- Top Things To Do in Sapa
- 1. Best Thing To Do in Sapa – Hiking and Trekking
- 2. Visit Traditional Ethnic Villages
- 3. Do a Local Home Stay
- 4. View Sapa from Ham Rong Mountain
- 5. Stroll Down to Cat Cat Village
- 6. Ride the Muong Hoa Funicular to Fansipan Cable Station
- 7. Incredible Sky Journey to Mount Fansipan
- 8. See The World from Bich Van Pagoda
- 9. Really Conquer Mount Fansipan on Foot
- 10. Silver and Love Waterfalls
- 11. Bag Some Deals at Sapa Market
- 12. Extreme Sports Adventure
- 13. Mountain Biking Trails
- 14. Wander Around Sapa Lake
- 15. A Little Bit of History at Sapa Museum
- 16. Bac Ha Market
- How to Get to Get to Sapa
- Best Time for Visiting and Hiking in Sapa
- Best Ethnic Villages to Visit in Sapa
Sapa is in Lao Cai (Lào Cai) province in the northeast of Vietnam. It’s a thriving market town and a gateway to experience the multi-ethnic diversity of rural Vietnam. It’s about 1 500 meters above sea level, with the Hoang Lien Son mountains dominating the skyline.
Often shrouded in fog, the origins of Sapa are equally mysterious. Very little is known about the people who lived there before the arrival of the present ethnic peoples such as the Hmong, Dao, Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tày. Sapa’s population is not much more than 80 000.
Things to do in Sapa town include the famous cableway ride to the 3 134 meters high Mt. Fansipan, which is the highest mountain peak in the South East Asian region.
Top Things To Do in Sapa
Not so long ago Sapa was a backwater town mostly favored by backpackers and hikers looking for off the beaten path adventures. Hiking through its gorgeous mountain valleys is still one of the most popular things to do in Sapa, and some trekking routes remain fairly untrodden. With the recent completion of the Mt. Fansipan cableway, Sapa now attracts many kinds of tourists who specifically come to enjoy the rooftop view of Indochina. Other popular activities are homestays in local communities, visiting ethnic villages, shopping in handicraft markets, or breathing in the fresh mountain air.
1. Best Thing To Do in Sapa – Hiking and Trekking
There are many cool things to do in Sapa, but if you don’t try at least a day of hiking and trekking, you’re most certainly missing out. Hiking trails will take you along country paths, terraced rice paddied valleys and mountain slopes, up to waterfalls and mountain peaks.
If you go on a tour or with a guide, choose carefully or try to avoid highly commercialized routes. A good tour guide can minimize the risk of being overly harassed by hawkers, and some can be very informative and knowledgeable. If you prefer the ad hoc experience, there are local guides who tout their services outside Sapa train station.
The best way to hike Sapa is to spend at least one night sleeping out in a local village. A tour operator can also arrange homestays with local people, or you can arrange these yourself.
2. Visit Traditional Ethnic Villages
You can go to any village by yourself, and most charge a small entrance fee. However, going with a local guide is all the most interesting and beneficial. You can learn about the customs of the people, history, and geography. You also have the chance to interact with locals with more than just a friendly wave. Guides may often know little gems and places you’d never find by yourself.
Visits to traditional villages are usually part of any hiking, trekking, or mountain biking tour. These may also include local homestays for two or three-day hikes.
There are many day tours by van that visit villages and scenic valleys. Some of these tours may include a lunch stop-over at a local’s house. If you go on your own either walking, cycling, or motorbiking, you’ll have to hassle around for your own grub. See our list of the best villages to visit in Sapa at the end of this article.
3. Do a Local Home Stay
Getting away from it all is one of the things people come to do in Sapa. There’s no better way to experience traditional customs, hospitality, and genuine home-cooked meals than doing a local village homestay. There are various ways to arrange homestays, and it all depends on what you really want.
For more comfortable types of homestays, you can find them advertised on sites like booking.com. For a mixture of different ‘comfort grades’ try homestay.com. However, if you want the most genuine experience, you’re probably better off going with a trusted agency with local contacts. This way you also have a local intermediary if any issue should arise.
To know that locals will benefit the most from your stay, you can book a homestay through trusted NGO groups like Ethos Spirit, or Sapa O’Chau.
Protip: Hiking and mountain biking tours often include homestays with local people, so you may want to consider one of these as a convenient package option.
