All You Need Before Going To Sapa

Located in the Northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a famous hill station of Lao Cai province near the China border. Sapa has been a popular destination for travelers from many countries over a century. It's an amazing place that a traveler is looking for: an amazing natural beauty with imposing mountains and green valleys, fascinating cultures and traditions of many hill tribes and a beautiful all year round pleasant weather.

The foundation of Sapa

The name Sa Pa is derived from Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin, SaPa or SaPá means "sandy beach" because in the past Sa Pa Town was a small sandy beach where indigenous people often gather during their market days.

After capturing Sapa in 1887, the French colonialists expanded the area of Old Sa Pa into a hill station, especially for summer vacation. In 1915, the first two wooden villas were built by a French contractor. A very short time after that, many French-style villas were built and make this place a popular summer destination in the entire Indochina for French officials. When it became a hill station, the French also set up the infrastructure. In 1925, they built Cat Cat hydroelectric station. Until 1930, they paved the road from Lao Cai to Sapa. A clean water supply system was also built to serve the town area. At the same time, a Sapa residential town was formed. Besides the Vietnamese people, there also were Chinese and French people living here.

Until 1943, Sapa had about 200 villas and houses. It also has many gardens, playgrounds, plantations as well as tourist attractions such as Ham Rong mountain, Da Cave, Silver waterfall, Cau May ... Nowadays, resorts and hotels from the French era are no longer available. as most were destroyed in time. border war with China in 1979.

Since 1954, Sa Pa has become a popular destination for domestic tourists but only until 1992, it has been opened to welcome international tourists.

Sa Pa town has an altitude of 1,600 m above sea level, 38 km from Lao Cai city and 376 km from Hanoi. In addition to the main road from Lao Cai city, there is another transport route to Sapa, which is National Highway 4D connecting the border towns of Binh Lu, Tam Duong and Lai Chau. Although the majority of the inhabitants of Sapa are ethnic minorities, the town is concentrated mainly on Vietnamese people who rely on agriculture and tourism.

Tourists come to Sapa to enjoy not only the fresh air, the simple tranquility of a mountainous area, but also to admire the wild beauty of Sapa terraced fields, waterfalls, or to discover the customs, cultures of ethnic groups in the mountains such as H'Mong, Giay, Red Dao, Tay, Xa Pho ...

Hoang Lien National Park and Vietnam's highest peak: Fan Si Pan

Sa Pa’s highest peak is Fan Si Pan. It is 3,143m high and is also the highest mountain of Indochina on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. The name Hoang Lien Son comes from the Hoang Lien tree, a plant that grows in this area that is used widely by local people as herbal medicine. Being one of the 33 National parks in Vietnam, Hoang Lien has a diverse fauna and flora. The National park has a large area covered by pine forests that is not common for the tropical climate of Vietnam. Hoang Lien Son National park has 136 species of birds, 56 species of mammals, 553 species of insects. There are 37 mammal species recorded in the "Vietnam Red Book". Hoang Lien Son park has 864 species of plants, including 173 species of medicinal plants.

Sapa's locals

6 ethnic groups are living together in Sapa including H'mong, Dzao, Giay, Xa Pho, Tay and Viet. Although they have a cultural influence on each other, each ethnic group still retains its own cultural identity, as well as the customs that have been maintained for many generations. Traditional festivals are maintained every year such as:

- Rice harvesting festival of Giay people
- Dancing Festival of Dao people.
- Sweeping the Village festival of Xa Pho people
- Xuong Dong or the celebration of a new crop at Ban Ho village


Silver Waterfall: About 6km from Sapa in the direction of Tram Ton Pass, Silver Waterfall is about 200m high with rushing water creating impressive mountain sounds.

Cloud Bridge - Cloud Bridge: An old bridge created by locals to cross the river through their village. The original bridge is no longer there, but it is still one of the most visited parts of Sapa because it is located in the beautiful Golden Stream valley (Muong Hoa valley).

Sapa Ancient Stone area: in Muong Hoa valley has 196 carved items covered with many strange figures of ancient inhabitants thousands of years ago. Until today many archaeologists have not yet deciphered their meanings. The ancient carvings area has listed as the National Monuments.

Ham Rong Mountain: is a garden on a mountain inside Sapa town. It's a small yet beautiful garden with nice walking paths and a few scenic viewpoints down to the town center. There's also an orchid garden available for visiting. There are two cultural dancing shows by the local artists from the villages around Sapa.

Sa Pa market: now available everyday however it gets a lot busier on Sunday. A night before the market, local people travel to town and stay overnight. they gather together and sing folk songs or dance together. They often bring along their traditional instruments such as embouchure (lip instrument), bamboo flute, bamboo saxophone... to play. The activities are often happening near the market that’s why people called it a "love market".

Hilltribe villages in the valleys: these are the favorite spots by travelers to Sapa. These are the living places of local people in the villages with an incredible setting on nature. The villages are often located among the rice terraced fields perched on the mountain slope. Trekking through these villages in Sapa while learning about the locals' fascinating culture is an amazing experience. 

