Sapa, or ‘Sa Pa’, is famous to everyone around Vietnam. It is known for its unique charm, kind locals and beautiful mountain views.
Right in the north-west region of the country towards the border with China, the town makes for a great stop from Hanoi. Anyone looking for amazing scenery and breathe-taking trekking routes should definitely stop by.
We have talked before about the transport in Vietnam. For most people, the most convenient way to get to Sapa is to take an overnight train or bus from Hanoi. While the train doesn’t stop directly in the town (instead stopping around 38 kilometres away in Lao Cai, where you must then take a bus up and through the mountain) it makes for the most comfortable option.
Night-time buses offer somewhat comfortable, but small, reclining beds. These are faster than the trains and go direct. For those who don’t mind being sat in a chair for the 6 hour journey, though with frequent stops, day-time buses will drop you directly in town.
The other option is to go by motorcycle, which can take around 10 hours. Though this is the longest option, it allows for the best views. Unexperienced drivers should not attempt this journey up and around the curvy mountain roads.
Once you have arrived and dropped your bags at the hotel/hostel, it’s time to look around. Depending on whether you got the day bus or the night train or bus, it could be really early in the morning or the evening.
One thing to note about Sapa is that it's weather has become infamous. The ‘4 seasons in a day’ saying is in fact true. In the morning it feels like a cool Spring day.
In the middle of the day it becomes more like Summer, with the unshaded areas reaching around 20 degrees celsius. The afternoon becomes cooler again with some warmth from the sun like in Fall.
Finally, the evenings and nights are cold like winter. Be sure to pack suitable so that you don’t get caught out.
You will probably familiarize yourself with the ‘main square’ of Sapa. This is the area with a large screen, hotel, and church.
The church looks beautiful and is lit up at night. It goes by the name ‘Church of Our Lady of the Rosary’ (Nhà Thờ Đức Mẹ Mân Côi).
The main square is a major landmark for the center. It comes to life at night when locals and tourists come to buy goods, play together, and enjoy the views.
Nearby is the lake. This offers some great views and makes for a good walk going around. There are refreshments available such as drinks and snacks. There are also swan boats that you can use with a friend to go around the lake that way.
Otherwise, there are numerous restaurants, coffee shops, bars and souvenir shops all around. This is not to mention the street sellers and food stalls offering grilled food and other snacks.
Following the road by the church leads to the Ham Rong Mountain area. Tickets are needed to enter and see the beautiful gardens on display. Trekking up the mountain allows for some of the best panoramic views of the town.
Probably the most famous mountain in the town is the highest in the whole of the Indochinese Peninsula. Phan Xi Păng, also spelt as Fangsipan, is 3143 meters tall, making it nearly 500 meters higher than Thailand’s tallest mountain. Using a train, cable car and making your way up many steps, it is possible to make it to the peak. For views of the whole area and mountain range, this is the place to go.
There are also several waterfalls to be seen nearby. Love Waterfall (Thác Tình Yêu), located in the Hoàng Liên National Park is one example. It is said to be the most picturesque than the Silver Waterfall (Thác Bạc). Silver Waterfall is closer to Sapa town and can still make for a great sight.
Surrounding the town are the rice terraces. These can be amazing to see as they show how the locals have adapted the land for their farming purposes.
Sapa, a small mountain town, is home to one of the most diverse populations in the country. There are 5 main ethnic groups, together with the Vietnamese, that can be seen throughout the town, selling their goods and going about their business. They will likely stand out due to their traditional clothing.
Nearby Cát Cát village is a village home to the ethnic H’mong people. They are known for their unique clothing and culture. The village is a showcase for their daily life, with farming, weaving, and carving all happening in the area.
Sapa is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. The diverse population of minorities, the breath-taking views, and the great variety of nature make it easy to recommend for a day or weekend trip from the capital.
It has a very unique charm that can’t be seen anywhere else in the country - or even the world. Next time you are visiting, be sure to stop by Sapa. Want to start learning Vietnamese? Use the Ling App to take your first steps to mastering the language.