Just a cushy overnight train journey (350km North of Hanoi) towards the Chinese border, lies the mountainous market town of Sapa. Cooler temperatures, extravagantly dressed hill tribe folks and a French colonial flavour make you feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. The little town is charming in it’s own right, with it’s quaint little streets, coffee shops and bustling markets, but it is best used as the starting point for adventures into the surrounding hills and valleys.
Beautiful countryside in Sapa
Where to Stay?
- Vietnam Backpackers’ Hostel (famous in Hanoi) have just opened their brand new hostel in Sapa, The Mountain View Hostel bringing all that friendliness and comfort to the mountains! The Mountain View is located in the heart of Sapa town just minutes from the town square sporting some truly epic views of the Sapa Valley. The cozy rooms are all heated and there’s a choice of 4-6 bed dormitories, to shared twins and private rooms with twin beds or double beds. All the rooms have rain shower suites with an endless supply of hot water (much needed after trekking in the cold hills!)
- Sapa Backpacker Hostel is also another popular choice that’s been running for years.
Things to do in Sapa
- Trekking – Hiking amidst misty mountains and steeped rice terraces to visit traditional hill-tribe villages is where the real magic of Sapa can be found. And, although the area is now very accustomed to visits from tourists, you’ll still experience a fascinating way of life and witness a different side to Vietnam. (You’ll even come away with a fetching cushion cover you never knew you needed!)
- Homestays – For longer treks, (two or three days) it’s possible to arrange home stays with the Black H’mong, Red Dzao and Dzay ethnic minorities, where you’ll be welcomed into their homes as part of the family – ladle upon ladle of delicious homemade food and lashings of potent local moonshine ‘Xeo’ guaranteed! Waking up to the fresh mountain air and the beautiful scenery all around is an experience that you won’t forget.
Amazing feast at a traditional homestay in Sapa
- Hire a Motorbike: Getting off the beaten track in South East Asia on a motorbike is highly recommended! Explore dusty lanes and mountain passes (makes sure you wear a helmet!) and it’ll cost you around $10 USD for the whole day. Nervous about hiring a bike? Check out this article on motorbike safety tips in South East Asia.
Exploring the mountains on your own two wheels!
- Traditional Markets – Further day trips from Sapa include visits to the traditional markets, such as Bac Ha Weekend Market and Muong Hum Market. Mingle with the locals as they trade homemade goods, haggle for some unique souvenirs and try some local delicacies. For a unique cultural experience, don’t miss the Saturday night ‘Love Market’ in Sapa where local hill tribes congregate from villages all around to find their perfect match. Haven’t they heard of www.match.com?
- Climb Vietnam’s Highest Mountain – If you’re feeling really adventurous you can climb (and hopefully summit) the highest mountain in Vietnam, ‘Fansipan.’ (3143 m) Climb through pine forest and bamboo thicket to reach the summit and be rewarded with amazing panoramic views over Vietnam and North to China and Yunnan province. Read this article about one backpacker’s experience conquering Fansipan here.
Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam and a tough climb!
Getting to Sapa
From Hanoi there are hundreds of travel agents and guest houses where you can book trips to Sapa. It’s a comfortable overnight train journey (with sleeper cabins) to Lao Cai, where you then take a minivan to the main town. Trips booked in Hanoi usually include train fare, accommodation and the price of the trek and guide. Considering what you get for your money, these ‘all-in’ trips are a really good deal.
Where to go next?
Are you interested in exploring the incredible countryside around Sapa? Check out this group adventure ‘The Buffalo Run North West’, where you’ll experience three exciting destinations. The Mai Chau Valley, the untouched mountain village of Mu Cang Chai, and then finish at Buffalo Run Base Camp in Sapa. The 5-night, 6-day trip is organized by the epic Vietnam Backpackers’ Hostels, who cooked up the original ‘Buffalo Run from Hanoi to Hoi An’ and ‘Halong Bay & Castaways Island Tour’. On all three trips, you’re guaranteed a fun-filled adventure with like-minded travel buddies!