Approximate area: 700 km2
Elevation: 1600 m
Population: approximately 40,000
Major ethnic minority Groups: Dao, Hmong, Tay, and Giay
Highest Peak: Mount Fanxipan (3142 m)
Terraced rice paddies; lively town centre; ethnic markets; village communities; community tourism projects; traditional homestays; trekking; local food; cooler weather.
Sapa itself is a busy little town; a crossroad of cultures converging then venturing off into the inspirational, misty mountain landscape. The area offers superb trekking to nearby hill tribe villages tucked within the terraced rice paddies. Vietnamtripadvisor Travel is proud to support Ta Phin village’s community based tourism efforts with our tours.
Despite its commercialization during the last decade, Sapa is still a must-see on any northern Vietnam itinerary. On a clear day you will treated to views of steeply terraced rice fields, towering verdant ridgelines, ethnic minority villages, raging rivers and astounding waterfalls.
Nestled high in the Tonkinese Alps near the Chinese border, Sapa was built as a French hill station to serve as a respite from stifling Hanoi summers. These days, weekends are still the biggest draw in this bustling small town. Visitors from the capital flock to Sapa for a glimpse of the famed Saturday night "Love Market", treks to local hill tribe villages, or an ascent of Vietnam's highest peak, Mount Fanxipan.
Some eight ethnic groups inhabit Lao Cai province: Hmong, Dao, White Thai, Giay, Tay, Muong, Hao and Xa Pho. The most prominent in town are the Red Dao, easily identified by the coin-dangling red headdresses and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women; and the Black Hmong, distinguished by their somewhat less elaborately embroidered royal blue attire. Many of the locals that frequent Sapa - especially the women and children - can speak surprisingly good English and are incredibly friendly. One to four-day treks are offered by several outfitters. Guests usaully sleep in the traditiaonal village homestays.
Topping out at 3,143 meters, Fansipan has become the most challenging hike / trek in Vietnam. There are a variety of options and routes that will see one to the summit.
A number of small hotels ranging from 2 to 5 star ranking are available for the tourist. In recent years the town has seen an influz of investment and a number of quaint coffee shops and restaurants serving local and international food are available.
The growning tourism industry has played a contentious role in the region. Regional government, as well as international NGOs and educational institutions have made posititive efforts in building the capacities of the locals. The results have been mixed and a number of challenges continue to plague the local communities, however more and more the benefits of tourism are being shared.
The best times of the year to visit Sapa are in the spring and fall. Early summer tends to be rainy and muddy, while winter temperatures can drop to the freezing mark (Sapa saw snow in years 2000 and 2010!). Weather really does make a difference because the spectacular scenery is all but blotted out when there is cloud cover and rain. However, the infamous Sapa mist does make for some incredible photographs.