Sapa, nestled high in the Tonkinese Alps near the Chinese border on the Northwest, is perhaps the most colorful town in Vietnam. The town was founded by the French in 1922 as a hill station to serve as a brief respite from the heat of summer thanks to its pleasing cool climate. Sapa and its surrounding area offer some of the best trekking and cultural experiences in Southeast Asia. Cascading rice terraces fields are sculpted into the mountains sides while the town is filled with colorful traditional clothes of hill tribal women.

In weekends, Sapa becomes a big draw when hundreds of people flock here for the famous love market, a great trek to local hill tribe villages or an attractive conquest of the 3,143 meter Fansipan Mountain dubbed as the Roof of Indochina. 

The early tourism boom has led to the rapid changes in locals’ life. They become canny traders, urge tourists to buy handicrafts and handmade jewelry with a good command of English. However, don’t be put off by the rush; Sapa is still a must-see on any northern Vietnam itinerary. It’s what lies outside the town that makes Sapa so special. In the beautiful Muong Hoa valley, settlements of the minority ethnic groups such as Hmong, Dao, White Thai, Giay, Tay… with unique cultures have been inhabited here for hundred years. Ta Phin village of the Red Dao distinguished by the coin-dangling red headdresses and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women; Cat Cat village of the Hmong, easily identified by their embroidered, indigo attire. These villages can be visited in day treks from the town or for an authentic tribal experience, let spend nights staying on local homestay.

Nothing can prepare you for the riot of colors and activity at local ethnic markets that can be found around the region. The largest one is Bac Ha market which takes place every Sunday morning from 8am to lunch time. Here you are able to find many things from buffaloes, horses, and blacksmiths to traditional clothes and local artifacts. Other markets are Coc Ly market which opens on every Tuesday, the Saturday market of Can Cau. Last but not least, the Love market on Saturday nights when ethnic boys and girls gathering in a weekly courting rite, singing tribal love songs to woo the opposite sex. With the tourism development, sadly this real love market is dying out. Currently, tourists can only see a representation of it. But do not miss it anyway. And make sure to have your camera fully charged as these markets are a photographer’s delight.

The town also has some attractions which can be visited within the day such as Ham Rong Mountain Park, the Stone Catholic Church. The best times to visit here are in spring with colorful blooming flowers and festivals of hill tribes and in autumn when the vivid green rice terraces fields turn yellow. Summer tends to be rainy and wet while in winter the temperature can drop to below freezing and snows may occur. Sapa can be reached by an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai or by night bus. The newly opened highway from Hanoi to Lao Cai in August 2014 helps to shorten travel time to Lao Cai to 4 hours.

Ham Rong mountain Sapa Vietnam
Ham Rong mountain

Ta Van Sapa Vietnam
Ta Van village

Ta Phin Sapa Vietnam
Ta Phin village

Cat Cat sapa vietnam
Cat Cat village

Fansipan mountain sapa vietnam
Fansipan mountain

ancient stone field in Sapa
Ancient stone field

Hoang Yen Sapa Vietnam
Hoang Yen Chao Castle

Muong Hoa Sapa Vietnam
Muong Hoa valley

The cave of fairies Sapa
The cave of Fairies

Bac Ha market Sapa
Bac Ha market


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