Mount Fansipan: also known as the roof of Indochina. Fansipan is now accessible by cable car. You could easily spend half a day in this area wandering through the parks and gardens.

How to get to Sapa? 

Sapa is 350 km far away from Hanoi and is around 40 km from Lao Cai city. Getting to Sapa now is very easy either by public transportation, tour buses or private transportation. 

From Lao Cai city, you can reach to Sapa by roads only. Public buses or private car with driver are readily available while some small other groups choose to rent motorbikes.

How to get to Lao Cai / Sapa from Hanoi?

With the distance is about 300km, from Hanoi to Lao Cai you can choose to go by train, regular public or tour buses or private transportation.  Traveling by train to Sapa is still a popular mode of transportation. There are 6 pairs of trains leaving Hanoi to Lao Cai and vice versa every day but the night trains with sleeper cabins are better choices.

Since the new Hanoi - Lao Cai highway is completed, getting to Sapa from Hanoi is a lot easier by road. The number of visitors choosing to travel by road increase a lot since it takes only 4 hours to get to Lao Cai from Hanoi. Many tourists choose to go by car because the time is much shortened (5 hours now compared with 8-10 hours before). Also, there are now many options for public buses that leave regularly from every bus station in the city. Many tour buses and luxury minivans are leaving Hanoi Old quarter to Sapa from early morning till noontime and from Sapa to Hanoi in the afternoon.

How to get to Sapa from Lao Cai?

Lao Cai is about 40 km from Sapa, and is about 1 hour driving if not in traffic. Some cars from Hanoi go straight to Sapa, but some will stop in Lao Cai and then they use smaller cars to transfer passengers to Sapa to ensure safety (due to Lao Cai - Sa Pa road is narrow, steep).

If you bring a motorbike to Lao Cai and then go to Sa Pa, you should follow the 4D road up hill and it takes roughly 1 hour too. There are also back roads to Sapa that takes you on the less frequented road with amazing scenery. This is also one of our pupular day tour from Lao Cai to Sapa. 

If you take the train, you only arrive at Lao Cai station, then you continue to go another 40 km to reach Sa Pa town. For those who can afford it, renting a private car is the most convenient. However, for those who want to save money, they can choose to go by bus. At the gate outside Lao Cai station, there is a bus stop. They sell bus tickets for a few dollars (equivalent in Vietnamese Dong). And they also accept travelers' bulky luggage.

The bus departs from Lao Cai station square and ends at Sapa Church. They depart quite regularly every day, the earliest bus departs at about 5:30 am to pick up the first groups on board. This bus stops at some pick-up points in Lao Cai city and then goes straight to Sa Pa.

Where to stay

Sapa is a very popular destination, so there are choices for everyone in terms of accommodation, from luxury hotels and resorts to budget guesthouses and homestays in villages. In recent years, there has also been a wide selection of eco-lodges.

There are hundreds of hotels in Sa Pa which are invested with the quality from 1 to 5 stars. The standard of hotel, location and reputation will decide the rates. Some of our favorite hotels are:

Aira Boutique Hotel- 4 star: one of Handspan's favorite hotel. The rooms are very nice with good views. Staff are very attentive and always deliver outstanding service. 

Sapa Elegance Hotel- 2 star: located in the center of Sapa town, Elegance is a small charming local hotel with very spacious rooms and attentive service. 

Topas Ecolodge: is a unique motel that has been certified by National Geographic and is one of the most desired places to stay in Sapa. The resort is located 15km from the center of Sapa on a hilltop with bungalows overlooking the magnificent valley. This is a prime example of sustainable tourism as they use eco-friendly materials to build bungalows and provide jobs for locals from nearby villages. The resort has one of the most impressive year-round jacuzzis and infinity pools in the whole of Vietnam with the best views you can find from a mountain resort.

Homestay in Sapa: Handspan works with communities from different villages since the beginning of tourism development in Sapa to provide unique local experience for our guests. With ‘Homestay’ experience, your overnight accommodation is provided by a local family in their traditional houses. There’s no private room and you’ll sometimes sleep on the floor (with mattress) in a large communal area. The sleeping corner is set up with a single mattress (thin, but adequate), blankets (ditto), pillow and mosquito net. The restroom is at the international standard and a few steps from the main house.

Best time to visit Sapa

The most ideal time to travel to Sapa is from September to November and from March to May. At this time, Sapa weather is stable, sunny day, cool night.

April to May is the time when ethnic minorities transplant rice on terraced fields. And this is also the blooming season of many beautiful flowers. The scenery of rice transplanting is very beautiful, which is liked by paparazzi in this ripe rice season.

September to October is the season of ripe rice, when all the scenery of Sapa seems to brighten up. Around this time, Sapa seems to put on a new color - yellow all over the hillsides. But you should go in mid or late September, to October many places have already harvested.

Summer from June to August is also the rainy season but the rice fields are green and lush.

December to February can be chilly, but this is also the season of cherry blossoms.

INBOUNDVIETNAM TRAVEL is recognized by the Vietnam Tourism Association as a Top Tour Operator and Service Provider of Visa, Work Permit, Permanent Residence Card and nominated for the Vietnam Trusted Travel Company award.

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