Sapa

aerial view amitabha buddha statue fanispan sapa vietnam


Sapa is a small town located in the heart of northwestern Vietnam.  Located above a deep valley flanked by cascading rice terraces and surrounded by high mountains, Sapa is a sight to be seen.  Though heavy mists often roll through the mountains, the vibrant colors of its rice fields, temples, and people shine through in a vibrant display.  



love market hmong tribe sapa vietnam
Hmong vendors at the Love Market.


Sapa is the most visited location along the northern loop of Vietnam, with many people making this their only stop in the northern reaches of Vietnam.  The city itself can feel pretty touristy, but you can easily get out of the tourist grind by simply traveling a few kilometers out of town. 

 

What to Do



buddha temple fanispan sapa vietnam
Buddha states in a temple on Fansipan.


Outside of Town



fanispan temple sapa vietnam
Fansipan Temple


              The largest attraction, and my personal favorite, is to venture to the top of Fansipan mountain.  To get to the starting point you can rent a taxi or moto to take you there or just walk.  The walk is not that far, 2.5 km, and is not that strenuous.   Once to the starting point you have two choices, you can either make the two-day hike or take the gondola to the top.  The gondola costs 700,000 VND/31.84 USD round trip, so is a little expensive, but it’s well worth the trip.  In the gondola you will cross high above the valley, being able to see all of the rice terraces below you, then make your way up the steep forest covered mountain ridges and see a few waterfalls as they crash down the mountainside.  


trekking map sapa vietnam
Trekking map of Sapa.


              Like the rest of Northern Vietnam, this region is well known for its hiking opportunities and many tourists use Sapa as their base for hiking out into the mountains or visiting the villages of minority tribes that dot the countryside.  It is easy to do day hikes around the Sapa area on your own and you can get a map of the area from the Tourist Information Center.  It is advisable to hire a guide though if you are wanting to do multiday hikes or want a more enriching hike.  Many hotels and tour companies in the Sapa have guided tours that you can select from.   


In Town



buddhist temple fanispan sapa vietnam
A Buddhist Temple on Fansipan.


              Sapa is also well known for its bar-b-q.  Vietnamese bar-b-q is simply skewers of meat or vegetables that are cooked over a grill.  It’s not quite the same thing you would think of if you come from the southern states of America, but its still worth a try.  Every evening, restaurants throughout town fire up the grill and lay out an array of kabobs for travelers to feast upon. 


souvenirs love market sapa vietnam
Souvenirs at the Love Market.


              Sapa is also home of the Hmong tribe, a small ethnic group that only resides in this area of Vietnam.  While walking through the streets you will often see people in traditional clothing selling souvenirs on the street side, but you can also go to the Love Market, a local street market located near the amphitheater, to take in all of Sapa’s souvenirs in one place.  


hmong women love market sapa vietnam
Hmong women in the Love Market.


Being a major tourist location, you can also find many moderately priced massage parlors that offer a selection of different types of massages.


How to Get There



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View of the rice terraces from the Fansipan gondola.


              Unless you have a motorcycle, the easiest way of getting to Sapa is from Hanoi.  So, if you happen to be doing the northern loop without a motorcycle, it is best to take the shuttle bus from Ba Be to Hanoi and then travel from there to Sapa.  From Hanoi there are two transportation options to Sapa, the train and sleeper bus.

Bus



sleeper bus vietnam
One of the many sleeper buses that travel Hanoi-Sapa.


              Travelling by bus is by far the easiest way to get to Sapa.  All of the buses are sleeper buses so you can lean back and relax during the trip.  From Hanoi there are several bus companies that you can take that leave from different locations around town and travel directly to Sapa (with a few restroom stops along the way).  The trip takes about 6 hours and cost anywhere from 200,000 VND/8.62 USD to 500,000 VND/22 USD (depending on the company).  If you reserve a ticket through your hotel in the Old Quarter then there is a good chance they will pick you up from there.  Otherwise you can book a ticket online at 12GO.com or buy the tickets from the bus station itself.  My Dinh (located in the western part of town) is the main bus station in Hanoi servicing the north of Vietnam, but there are others near the Old Quarter as well.  


inside sleeper bus vietnam
The inside of a sleeper bus.


              Travelling back to Hanoi from Sapa is just as easy.  Just like travelling to Sapa, you can reserve a ticket through your hotel, online at 12GO.com, or by going to the bus station located east of the lake.


Train



train vietnam
Vietnamese train.


              The train is another good way to get to and from Sapa, but it is not direct.  The train travels from Hanoi to Lao Cai, 25 km from Sapa, and from there you will need to take a van or taxi the rest of the way.  The train leaves Hanoi from the Tran Quy Cap train station at 9:30 pm and arrives 8 hours later in Lao Cai at 5:30 am.  There are several train companies that make the trip daily, but it is wise to buy your tickets early as they sell out quickly, especially if you are wanting a specific style of seat.  These tickets can be bought at the train station itself or online at 12GO.com.  The seats consist of hard seats (wooden bench), soft seats (similar to airplane seats), hard sleeper (6 beds), and soft sleeper (4 beds).  The prices of these seats range dramatically depending on whether you are riding Vietnamese Railways or one of the private train companies, but you can find tickets as low as 120,000 VND/5.45 USD.  For your return trip to Hanoi, if you have not already purchased your return ticket, it is best to buy it when you arrive at the station or online at 12GO.com.  These trains leave the Lao Cai train station at 8:55 pm daily.  


soft seats train vietnam
Soft seats inside a Vietnamese train.


              Once you arrive in Lao Cai you will need to take a van or bus the rest of the way to Sapa, which takes about an hour.  These are easily available outside the train station and cost 50,000 VND/2.27 USD.  If you are looking for a cheaper option, then you can catch the public bus for 30,000 VND/1.36 USD at the bus stop located just across the parking lot.


Where to Stay



aerial view fanispan temple sapa vietnam
Aerial view of one of the temple complexes on Fansipan.


              Sapa offers a variety of choices when it comes to a place to lay your head.  Within town you can easily find a number of budget to high end hotels to fit your needs.  If it is a more authentic experience you are looking for, you can find that too.  In the valley below town are many homestays that will allow you to get a feel of the rural Vietnamese way of life.  Check out the map function at Agoda to find some of the homestays outside of town. 


Where to Eat



bbq skewers food sapa vietnam
A few of my favorite bar-b-q kabobs.


              Sapa’s streets are lined with restaurants offering many different types of food to hungry travelers to fill up on.  Sapa is most known for its bar-b-q, skewers of meat or vegetables that are cooked over a grill, and it is well worth the try.  These bar-b-q joints are easy to find, just look for the big charcoal grills outside of a restaurant with a table of kabobs sitting beside it.  My four personal favorites were the mushrooms, string mushrooms wrapped in pork, chicken, and the horse kabobs.  


pinpoint map sapa vietnam


What was your experience in Sapa? 

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