Perched at 1600 meters high, on the breath-taking Hoang Lien Son mountain chain, Sapa is a really popular destination among hiking lovers who enjoy vibrant encounters. The region of Sapa is indeed the land of many ethnic minorities, such as the Black Hmong and Red Dao people, still very attached to their ancestral traditions.
Little town lost in the Tonkinese Mountains, Sapa rose during the early 20th century when the railway line opened, linking HaÏphong to Lao Caï. After the construction of a military sanatorium and a Catholic Mission, colons settled down in Sapa and built a health resort so that French people of Hanoi could enjoy a refreshing outing during great summer heats. Then, 30 years of war made Sapa fall into oblivion and it is only during the 1990s that Sapa started its touristic activities and therefore, once again, became a very popular destination in terms of outdoor activities and beautiful natural landscapes.
Sapa, the great hiking destination of North Vietnam
Sapa has unique landscapes that are undeniably some of the most spectacular of North Vietnam. The nearby mountains and valleys are entirely covered in rice terraces, offering beautiful sights. These grandiose sceneries are the background setting of many hiking trails. Depending on your level and your desires, several types of trek are available, from a few hours long walk to several day-long hikes with nights in local villages.
Hiking in Sapa is really just a subtle excuse to go and meet many some of the many ethnic minorities living in the area. Even though you can encounter them in Sapa’s city center, it will always be far more interesting to meet them in their village, where they can show you their ancestral traditions and give you that warm welcoming they’re so well known for.
The ethnic minorities of Sapa
Sapa is home to a beautiful patchwork of ethnicities, among them the large communities of Black Hmong and Red Dao. Representing over 50% of Sapa’s total population, Black Hmong people form the biggest ethnic group of the region. They are easily identifiable by their sober indigo outfits. Men and women wear black pants with some kind of gaiters covering their lower legs and feet. As for Dao women, their traditional outfit is identifiable by a voluminous red headdress and an indigo jacket with red ornaments on it. Both Dao and Hmong women wear beautiful silver jewelry.
From Sapa, meeting these locals is easily doable after a few hour-long car ride. Moreover, it could be the occasion to stop by the ethnic market of Bac Ha which takes place every Sunday, drawing many ethnicities including the Hmong Fleur, recognized by their colorful outfits.
Mount Fansipan, the roof of Indochina
In Sapa, sport enthusiasts can try to climb Mount Fansipan which, peaking at 3143 meters high, is Vietnam’s highest mountain top. This quite challenging trek will require 2 to 3 days to reach the top ot the mountain. For the less adventurers, it is now possible to get on the roof of Indochina as well by cable-car. If the weather is not too cloudy, once at the top, you can enjoy a breathtaking sight of the Tonkinese Alps and the mountain chain of Hoang Lien Son.
Sapa, a nature-oriented destination
Sapa is definitely a destination for nature lovers, due to its exceptional setting. In addition to hiking, in Sapa you can:
- Discover Love and Silver Waterfalls, located on the way to Tram Ton pass at 1900 meters altitude, which is also the highest pass you can access by car. If the weather is nice, the sight is beautiful, especially on Mount Fan Si Pan.
- Contemplate the petroglyphs of Sapa, classified as national and historical heritage. Carved on quartzite stones scattered on the side of a valley, those petroglyphs remain today an enigma after being discovered a century ago now.
- Discover the Ham Rong mountain and its gorgeous gardens, filled with roses, hortensias, rhododendrons and orchids.
- Take a bath in a mix of medicinal plants, Dao Rouge’s specialty.
How to get to Sapa?
- By night train from Hanoi to Lao Caï in a sleeper cab. Once arrived to La Caï, it takes an hour-long ride to get to Sapa.
- By bus, very comfortable, making Hanoi to Sapa in 5 hours.
Best seasons to go:
Be careful about the season you choose to go to Sapa. The best periods are during April, May, June, end of September, October and November.
Rice planting is in May, so the rice terraces are beautifully green in July and turn to a gorgeous yellow in August. The rice is then collected during the end of September and early October.