Sapa is a small village, 350 km north of Hanoi, near the Chinese border. Sapa Vietnam is known for having spectacular views of a valley with rice field fields that can be seen on clear days, with mountains towering on all sides from above. The view of this epic landscape is often tempered by dense fog that rolls over the tops, but even when it is cloudy, the local hill tribes fill the city with color.
Through the course of history, Sapa underwent the changes of time to turn itself from a remote trading post built by the French colonists into a global travel hub, a top tier travel destination of Vietnam. Located in Lao Cai, a province in Northwest Vietnam, a small town like Sapa surprisingly boasts its richness in its indigenous tribal culture of the ethnic communities, together with the unrivaled beauties in natural landscapes.
5 Reasons to Visit Sapa
- Make a trek through the green rice terraces of the Muong Hoa Valley.
- Learn more about the culture and traditions of the local hill tribes.
- Climb or take the cable car to the highest mountain in Indochina: Fansipan.
- Explore the area by motorbike and drive over Vietnam’s highest pass: Tram Ton Pass.
- Visit a local colorful market.
Top Things to Do in Sapa
Fansipan – ‘Roof of Indochina’
As the roof of Indochina, Fansipan peaks at the height of 3143m above sea level. Fansipan also offers some great choices for many levels of trekking starting from the easiest path that can be done within a full day for those who are physically fit, not necessarily experienced. Scenery along the way to the top is worth your effort with thick forest, magnificent landscape of Hoang Lien Son range, idyllic tribal villages and the sight of wild Azalea near the peak.
Best time for a Fansipan trek would be between mid-November and March since in this time the weather in the north falls in winter, drier air, less rain and temperature low which will make your trek much easier than it is in summer.
For folks who are not capable of trekking for long hours, you still can reach the top of Fansipan by riding a cable car. From 2016, Fansipan Legend, the highest, longest and most modern cable car system in the world has been opened for everyone who dreams of standing on top of ‘Roof of Indochina’. So, you should not miss this destination when traveling to Vietnam for your holiday.
Cable Car Fees
– Cable Car: 700,000VND per adult
– Cable Car + Funicular Ride: 840,000VND per adult
*Note: The cable car will take you to the mountaintop, not the peak. You’ll have to walk up the stairs then take the funicular to near Fansipan’s peak.
Sapa Central Town
The central town of Sapa has its own dreamy and romantic atmosphere, especially when it’s covered in mist and clouds. By no means should you skip this town when coming to Sapa, it’s a wonderful base to explore further areas. And Sapa Town itself has a lot of things for visitors to enjoy.
Ham Rong Mountain. Park
Why not come up the 1800m-peaked dragon-jaw shaped mountain for the panoramic view of Sapa and Muong Hoa Valley. The path up is easy and, on the mountaintop, there is a Cloud Yard if you want to conquer all the way. At a lower altitude, part of the mountain was made into a flower garden with hundreds of orchid kinds and other flowers. A romantic hangout for couples and friends.
Admission: 70,000VND/adult, 20,000VND/child.
- Maybe you are interested in Hanoi Tour Package 8 Days, Ban Gioc Waterfall Tour – 3 Days from Hanoi, Halong Bay Tour Package – 3 Days from Hanoi or Ninh Binh Tour 2 Days 1 Night when you are traveling to North Vietnam.
Sapa Church is not far away from Ham Rong Mountain, it only costs you a short walk. The church was built in 1895, made entirely of stones, and considered to be the most ancient vestiges of the French.
Nowadays, Sapa Church is the symbol of Sapa town, especially when it’s covered in mist or snow. The front of the church is a huge square where a lot of local activities take place, some cultural performances on Saturday. Take the camera with you for some really unique photos of the Church.
Sapa Market, Night Market
– Sapa Market: The market of Sapa is not only a center for goods exchanging but also a meeting place of Hmong, Dao, Nung ethnic minorities. Located in the center of Sapa (Luong Dinh Cua Street), the market is not easy to miss with thousands of goods, hand-made products on display. Tourists can also buy pharmaceutical products, forestry products and brocade clothing. Food to enjoy here is the local specialty ‘Thang Co’ – a soup made from horse meat, bacon, borecole, chayote, corn wine.
