’s impression will mix in your every single sip.
H’Mong Sisters Bar and Game
Foreign visitors enjoy visit here at night for the nice and cozy atmosphere that is suitable for relaxation.
The Hill Station Deli & Boutique
The Hill Station was the symbol of an ever lasting love and the admiration for the area once called the Tonkinese Alps. Lying on Mường Hoa Street, The Hill Station is a common place for strangers, visitors and solo travelers on their way. It is also a combination of both elegant traditional feature and the simple Western texture.
You can also check out a few more bars such as Mountain Bar & Pub, Royal Bar and discotheque, Táu Bar, The Valley View Bar and Delta Bar.
1. Thang Co (Thắng cổ)
Thang Co is the traditional food of Hmoong people and it has been cooked for hundreds years. Thang Co is a type of soup which is made of horsemeat, horse’s viscera and horse’s bone. You might feel a little bit panic-stricken when hearing about the ingredients but that feeling will be blown away once you taste it. Cooking this dish not only requires time but also the skill of cooks. The seasonings comprises of 12 spices from cardamon, ginger, citronella, anise to cinnamon twig.
The locals stew horsemeat with these 12 spices in a big pot within a couple of hours. To elevate the flavor of Thang Co soup, they serve it with fresh vegetable and a special red hot pepper name Muong Khuong.
Thang Co A Quynh restaurant
2. Sapa Cap Nach Pork
Cap Nach pork is a specialty of this mountainous region. The ways to make this dish is diverse. The locals usually roast a whole pig directly on charcoal so that the skin covering the pork is very brittle while the pork inside is very delicious and fleshy. Others stir-fry thie pork with little or no water and herbs. No matter how does you cook it, make sure the pork is soft with a hint of spicy.
Anh Dung restaurant
Hoang Minh restaurant
3. Salmon Sour Hotpot
Fish, more importantly salman fish in a mountainous region as Sapa? It’s like a joke, right?
But it’s not!
Sapa has an extremely cool weather all year round and the water here is pretty cold that is suitable for salmon to exist. It’s explained why salmon sour hot pot is a familiar food to local people. The food has a timeless quality. No matter when you enjoy this hot pot, your eyes will littery light up talking about the dish.
The real star of the hot bot is its broth. It’s a combination of several vegetable types and freshly caught salmon. Unlike other fish, salmon brings to diners an elegant and delicate flavor. Nestle up to a restaurant on Sapa hillroad and make an order of salmon sour hot pot, your heat beat is just a little bit faster.
Hoa Dao restaurant
4. Bamboo sticky rice (Cơm lam)
Vietnameses have more than an obsession with rice. You can tase several kinds of rice along the way.
Bamboo sticky rice in Sapa is an abnormal version of rice. Different from others, it is absolutely cooked in bamboo sections. Local people spend spend hours on collecting the bamboo then cleaning and chopping them into small sections at about 30 centimeters in length. The locals mix rice with a little bit of salt then they stuff up bamboo with salty rice. Don’t forget the water used to cook this dish. It’s brought from the streams which is fresh and a little bit sweet. A biggest secret here is that you need to resolve the bamboo sections while grilling.
5. Brook fish
Apart from salmon, brook fish is also a popular and favorite dish of both local people and tourists. Normally the locals just grill brook fish directly on charcoal. Step by step, the fishy smell will not be anymore. Instead, it’s now crunchy, greasy, and packed full of tastiness.
6. Tao Meo wine – a local whiskey of H’moong
Tao Meo wine is a popular and original wine of H’moong people. It is made from fruits of Tao Meo tree – a kind of tree grows naturally on Hoang Lien Son Mountain. It blooms at the end of spring in autumn so you can buy the fresh Tao Meo fruit from August to October. It serves up an amazing natural wine flavor for those who are seeking something unique in the mountainous region. Tao Meo wine comes perfect with unbelivebly good brook fish.
Hoang Minh restaurant
7. Dried Buffalo meat (Thit Trau Gac Bep)
Sapa is famous for dried meat especially dried buffalo meat. As the name refers, meat is well dried with an addition of seasoning. Each dried part of meat weighs about 2 kilos and can be stored for years. Khang Gai dried meat hosts a unique taste that can’t be seen in anywhere of Vietnam. If you are a finger food lover, this food is created for you.