Sapa Vietnam Travel
Sapa Vietnam: Sapa is a small, mountain town in Lao Cai Province. It is located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border. Here’s where you’ll find the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains, which includes Fan Si Pan—the country’s highest peak. This quiet Vietnamese town is home to different ethnic tribal groups.
There are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. It is said that Sapa was first occupied by the first four groups, since the Vietnamese from the lowlands (better known as the Kinh) did not colonise the highest valleys.
It was only when the French debarked in highland Tonkin in the late 1880s that Sa Pa, name of the Hmong hamlet, with “S” is pronounced almost as hard as “Ch” in French, “Sh” in English, “S” in standard Vietnamese, so Chapa as the French called it, began to appear on the national map. Near to the now Sa Pa townlet is “Sa Pả commune”, which shows the origin in Hmong language of the location name.
In the following decade, the future site of Sa Pa township started to see military parties as well as missionaries from the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP) visit. The French military marched from the Red River Delta into the northern mountainous regions as part of Tonkin’s ‘pacification’. In 1894-96 the border between China and Tonkin was formally agreed upon and the Sa Pa area, just to the south of this frontier, was placed under French authority. From 1891 the entire Lào Cai region, including Sa Pa, came under direct colonial military administration so as to curtail banditry and political resistance on the sensitive northern frontier.
The first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sa Pa in 1909. With its attractive continental climate, health authorities believed the site had potential. By 1912 a military sanatorium for ailing officers had been erected along with a fully fledged military garrison. Then, from the 1920s onwards, several wealthy professionals with enough financial capital also had a number of private villas built in the vicinity.
At the end of the Second World War a long period of hostilities began in Tonkin that was to last until 1954. In the process, nearly all of the 200 or so colonial buildings in or around Sa Pa were destroyed, either by Việt Minh sympathisers in the late 1940s, or, in the early 1950s by French air raids. The vast majority of the Viet population fled for their lives, and the former township entered a prolonged sleep.
Is it worth visiting Sapa in Vietnam?
What is the best time to visit Sapa?
How long is the train ride from Hanoi to Sapa?
Sapa Vietnam Tours
Lying in the northwest of Vietnam, not far from the border with China, Sapa is an absolute treat to visit. Sapa Vietnam lies amidst beautiful mountains and is surrounded by brilliant green terraced rice fields – well, that is if you visit at the right time of year!
While the scenery is stunning, Sapa is just as renowned for its intoxicating cultural makeup. The tiny villages dotted upon the hillsides are home to a diverse array of ethnic minorities, each with their own rich culture and customs. Combining both culture and natural beauty into one enticing package, Sapa is definitely worth visiting if you have the chance. While its remote location does make it a bit of a pain to get to, it’s also what has preserved the scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage for so long!
With each passing year, it gets a little bit easier to travel to Sapa and Northern Vietnam, but it is still one of the more challenging destinations to reach due to its remote location. That same remoteness is much of the appeal to most visitors. Here in Sapa, you’ll have a chance to see rural life and experience cultures that are unique to this part of the world. Below is our first-hand guide from our time spent exploring Sapa, Vietnam.
Sapa Vietnam Trekking
As you might have gathered, Sapa lies in quite a remote region, so getting there can be a bit of a challenge – although you surely won’t regret it! While some routes are easier than others, you will need to plan carefully so that you don’t end up spending too much time in transit.
HANOI TO SAPA BY TRAIN
The easiest, most convenient, and most popular way of getting to Sapa Vietnam is by train. The journey usually takes around eight hours if you’re coming from Hanoi. However, this only takes you to Lao Cai Railway Station; from there, you need to take a shuttle bus to reach Sapa.
There are a number of different options when it comes to the train; it’s a good idea to book in advance, as during the summer months and at weekends, it can get quite full, and the nicer cabins may get booked out. Many people decide to take the overnight express train to save on accommodation and sleep throughout the journey.
When booking your train tickets, it’s worthwhile going to the station yourself, as you may find that some travel agencies don’t always provide you with what you booked! There are a number of ‘classes’ for you to choose from; prices vary accordingly, depending on whether you booked a ‘soft bed’ with a private railway company or a ‘hard bed’ with the national Vietnam Railways. You can also choose to stay in a private cabin or a four or six-bed bunk compartment.