4. View Sapa from Ham Rong Mountain
Ham Rong mountain (núi Hàm Rồng) is a relatively easy climb from within the city limits. It’s more like a mountain park, and depending on the season, you can enjoy the many flowers including numerous orchid species. To get to the top may take about two hours, so it’s about a half-day activity.
It can be quite misty up there and the stone paths slippery so make sure you have some good footwear and a light jacket. It’s a nice way to get into your hiking legs, and on a clear day, you can see the peak of Mt. Fansipan. There’s also a viewing platform for that special pic of Sapa.
The way there is just past the Notre Dame Cathedral, second turning on the left, and you’ll walk past the Hàm Rồng Hotel on the left.
5. Stroll Down to Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village (làng Cát Cát) is home to the black-clad Hmong people, and it’s only 3 km or a 40-minute-walk from the Sapa lake area.
A nice thing to do in Sapa is to wake up a little earlier, skip the boring hotel breakfast, and take a leisurely stroll (mostly downhill) to Cat Cat village. There are places along the way for a coffee or a quick bite to eat.
There’s a ticket booth to where the village road begins. You have to pay 70 000 VND and you’ll get a map of the area. At the bottom of the valley is the Cat Cat Waterfall.
You can walk a loop around different parts of the village, and there are enough souvenir and handicraft stores to test your bargaining skills. Cát Cát can be a little touristy and commercialized, but if you get there early, you can get more into the village vibe.
Protip: A nice place for breakfast on the way down Fansipan Road is the Good Morning Vietnam Cafe. If you’re not up for the high back uphill, there are motorbike taxis that will save your day.
6. Ride the Muong Hoa Funicular to Fansipan Cable Station
It would be a sad day if you left Sapa without having gone to the top of Mt. Fansipan. You can take a taxi to the downtown Fansipan Cable Station, or many hotels may have shuttle buses. It’s also a 40-minute walk there with clear signposting from the cathedral.
A much more interesting, and faster way, is to hitch a ride on the suspended Fansipan monorail with some fantastic vistas of the Sapa valley and mountains. The station is in the fancy part of town in the Sun Plaza building, across the way from the cathedral.
Tickets to the cable station are 200 000 VND / Adult and 150 000 VND / Child. If you buy a cable ticket too, you get a 50 000 VND discount. Make sure not to lose your return ticket.
The cable station is just a short walk across from the Muong Hoa terminal (ga Mường Hoa) through some beautiful gardens. If you’re not in a rush, you can visit the Bao An Pagoda (Chùa Bảo An) just opposite the cable station. There’s shopping you can do around both terminals.
7. Incredible Sky Journey to Mount Fansipan
The amazing Fansipan sky cable was opened in 2016 under the joint effort of Vietnam’s leading leisure and entertainment Sun Group and the Austrian cable company Doppelmayr Garaventa. It’s the world’s longest three-wire cable car (6,292 meters ), and it will take you to the roof of Indochina. Previously it was a two-day hike to the top of Mount Fansipan.
The cable station is very modern with restaurants, shopping, and clean toilets. There are three cable stations and several ticket options. You can buy a single ticket to the first station and walk 600 steps up to the second station.
Alternatively, you buy a ticket up to the second station, and a ticket down from the 1st station to walk 600 steps down. Once reaching the 2nd station, there are still 603 steps to climb up to the summit of Mount Fansipan.
An adult return journey to all stations (2020) is 700 000 VND, children are 500 000 VND, and those below 1.1 meters are free. If the weather is bad, or if you can’t manage 600 steps to the peak, there is the Đỗ Quyên train to shuttle you up there at 100 000 VND a single trip.
8. See The World from Bich Van Pagoda
Once you’re on the rooftop of Indochina, one of the main attractions of Mt. Fansipan is the Bich Van Pagoda (Chùa Bích Vân). Although based on Tran Dynasty architecture, this vast mountain complex amalgamates many architectural styles, motifs, and even other religious cultures of Vietnam.
It’s fittingly a microcosm of Vietnamese religious and architectural traditions. Besides the central pagoda, it also includes a Trần Hưng Đạo Temple and a Holy Mother Temple (Đền thờ Tam Thánh Mẫu).
You don’t have to pay to enter pagodas and temples once there. There’s also a coffee shop at the top cable stop where you can relax indoors, and a number of souvenir shops too. The cable car is well-managed and the facilities are clean.
9. Really Conquer Mount Fansipan on Foot
Back in the day, only the chosen ones ever got to see the world from the top of Mount Fansipan. The sacred mountain peak was a physical as well as spiritual quest, which took two days and a night to the top. But nowadays, anyone can hop on a 30-minute cable ride and get it done and dusted.
