Sa Pa is a town in the HoàngLiên Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam. A popular trekking base, it overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, and is near the 3,143m-tall Phang Xi Pang peak, which is climbable via a steep, multiday guided walk. Hill tribes, such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao, make up much of the town’s local population.

Established as a hill station by the French colonialists in 1922, Sapa today is the tourism centre of the northwest.

Sapa is oriented to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; it overlooks a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even when it’s cloudy, local hill-tribe people fill the town with color.

If you were expecting a quaint alpine town, recalibrate your expectations. Modern tourism development has seen Sapa’s skyline continually thrust upwards. But you’re not here to hang out in town. This is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking base, from where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seem a world apart. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields, you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm.

Top things to do in Sapa
Summit Mount Fansipan

A 6-kilometre cable car journey will whisk you 3,143m to the summit of Mount Fansipan in just 15 minutes. Wander the pagoda complex before climbing the last few steps to the summit. The views from the ‘Roof of Indochina’ are unmatched.

Visit an ethnic minority market

Every Sunday the Bac Ha market bursts into life, as hundreds of traders from the Dzao, Han, Xa Fang, Tay and Thai tribes descend on the market, decked out in traditional garb. Expect a riot of colour and excited haggling.

Go trekking in the hills

Sapa offers some of Vietnam’s best trekking, and some villages such as Cat Cat and Ta Phin can be seen without a guide. Book an overnight trek to wander through rice terraces, bathe in waterfalls and experience ethnic culture firsthand.

Stay in a mountain lodge

Stay outside the tourist hub of Sapa in simple comfort at a mountaintop lodge. Sapa is home to excellent lodges and homestays. Set among the rice terraces, you’ll brush shoulders with farmers as they go about their daily lives.

Get active

Mountain biking is a great way to get out and explore lesser-visited corners of Sapa. The annual Vietnam Mountain Marathon attracts some 4000 competitors who run buffalo-beaten trails ranging from 10 to 100 kilometres.

Sapa Weather
The best time to visit Sapa is in September and October when the rice terraces are at their most splendid; or in April and May when the weather is ideal and skies are clear. For those who don’t mind hot weather, June to August is a fine time to visit. Expect chilly weather from November to March.

Sapa Transport
Overnight trains are the most popular way to reach Sapa via the neighbouring province capital, Lao Cai. Upon arrival, transfer vans finish the journey up the mountains. Alternatively, regular buses and shuttle vans run from Hanoi with a journey time of five to six hours, stopping in the centre of town. As a former hill station, Sapa has plenty of steep roads and pathways. Many visitors get around by foot, or by taxi. Adventure-seekers can rent mountain bikes to explore the trails along the valley.

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