Sapa town stands at the head of a deep valley of magnificent rice terraces that are still farmed today as they have been for centuries. Backdrops don’t get much more spectacular. Enticing ribbons of road lead the eye down to the valley floor, white-water rivers rush among rice fields, and lush green mountains stretch into the distance as far as the eye can see. The highest peak in the region, Mount Fansipan, crowns the ragged ridge line high above town.
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.
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.
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.
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.