I’ve long heard the beauty of Sapa Vietnam. Located at 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level in Vietnam’s remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. It is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. Last November, I decided to give it go, despite the fact that it’s rather remote and far from Hanoi. I’m glad I made the decision. The beauty of Sapa is beyond one can imagine. In this article, you’ll get to know everything about the beautiful place and most importantly, top 5 things to do in Sapa Vietnam.
When is the best time to go?
The best time to visit Sapa is from March to May and from September to November. At these times, the weather is relatively stable with sunny days and cool nights. If you go during the wrong seasons, you may find yourself surrounded by mist, which hides all the beautiful scenery.
How to get there?
The best way to get to Sapa is by overnight train. From Hanoi it is an 8-hour train journey to Lao Cai Railway Station, the gateway to Sapa. The ticket price for Vietnam Railways generally ranges from 150,000-385,000 VND (6-17 USD), depending if the fare is hard seat up to soft bed.
The reason why train is the best is because the cabins are very comfortable and cosy. We got a 4-berth cabin and I was very surprised by the beautiful decorations and the cleanliness of the cabin. The toilet and washing basins outside were clean too. In my opinion, it’s the best train ride I’ve ever had in my life.
Our train departed at around 930pm and we arrived Sapa the next day 530am. I had a very good sleep that night but my family complained that they couldn’t fall asleep with the train constantly moving. If you are not the type of person who can fall asleep easily, you may suffer a little during the ride. But if you are an easy going sleeper like me, the train movement is like a lullaby!
Top 5 Things to do in Sapa Vietnam
There’s no better way to explore Sapa than trekking. Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. You’ll find yourself being surrounded by cascading rice terraces, endless greenery and amazing fresh air. Most of the ethnic minority people work their land on sloping terraces since the vast majority of the land is mountainous. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields, you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm.
There are different treks to explore Sapa. If you are an adventurer like me, take up the challenge to trek in the open field! The trek is around 15km long and you’ll have to trek to the various villages through the paddy fields. Do equip yourself with good trekking shoes or rubber boots, a walking stick and extra clothing kept in a waterproof bag.
It’s better to hire local guides if you decide to trek in the wild, as they know the way well and can help you if you get lost or fall over. Depending on the season, the rice fields, which are build in terraces, can be very muddy and slippery. As the paths are also taken by water buffalos, excrement can be found everywhere. And they are HUGE, the size of a birthday cake!
2. Animal watching
While you are trekking in the field, you’re bound to encounter a lot of animals. On the hill, you’ll see a buffalo sitting in the paddy field. Along the road, you’ll see horses passing by. Out of the blue moon, you may see domesticated pigs looking for food. The animals are gentle and won’t attack unless you provoke them. So just watch them quietly and enjoy the peace together.
3. Hang out with the locals
Before you step out of your hotel, you’ll probably see a group of locals waiting at the entrance. They will quickly follow you as soon as you leave the hotel. Don’t be afraid, they are just trying to make some money by offering you help throughout the day.
These four local ladies helped us a lot during our trek. We didn’t expect the trek to be so steep and slippery at times, and they gave us good helping hands to conquer all the challenges. They also made us very cute souvenirs using grass and leaves along the way. Very adorable people indeed!
At the end of the day, they tried to sell us handicrafts. But we felt that the price was too expensive, so we gave them a good tip instead. We gave them 100000 VND ($5 USD) each as an appreciation of their efforts.
4. Visit Cat Cat Village
Nestled in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, Cat Cat- the old village of ethnic groups- attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive customs and practices which have been lost in almost ethnic villages.
Unlike trekking in the wild, going to Cat Cat Village is definitely doable on your own. Just ask a local to point you in the direction of the village and you’ll see a sign letting you know you’re at the entrance. As Cat Cat village is very touristy, everything there is very refined. You’ll get to see some man-made attractions and a natural waterfall, as well as some local performance.
I personally prefer trekking in the wild, but Cat Cat Village offers a different experience and beautiful views of the mountains along the way. Inside the village, you can also visit a local’s house and understand their day-to-day life. Apparently, the locals have the tradition of hanging corn on the roof pillar and use it as a source of food for animals.
5. Shop at Sapa Market
If you are fond of local handicrafts, check out the Sapa market. The market is located right at the heart of Sapa town, just a short walk to Sapa stone church that is built by the French in the early 20th century. Once getting inside the market gate, you will see stalls full of handicrafts and clothes. Since the locals know you are a tourist, they will always mark up the price of the products. The rule of bargaining is to cut the asking price by half!
Which tour company to engage?
Just like Halong Bay, it’s much more convenient to engage a tour when you visit Sapa. We engaged Vietnam Tonkin Travel who helped us settled everything from transportation, accommodation, local tour guide to meals. Everything went so smoothly and the whole tour surpassed our expectations in many ways. I personally really enjoy the service of the tour company. The boss of the company also agrees to provide you, my dear reader, an Exclusive 5% discount on Hot Prices to all their tours, including the Sapa tour.
All you have to do is drop me an email at email@example.com. In the email, just let me know your name, your travelling dates, no of people going, and the tour link you are going for. I will link you up directly with the owner of Vietnam Tonkin Travel so that you can enjoy the discount!
Where to stay?
Vietnam Tonkin Travel arranged for us a 3-star hotel called Sapa Lodge. The hotel is very comfortable and facilities look very new. I especially love the view from the dining area and from our rooms. The location of the hotel is also pretty convenient, with many massage shops and restaurants beside. However, it’s a little far from the Sapa market and the Sapa stone church. In order to get there, you’ll have to take a 10 mins taxi.
If you like the hotel, you can tell Vietnam Tonkin Travel and they will arrange it for you. If you are going there by yourself, you can book from here and I get a small commission. I truly appreciate your help and generosity. And in return, I will continue to provide you with even more awesome content and travel tips!
Awesome video about Sapa
I also made a short video about what to do in Sapa Vietnam, so that you can get a better feel of how Sapa is really like. Hope you find the article and video useful. Have a blast in Sapa! May you have a wonderful and fulfilling year in 2017. Keep the travel spirit burning!
For more AWESOME VIDEOS, check out my YouTube Channel
Tonkin Travel Vietnam gave me a media discount in the trip, but all opinions are mine and truthful. If you book the tours through me, I’ll also receive a small amount of commission. The discount is also real and Tonkin Travel Vietnam doesn’t offer it to anywhere else. You don’t have to book through me, but I’m very grateful when you do.