If you want to hike up Mt. Fansipan, you’re more than welcome to do so. If you do a two day climb you can view the sunrise before the hoards of day-trippers flock in. There are trekking tours and expert guides you can go with, but you should never attempt to climb either up or down on your own.
A popular starting point is the Tram Ton Pass (đèo Trạm Tôn) trail at the entrance of Love Waterfall. It’s 11,2 km to the top through some amazing scenery and takes about 6 hours.
Most hikers these days choose to just take the cable car back to Sapa. If you do this mountain hike, make sure to research properly (Vietnamcoracle.com) and consider your options.
10. Silver and Love Waterfalls
If you want to enjoy some ice cool dips, or just view the scenery, these two main waterfalls in Sapa can be experienced in different ways. You can rent a motorbike, or join one of many many tours that do both waterfalls together. A taxi or Grab Car can get you there for around 500 000 VND return, although it’s a little expensive.
At Love Waterfall (thác Tình Yêu), once you’ve paid the entrance fee of 70 000 VND, it’s still about a 30-minute-walk up to the fall. The nature is nice, but outside the rainy season, the waterfall isn’t that spectacular. You can also swim in the pools below.
Silver Waterfall (thác Bạc) is more of a cascading waterfall and it looks like a long silver dragon in the rainy season. The entry is 20 000 VND and it’s about 300 steps to the upper point. This is not a waterfall for swimming.
Protip: It can be slippery at both waterfalls, so have good shoes and a jacket for when visiting.
11. Bag Some Deals at Sapa Market
If you’re in Sapa for a few days doing hiking, there will be plenty of opportunities along the way to snap up some souvenirs or handcrafts. It’s always nice to spread the love around, but a visit to Sapa Market is worth a stop before you go.
This new market space opened in 2019. There are a lot of clothes for sale, even fake brand hiking gear, and other things such as dried fruits, nuts, teas, herbal remedies, and sticky rice in bamboo poles.
There are traditional handicraft shops on the first floor, but a workshop and more stores on the second. The tribal women are gregarious, but friendly. A lot of shops sell the same things, so you can make some hard bargains. On the east side of the ground floor are food stands where you can sit down and eat some really authentic local dishes.
12. Extreme Sports Adventure
There are some nice niche things to do in Sapa. If what you need is more adrenaline focused activities, why not try some canyoning? You have to book a tour (Sapacanyoningtour.com) and all equipment is of course included.
Most of the canyoning takes place at Love Waterfall. Other activities often included in these tours are scrambling, abseiling, cliff jumping, zip-lining, and rope rigging. Afterward, you can swim in the water pools, and then enjoy a relaxing massage or soak away your pains in a traditional herbal bath.
13. Mountain Biking Trails
While hiking is a favorite thing to do in Sapa, mountain biking is a nice option too. You can do and see a lot more this way compared to hiking. There are many cycling routes, some going to nearby villages, up to Silver Waterfall and Tram Ton Pass, others through the Muong Hoa valley.
Mountain biking tours can even be just a half-day activity, but you can also go on a 3-day trip to Lao Cai near the Chinese border. In this case it’s a one-way trip and you can either return by vehicle or have your luggage forwarded on.
Some people also like to go on mountain bike tours from Hanoi to Sapa. Alternatively, you’re also free to rent a mountain bike in Sapa for as long as you want and do things at your own pace.
14. Wander Around Sapa Lake
Like Hanoi, Dalat, and other cities in Vietnam, Sapa is built around a (small) lake. It’s particularly nice on a windless day for perfect shots of the buildings’ reflections on the glassy lake surface with the mountains in the distance. If you are in the vicinity, it’s worth the 10-minute stroll around. For 40 000 VND, you can also rent small swan boats for a bash around the lake.
The west side is just government buildings and a school, but to the south there are some nice coffee shops, tea shops, and restaurants. You can stop by Sapa O’Chau Cafe in a side street. It’s a non-profit cafe with an English menu and you can book homestays there too.
Just off from the large grassy area at the intersections, you’ll find the popular Le Gecko Cafe. They have great food, really nice desserts, and are well known for their quality coffee.
Protip: From Gecko Cafe it’s just a short walk through Sapa Park to the Cathedral on the opposite side. It’s also a short walk to the Sapa Museum.
15. A Little Bit of History at Sapa Museum
Sapa Museum is a kind of unofficial museum, so it’s free to enter, or just leave a small donation. It’s a bit rustic and neglected, but some really interesting displays and information about ethnic minorities.
