Just a cushy overnight train journey (350km North of Hanoi) towards the Chinese border, lies the mountainous market town of Sapa. Cooler temperatures, extravagantly dressed hill tribe folks and a French colonial flavour make you feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. The little town is charming in it’s own right, with it’s quaint little streets, coffee shops and bustling markets, but it is best used as the starting point for adventures into the surrounding hills and valleys.
Things to do in Sapa
Trekking amidst misty mountains and steeped rice terraces to visit traditional hill-tribe villages is where the real magic of Sapa can be found. And, although the area is now very accustomed to visits from tourists, you’ll still experience a fascinating way of life and witness a different side to Vietnam. (You’ll even come away with a fetching cushion cover you never knew you needed!)
For longer treks, (two or three days) it’s possible to arrange home stays with the Black H’mong, Red Dzao and Dzay ethnic minorities, where you’ll be welcomed into their homes as part of the family – ladle upon ladle of delicious homemade food and lashings of potent local moonshine ‘Xeo’ guaranteed! Waking up to the fresh mountain air and the beautiful scenery all around is an experience that you won’t forget.
Further day trips from Sapa include visits to the traditional markets, such as Bac Ha Weekend Market and Muong Hum Market. Mingle with the locals as they trade homemade goods, haggle for some unique souvenirs and try some local delicacies. For a unique cultural experience, don’t miss the Saturday night ‘Love Market’ in Sapa where local hill tribes congregate from villages all around to find their perfect match. Haven’t they heard of www.match.com?
If you’re feeling really adventurous you can climb (and hopefully summit) the highest mountain in Vietnam, ‘Fansipan.’ (3143 m) Climb through pine forest and bamboo thicket to reach the summit and be rewarded with amazing panoramic views over Vietnam and North to China and Yunnan province.
From Hanoi there are hundreds of travel agents and guest houses where you can book trips to Sapa. It’s a comfortable overnight train journey (with sleeper cabins) to Lao Cai, where you then take a minivan to the main town. Trips booked in Hanoi usually include train fare, accommodation and the price of the trek and guide. Considering what you get for your money, these ‘all-in’ trips are a really good deal.