– Night Market: If you’re looking for a street food tour at night, we suggest you join the Sapa town night market where several nightly grilled dishes like grilled beef, fish and vegetables can be found. It’s a wonderful local experience especially on chilly nights, you stay close to the fire and wait for your meat to be done. Don’t forget to use chili sauce and lemon-salt to eat with the meat.
Muong Hoa Valley
To take in the magnificent beauty of highland terraced paddy fields in the harvest season, nowhere is better than Muong Hoa which lies between two towering mountain ranges running in parallel southeast of Sapa Town.
Come to Muong Hoa Valley, you’ll be learning more on the age-old rice cultivation of the highland ethnic tribes, taking the scenic sights of the mountain range covered in the terraced fields, forest and streams downhill.
It isn’t just landscape, it’s the way of life of Hmong, Dao and many others preserved for many generations.
The poetic Muong Hoa River will take you to the idyllic hamlets of ethnic people such as Sa Seng village, Hang Da village and Hau Thao village. At the lowest altitude of 1000m, the valley is home to several minority groups, including Hmong, Zao, Zay….
Nested at San Sai Ho Commune, 15km away from Sapa towards Lai Chau and Dien Bien Province, Silver Waterfall can be seen from National Highway 4D.
The fall, as the upstream of Muong Hoa Stream, is about 200m high with water cascading down as white as silver. The beauty of the waterfall adds even more to the dramatic backdrop of Sapa’s mountains with pine forests and chayote gardens spreading over the hillside.
To get closer to the waterfall, visitors will climb the stone steps to a height of 30 meters where the water seems to flow down on you.
Trekking Authentic Hill Tribe Villages
Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village is the most touristic ethnic village to visit from Sapa, the most excellent example of a hill tribe village of Hmong people. What you can enjoy here is the idyllic landscape, dramatic backdrop and the peaceful atmosphere of the local community.
Young Hmong people proudly wear their traditional costumes which were dyed in so many colors.
One thing to look for is the traditional Hmong houses which are still preserved in good condition, the house is considered a very important part in Hmong life. On your trekking way, we can’t fail to mention the beautiful sight of terraced paddy fields running immensely to the horizon.
Cat Cat village is definitely a delightful and special feature of Sapa.
Location: 2km away from Sapa central town
Ta Van Village
Located about 8 kilometers from Sapa Town, Ta Van Village is a wonderful alternative for a trekking trip to a hill tribe village in Sapa. The village belongs to Ta Van commune, is home to almost 150 households with approximately 1000 residents mainly from Hmong, Zay, Red Zao ethnic minorities.
The path leading to Ta Van village is small and narrow, running through two sides of terraced fields. Coming deeper into the village, visitors can’t help but be amazed by the harmonious beauty of the natural landscape and the idyllic wooden traditional stilt houses.
The Zao culture shows most influence in Ta Van through their prominent Red costumes to cuisine and cultural festivals. Ta Van shouldn’t be missed on your bucket list if you’re looking for a true adventure.
Sin Chai Village
Sin Chai is another Hmong village with a population of 1400 people, lying about 4 kilometers away from the town’s center. Sin Chai belongs to Ta Giang Phinh commune, located at the lower part of Thau Stream and the foot of Ngu Chi Son Mountain Range.
From the village, you can see the mysterious Ngu Chi Son Mt, gentle curves of terraced fields, hundred-year-old Mong valley, traditional Hmong houses and more. Sin Chai is no doubt the best spot for views in Sapa.
Discover Sapa Love Market
Sapa’s Love Market is one of many specialties of Sapa, celebrating the humane values in the local way of life. Hmong, Zao and many other ethnic groups hold love markets annually or monthly or in Sapa’s love market case – weekly for men and women to meet and show their affection. Many young girls and boys become husbands and wives soon after.