The displays are in Vietnamese, English, and French. You can also visit the shop which sells a good selection of crafts, fabrics, and souvenirs. It’s a little pricey, but the quality is really good, and there’s no hassling.
The museum is a little difficult to find. The best is to find your way to the Sapa Tourist Information Office, and walk along to some steps that lead up to where the museum is located behind.
The information center is more like a government-run tour agency where you can book cheaper tours, treks, homestays, and things like buses. Don’t expect any kind of first-class service.
Protip: If you have an afternoon free or nothing in the morning, you can visit the museum, the cathedral, and Sapa lake with a stop off at a coffee shop or restaurant.
16. Bac Ha Market
There are a number of large ethnic markets in villages and areas surrounding Sapa city. They’re quite interesting for getting a full visual experience of ethnic people’s lives. Bac Ha (Bắc Hà) is one of the more popular of these markets and it’s about 100 km northeast of Sapa city.
The best way to get there is to take a tour which includes a few picturesque villages along the way. A motorbike rental is another good way, and longer mountain bike trails may also go here. Bac Ha District is easily accessible by train from Hanoi.
A number of ethnic groups gather to trade here on Sundays only and it’s a big social gathering too. Tourists may be interested in local fabrics, cloth, clothing and you can also pick up local art, pottery, handicrafts, and jewelry. While in Bắc Hà District, you can visit Hoàng A Tưởng Palace— an oriental baroque style palace dating back to the early twentieth century.
How to Get to Get to Sapa
Sapa city is 380 km from Hanoi, so you have to plan at least a day or so for travel. One way to get there is by train to Lao Cai, and then to transfer by bus or minivan to Sapa. The other way is by various types of buses which go directly to Sapa.
The Train: The overnight sleeper train from Hanoi takes about 8hrs 20min. There are three trains leaving in the evening. It’s then 34km by minibus or private transfer to Sapa. Standard prices are around 400 000 VND one way for a 4-sleeper cabin, but here are luxury two-person cabins as well.
The Bus: Buses take between 5 to 6 hours and there are various options, times, and pricing depending on how comfortable you want to be. A number of bus companies run sleeper buses with reclining seats, some more spacious than others. Sleeper buses are not that much cheaper than the train, but will get you to Sapa directly.
The Van: If you want to travel with more comfort, style, and luxury, there are some nice private van companies. Luxury vans usually take between four to six people with reclining swivel seats. There are less luxurious vans too if you don’t mind ordinary seats for 6 hours.
If you’re going to travel overnight, the train is the better option because you can get to lie down on a (narrow) bed. Even still, you may not arrive completely refreshed. The day time travel option allows you to get to your Sapa hotel directly and to have a good night’s sleep before a day of venturing out.
Best Time for Visiting and Hiking in Sapa
All seasons offer a uniquely different experience of Sapa.
- March through June is the spring with lots of flowers blooming and rice planting.
- July to August is the rainy season with mainly heavy downpours in the afternoon. You can enjoy lush green paddies, with fewer people around.
- September, especially into mid September and the beginning of October are the best times to view the golden hues of the rice fields.
- December to February is frosty, with snow on the mountains.
Best Ethnic Villages to Visit in Sapa
- Cat Cat Village – is at the start of the scenic Muong Hoa Valley only 3 km outside Sapa. It’s easy to visit Cat Cat village on your own for a day.
- Lao Chai Village (làng Lao Chải) – is home to the Hmong people and is situated 7 km due south of Sapa. It’s rated as one of the most beautiful villages and is often the stop off on hiking trails.
- Ta Van Village (làng Tả Van) – is 15 km from Sapa in the Hoàng Liên National Park, home to the Giáy and Dao peoples. Situated at the base of a mountain, you can enjoy idyllic views of broad terraced rice fields, visit waterfalls, and the Mường Hoa Stream.
- Nam Cang Village (làng Nậm Cang)- is about 36 km due south of Sapa. It’s a small narrow, picturesque valley and home of the Hmong and Dao peoples. The village is well known for paper, jewelry, embroidery, and herbal medicine. You can swim in the river nearby.
- Ta Phin Village (làng Tả Phìn) – this Dao and Hmong village is famous for its handmade brocade fabrics such as bags, skirts, scarves, purses, jackets, and other items. The 10 km route north of Sapa is very scenic, there’s also a nearby cave to explore, and hiking tours often stay here a night.