Sapa is a beautiful town in the northern mountains of Vietnam by the border with China. Many travelers pass through the area on their way from China into Hanoi. Alternatively, some travelers head north from Hanoi to spend a few days in the beautiful mountains where tribal cultures are still alive and well. There are a good number of ethnic minorities that populate the area. The eight populations in the area include H'mong, Dao, Tay, Giay, Muong, Thai, Hoa, and Xa Pho, but the vast majority in the area are H'mong. Within the town of Sapa itself, there are about 7,000 people. The rest of the population lives in the surrounding countryside and are peasant farmers.
The climate in the area is very seasonal. Summers have a subtropical climate while winters have a temperate climate. The town is located at 1500 meters and highs can climb to the mid 80s Fahrenheit while lows drop to the mid 30s Fahrenheit. July and August are the hottest months and December and January are the coldest. The wet season is from May to September with July and August being the wettest months.
The rice fields near Sapa, Vietnam
People travel to Sapa because it is a charming mountain town with an interesting character and beautiful surrounding areas. There are many beautiful viewpoints in the area, but the weather can often limit the views themselves. There are a handful of interesting sights around the town. One popular sight is the Sa Pa Culture Museum, that highlights the history and culture of the area. There are also some lingering French colonial buildings in the area including the church and the Town Hall building. Ham Rong Resort offers good views of the area and has a beautiful garden.
Sapa is a small mountain town with a diverse population of ethnic minorities. There are about 36,000 people who live in the small communities throughout the district, and 7,000 who live in Sapa proper. It's possible to trek to some of the hill tribe communities, as there are trails that connect most areas. Sapa is a perfect base for exploring the area.
Most people spend their time trekking while they're in Sapa. There are organized trekking trips, or it's possible to go it alone. Homestays are also a common option. Cooking classes are also a popular activity. The Hill Station Restaurant offers a class that can be arranged a day in advance. The chefs are H'mong and speak excellent English. They take you to the market where you buy the ingredients to make five local dishes. You dine on your prepared food in the restaurant when the class is over.
Several of the nearby villages have impressive markets as well. The easiest way to visit them is on a tour, but there is some public transportation available as well. You may have to spend the night in the town if you choose to take public transportation though. The markets are colorful and impressive and should not be missed if you're in the area.
If you're looking for souvenirs, there is no shortage of tourist trinkets for sell around town. The H'mong are known for their colorful fabrics from which they make clothing and purses. The style does not translate easily into western culture, but it is fun to look at the options.
Food and Dining
There is no shortage of restaurants in Sapa, but most have similar menus. Italian food is surprisingly common in the area, as is traditional Vietnamese. Italian food is usually more expensive and highly variable in quality. Baguettes are also available around town and several places offer interesting dessert pastries. In the market you can pick up a cheap bowl of noodle soup. It's usually quite good and offers a more authentic experience than most of the sit down restaurants. There's also a local grocery store to the east of the lake with reasonable prices.
If you're not traveling to the area from China, it's easy to catch a train from Hanoi and spend a few days in Sapa. The trip is about 9 hours and there is a wide range of comfort level between cars. Some train cars are run by Vietnam Rail while others are operated by private companies.
Once you're in the town you can walk almost anywhere and the best way to explore the nearby villages is to do a trek. Come prepared for mud though, as rain is quite common and the area is filled with rice terraces, which gather water. It can also be challenging to find the trail, but it is easy to ask a local for directions. Alternatively, you can book a tour in town with a guide who can show you the way, but this is not necessary.
The Nearby Villages
By Bryan on Oct 31, 2011 in Entertainment
Sapa (or Sa Pa) is the most stunning place in Vietnam we visited, and it's also one of our most favorite places in the world. The hilltop town is cooler than the surrounding environments and is surrounded by a beautiful countryside made up of rice terraces and small Hmong villages.
You can easily get to many of these villages by just walking down the various roads and trails out of town. Guides are available if you like, but many of the guidebooks have decent maps or directions. Hotels owners can also point you in the direction of various villages and trails.
Once you get out of town, don't be surprised if local villagers or local children become your guide (wanted or not). They will take you to their village and then usually ask for a small tip. During rainy weather the trails can be quite wet and muddy, especially since many of them pass through rice ponds, so wear good shoes. Also take an umbrella or a poncho. And by all means, take your camera! You might also want to take your lunch if you want to spend all day walking, which is highly recommended.