Sapa Love Market is held on Saturday afternoon, the girls will show up in colorful costumes and silver ornaments which make the festival even merrier. The boys will perform traditional dancing and singing until late. Love Market is indeed one of the best things to do at night in Sapa.
Conquer Fansipan Peak on Foot
Not a life-time experience like Everest, conquering Fansipan is still an impressive feat. For your safety, it’s best to book a trekking tour with a local porter to accompany you during the trip.
Admire Muong Hoa Valley from Muong Hoa Train
Just opened in 2018, Muong Hoa Rail Route which connects Sapa and Fansipan Station has risen to be one of the things to try in Sapa. The trains and the station are designed in European style with impressive architecture. Riding the Muong Hoa train, you’ll have a chance to enjoy the views of the beautiful Muong Hoa Valley below.
* Ticket: 200,000VND/adult/way, 150,000VND/child/way
Escape the crowded town to the tea hills full of cherry blossoms
Only 7km away from the city center of Sapa, a private tea plantation dotted with pinkish cherry blossoms might be just what you need if you want to escape the crowded little town of Sapa for a little bit.
You can find the beautiful, peaceful tea hills on your way to O Quy Ho Pass – another place for sightseeing near Sapa, especially when it’s sunset.
The cherry blossoms are in bloom in December, so if you want to take incredible photos, this site can’t be missed on your trip to Sapa. Wait for the clouds descending onto the green hills, you can see the magic of nature happen.
Day Trips from Sapa
Bac Ha Market
Bac Ha Market is the most unique fair market in Sapa, one of the worthiest things to do in Sapa during your visit. Every Sunday, the town of Bac Ha erupts into a colorful, vibrant and busy trading market with hundreds of ethnic minorities from the surrounding areas. Bac Ha is a compelling example of a traditional cultural practice in the wild northern Vietnam, an event which is considered just like a small festival to the people here.
Come to Bac Ha, not only do you have the chance to witness an authentic local fair market, get closer to the life of ethnic people, but also you can taste some really unique and delicious foods and enjoy the hospitality of the locals here.
O Quy Ho Pass
O Quy Ho Pass, bridging two provinces Lao Cai and Lai Chau, has long been a legendary destination for local travelers. Only 18 kilometers away from the center town of Sapa, O Quy Ho would make a wonderful stop for your motorbiking half-day trip.
The pass is hailed as the king of passes in northwest Vietnam, being extreme in both road’s difficulty and natural scenery. The road leading up the pass’s top is winding, supple as the silk. Come when the sun is setting, visitors will be moved by the beautiful landscape just like a water-colored painting before their eyes.
- Recommended Tours: Sapa Tour – 3 Days from Hanoi
What to Eat in Sapa?
This dish is known as the traditional dish of H’mong people, cooked from horsemeat, horse’s viscera and horse’s bone, all made into a soup with 12 spices from cardamon, ginger, citronella, anise to cinnamon twig. When local people cook this dish, they often stew for a couple of hours. The dish is served with fresh vegetables and local red-hot pepper.
* Where to eat Thang Co:
Thang Co A Quynh restaurant
– Add: 15 Thach Son st, Sapa district
– Opening hours: 7.00 am – 22.00 pm
Cap Nach Pork
A special kind of pork which is often found in Northwest Vietnam. There’re quite many ways to cook this dish with different ingredient but its highlight is the fleshy, soft yet tough texture of the pork meat. It’s said that the pigs living on mountainous areas are not caged and free to run around therefore their meat is so much better than regular pork meat.
* Where to eat Cap Nach Pork:
Anh Dung restaurant
– Add: 69 Xuan Vien st, Sapa town
– Opening hours: 8.00 AM- 10.30 PM
Hoang Minh restaurant
– Add: number 23-24 Sapa food court (the corner of Xuan Vien St and Fansipan St)
– Opening hours: 9.00 am- 10.00 pm
Salmon Hot Pot
Yes, it’s true, you can eat salmon in Sapa. And it’s not a rare dish here, in fact, salmon restaurants are everywhere to be found. A salmon dish that is worth trying the most is Salmon Hotpot, especially on freezing days. The fish meat comes in a heaven match with the hotpot broth with a familiar sour taste from local vegetables and herbs.