Prices also fluctuate depending on what time of year you go; they increase substantially during national holidays. When taking the train, you probably want to book one of the nicer options as they can be a bit grimy.
As you can see, the price of the train really depends on what option you choose. Tickets start from $18 and go all the way up to over $100 if you choose the really nice cabin!
Once you arrive at Lao Cai Railway Station, you need to take a shuttle bus to Sapa Vietnam. Make sure to negotiate to avoid being overcharged; the fair price is around 50,000 Dong.
HANOI TO SAPA BY BUS
Another option is to take the bus to Sapa Vietnam. With the bus, the journey time is slightly shorter; it usually takes around six hours from Hanoi. As the terminus is in the center of town, you don’t have to mess around finding a shuttle bus.
Buses depart at all times of day from Hanoi. Prices fluctuate depending on if you take one of the luxury lines or one of the more basic ones; some even drop you at wherever you have arranged to stay in Sapa.
Prices range from $11 for the cheaper bus lines up to around $20 or more for the nicer ones.
While you do pass some lovely scenery on the way to Sapa Vietnam, and the buses are certainly comfortable, the mountain roads can be quite windy and dangerous. You may be better off taking the longer but safer train journey after all!
Homestay Sapa Vietnam
Beautiful Sapa is located in the northern mountains of Vietnam and is made up of a main town in the Muong Hoa Valley. Surrounding Sapa proper you will find a selection of local villages which are the home of some of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam. This means that this part of the country has a distinct and unique culture which makes a visit here not to be missed if you are in the region. On the outskirts of the town you will find jade hued rice paddies that are cut into the craggy mountain sides and the air is cooler as the mountains covered in a delicate mist. If you like trekking then this is definitely the place to come as the rugged scenery and mountain air makes this the perfect place to get outside and explore.
Here are the 6 Best Things To Do In Sapa…
1. Get out into the local villages
Sapa is basically a collection of small local villages which are dotted around the mountains.
This means that this is the place to come if you want to get out of the cities of Vietnam and experience something a little more rural.
You can stay in the local villages in a guesthouse with a local family and this will also give you a glimpse of how people have lived here for centuries.
The homestay programs here are not for everyone but for many who have tried them they are the highlight of a trip to Vietnam.
2. Visit Sapa Museum
Sapa doesn’t have too many ‘attractions’ in the main town but one of the few it does have is the Sapa Museum.
As such, this is the main (and only) place to come if your want to find a showcase of the history and culture of the region which stretches back to the French colonial period.
You can also explore galleries which are dedicated to the various ethnic minorities that live in this part of Vietnam and this is a great place to find out all about this unique section of the country.
3. Buy some local handicrafts
Sapa is known for its villages which are made up of local families who are also ethnic minorities in Vietnam.
These families include the Dao, the Yay, the H’mong and the Phu La and each of these ethnic groups is known for making amazing local handicrafts.
When you travel to the villages you can see how these are made and also pick up some traditional weavings or carvings which make great gifts and souvenirs.
4. Go hiking
Sapa started out life as a scenic hill station during the colonial period and many people came here in the days of old to escape the heat and to enjoy the scenery.
The cool climate here also means that this is one of the best places to go hiking in Vietnam and much of Sapa is covered in lush green hills.
As well as the rolling mountains, you will also find gorgeous glittering waterfalls and stunning valleys which are dotted with craggy caves.
You can take a guided hiking tour of the best spots around Sapa or you can go it alone if you fancy an adventure.
5. Have a drink at Cafe in the Clouds
One of the great highlights of a trip to Sapa is the chance to take in the lush views and there is no better way to do this than by having a drink in one of the mountain bars.
One of the most famous is Cafe in the Clouds and as the name suggests you can spend time here enjoying the mist creeping across the eerie landscape and marvel at the vistas over the emerald green valley below.
You can get a range of drinks here as well as basic local and international dishes and this cafe also has Wi-Fi if you need to get online.
6. Join a H’mong Sewing Class
The H’mong indigenous group in Sapa is known for its sewing and weaving.
If you want to have a go at this firsthand, then you can visit Indigo Cat which is one of the most famous craft stores in town.
Here you can take a class where you can learn how to sew your own handicrafts and you will be taught by members of the local H’mong community.
If you prefer then you can simply visit the shop to buy some of the souvenirs on display which include beautiful textiles as well as other delights like local teas and spices.