– Where to eat Salmon Hot Pot:
– Add: 34 Cau May, Sapa
– Opening hours: 9.00 am-10.00 pm
Bamboo Sticky Rice
The dish is an everyday dish in Sapa, sold from roadside to luxury restaurants, filling up the stomach of travelers and local people all the same. Glutinous rice is cooked inside a bamboo tube to preserve the fragrance and sweet taste of the rice. Bamboo Sticky Rice is often eaten with sesame to enhance the taste even more.
Where to eat bamboo sticky rice: you can find this dish anywhere in Sapa: restaurant, market or roadside eateries.
How to Go to Sapa?
Since Lao Cai Airport is still just a plan until 2020, from Hanoi, you still have to choose either bus or night train to get to Sapa.
There Are two types of train to Lao Cai – local trains or tourist trains. Average time traveling by train is about 8 hours with slow trains and about 7 hours with tourist trains. SP = New Trains, LC = Old Trains.
Tourist trains are: Livitrans, TSC Express, Hara Express, Fanxipan Express, King Express, Orient Express.
* Schedule for Lao Cai Trains:
SP1 (21:40), SP2 (20:35): Tourist trains with air-conditioned soft sleepers only.
Most of these trains consist of privately-run sleeping-cars for tourists, including Fanxipan, King, Ratraco, Orient Express, Royal, TSC, Tulico, etc.
– SP3 (22:00), SP4 (21:10): Recommended train with very few stops. Air-con soft sleepers and air-con hard sleepers only. These trains consist of privately-run sleeping-cars including the Sapaly Express Train, TSC, and the Victoria Express Train.
– SP7 (20:30), SP8 (19:40): Earlier trains. Air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats. Conveys privately-run Livitrans sleeping-cars.
– LC3 (6:10), LC4 (10:05): Daytime trains. Tea, coffee & snacks are available on board.
– LC1, LC2: Slower overnight trains. Air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats, air-con hard seats, non-air-con hard seats. No soft sleepers.
The price for trains often varies depending on the type of train and amenities.
Thanks to the new Hanoi – Lao Cai Expressway that has been opened for the recent years, the time traveling by bus from Hanoi reduces down to 4 to 6 hours. Most of the buses are sleeper buses so you don’t have to worry about the comfort.
Bus stations in Hanoi: Luong Yen and My Dinh.
+ Price: from 180,000VND to 350,000VND
+ Reliable Company: Sapa Express (however, Sapa Express buses don’t depart from bus stations but from its office or Noi Bai Airport).
Best Time to Visit Sapa
- The best time to visit Sapais from March to May and from September to November. During these times the weather is relatively stable with sunny days and cool nights. The first period is the autumn time. At this time of the year the weather is very comfortable. It is dry, clear with a lot of sunshine. The view of the terraces of Sapa is at its best between
- September and October. The cool and dry weather with the stable temperature makes it the perfect time for trekking and photos.
- In the summer, although it is quite warm, it is not as hot as other regions of Vietnam.
- If you spend time in this city between April and May, you have the chance to see the beautiful landscapes of many colorful flowers and green fields.
- In winter, from December to February, the weather in Sapa becomes very cold, especially at night. In return, however, you get the chance to watch the sunrise over the valley in the morning. Snow has also fallen in Sapa in recent years.
Best Hotels & Hostels in Sapa
Hotels around the lake – the cheapest place to book a room compared to the same quality rooms in the rest of the city.
Hotels in Cau May – Muong Hoa – are more expensive than the other areas because the view is very beautiful, including views of the Fansipan and Hoang Lien Son mountains.
Hotels in the center of Sapa – full of tourists and many options of quality hotels, from affordable to expensive luxury hotels.
Homestay in Sapa – An overnight stay in a homestay is a great alternative to a hotel in the city itself, if you don’t mind staying in a more basic accommodation.
Best hotels in Sapa Vietnam
Budget hotels & hostels
- Mountain View Hostel
- Go Sapa Hostel
- Sapa Capsule
- Sapa Elite Hotel
- Praha Hotel Sapa
- Sapa Diamond Hotel
- Sapa Eden Hotel
High end hotel & resort
- Sapa Legend Hotel & Spa
- Sapa Freesia Hotel
- Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel
Best Restaurants in Sapa
There are many restaurants in Sapa, including both local dishes as western dishes such as pizza, pasta and hamburgers. Try the specialties of the local hill tribes, often with wild mushrooms, herbs and local fish.
- Good Morning Vietnam Restaurant
- Sapa Nature view
- Little Vietnam Restaurant
- Moment Romantic Restaurant
- Good Morning View Restaurant
- Hill Station Signature Restaurant
Sapa is not known for its hectic nightlife. There are a few bars that offer a place to meet fellow travelers, drink a few beers and play a game of pool. Most restaurants that sell beer and other beverages tend to close early in the evening.
- Mountain Bar & Pub: Cocktails, cold beer and games, this is the to-go bar for an evening out.
- Hmong Sisters: A spacious bar with pool tables and a fireplace with great music.
How to get around Sapa?
Hiking – Places in the city of Sapa are easily reached on foot, because Sapa is small enough. Hiking is also the best way to explore the area around Sapa. However, if you choose this form of travel, you must also provide yourself with good shoes, drinking water and good endurance. There are a few small day walks that you can do alone. It is recommended to do a multi-day trek through the area with a guide who can show you the way.
Cab – The price for a taxi in Sapa is almost the same as in Hanoi. You can often choose between taxis with 5 to 8 seats, depending on the number of people you are with. Some reliable taxi companies are: Sapa Green Taxi, Phan-xi-pang taxi, Northwest taxi. You pay per kilometer from 9,000 to 12,000.
Motorbike – You can rent a motorbike in Sapa from 100,000 VND a day. Keep in mind that driving through the mountains of north Vietnam is not without danger and only meant for people with experience. An alternative is to go on the back of a motorbike with an experienced guide.
Per tour – A comfortable way of traveling in Sapa is per tour. No danger of driving a motorcycle on difficult roads and no stress of getting lost. A simple way to view the highlights and a local guide who can show you things about the area and tell them.
How Long To Stay in Sapa?
Sapa is pretty far from Hanoi and it takes hours to get to the town, plus there’s so much to see at Sapa and surrounding areas, so we suggest you spend at least 2 days and ideally four days to enjoy your trip.
More tips for traveling in Sapa
Where to go next?
A cruise in Halong Bay or cycling between the rice fields of Ninh Binh are often combined with Sapa. Though, there are no direct buses or trains to these destinations. You would always need to travel back to Hanoi. There are, however, direct connections with Ha Giang and Mu Cang Chai. Ha Giang is great if you want to explore some of the most stunning mountains of north Vietnam.
Mu Cang Chai is the place where you can find the most beautiful rice fields in Vietnam. It might be better to choose either between Sapa and Mu Cang Chai, as both destinations are famous for trekking tours between the rice fields.
Sapa with kids
Sapa is a great place to bring children. Depending on their age and stamina, you can choose to trek with them for half a day, full day or multiple days. It is also great to let them learn about the different minority cultures. You can also choose to go to Fansipan, by mountain train and cable car.
Sapa is quite developed in tourism, so a large number of people working in the hotels and restaurants can speak a fair amount of English. When you visit the minority villages and want to stay overnight in a local homestay, there is less chance to be able to communicate with them easily. It is wise to do this kind of activity with a guide.
What to bring
Make sure to bring warm clothes when you visit Sapa in the winter months. During summer it will be very hot, but bring with it rain. Make sure to bring sunscreen, a hat and a raincoat.
It is also smart to bring a comfortable daypack if you are planning to do a trek. Read here for a full list of what to bring during a trekking in Sapa.
We’ve shown you all the best things to do in Sapa, together with the most updated information on how to get there, where to eat, and Sapa attractions’ admission tickets. Contact Vietnam Shore Excursions now for more detailed itineraries to Sapa with a quotation.