Sapa

16 Things To Do in Sapa on The Rooftop of Vietnam

Sa Pa is a thriving market town 1 500 m above sea level. It’s a gateway to experiencing  the multi-ethnic diversity of rural Vietnam and Lao Cai Province (tỉnh Lào Cai). Things to do in Sapa town include the famous Fansipan cableway ride to the highest peak in South East Asia. 

Often shrouded in fog, the origins of Sapa are equally mysterious. Little is known about the people who lived here before the present ethnic peoples such as the Hmong, Dao, Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tày. Sapa’s population is not much more than 80 000.

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 or cycling through the gorgeous Hoang Lien Son mountain valleys are still the most popular things to do in Sapa. 

With the completion of the Mt. Fansipan Cableway, Sapa now attracts many kinds of tourists to the 3 134 m rooftop view of Indochina. Other popular activities are homestays in local communities, visiting ethnic villages, and shopping in handicraft markets.

View all locations mentioned in this article

1. Best Thing To Do in Sapa – Hiking and Trekking 

Best Thing To Do in Sapa
[ by wales_gibbons from Flickr ]

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 guides can be very informative and knowledgeable. 

2. Visit Traditional Ethnic Villages

Traditional Ethnic Villages
[ by phongnguyenhuy from Pixabay ]

You can go to any village by yourself, and most charge a small entrance fee. However, going with a local guide is all the more interesting and beneficial. You can learn about the local customs, history, geography, and discover little gems 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 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 Homestay

Do a Local Home Stay
[ by David MacKelvey from Flickr ]

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 or a homestay in Sa Pa

There are various ways to arrange homestays. Tourist oriented homestays can be found on popular booking portholes. To know that local communities will benefit the most from your stay, you can book a homestay through trusted NGO groups like Ethos Spirit, or Sapa O’Chau

More about homestays in Sa Pa

4. View Sapa from Ham Rong Mountain 

Ham Rong Mountain
[ by ThinhLa from Pixabay ]

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 and slippery along the stone paths, 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.

Protip: 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
[ by Ronan Crowley from Flickr ]

A nice thing to do in Sapa is to wake up a little earlier, skip the boring hotel breakfast, and take a leisurely 3km stroll (mostly downhill) to Cat Cat village (làng Cát Cát). There are places along the way for a coffee or a quick bite to eat with great views. 

You can walk a loop around different parts of the village, and there are enough souvenir and handicraft stores to test your bargaining skills. Cat Cat can be a little touristy and commercialized, but if you get there early, you can get more into the village vibe. 

More about Cat Cat Village

6. Ride the Muong Hoa Funicular to Fansipan Cable Station

Fansipan Cable Station
[ by Giau Tran from Unsplash ]

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.  

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. 

More about Fansipan Mountain and Cable Car

7. Incredible Sky Journey to Mount Fansipan

Fansipan Cable Car: A Technological Marvel
[ hiephoang by from Pixabay ]

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

You can buy a full return ticket or a single ticket to the first station and walk 600 steps up to the second station. Once reaching the 2nd station, there are still 603 steps to climb to the summit of Mount Fansipan, or you can take the Đỗ Quyên Shuttle Train.

More about Fansipan Mountain and Cable Car

8. See The World from Bich Van Pagoda

Bich Van Pagoda
[ by athree23 from Pixabay ]

Once you’re on the rooftop of Indochina, one of the main attractions of Mt. Fansipan is the Bich Van Pagoda (Chùa Bích Vân). You don’t have to pay to enter pagodas and temples once there.

The complex is based on Tran Dynasty architecture, but amalgamates other architectural styles and religious motifs. Besides the central pagoda, there’s a temple to Trần Hưng Đạo who staved off the Mongols, and a Holy Mother Temple (Đền thờ Tam Thánh Mẫu). 

9. Really Conquer Mount Fansipan on Foot 

Really Conquer Mount Fansipan on Foot
[ by nguyendangkhoa24111978 from Pixabay ]

Back in the day, only the chosen ones ever got to see the world from the top of Mount Fansipan. The sacred peak was a physical as well as spiritual quest, which took two days or more to the top.

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. 

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 to Heaven Gate Pass

Silver and Love Waterfalls
[ by rhjpage from CC ]

Love Waterfall is about 20 minutes down the road from Silver Waterfall and most people tend to visit both, and then the Heaven Gate Pass viewpoint.

Silver Waterfall (thác Bạc) is a three-tier 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 viewing bridge. This is not a waterfall for swimming. 

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. 

More about Silver and Love Waterfalls

11. Bag Some Deals at Sapa Market

Sapa Market
[by Arian Zwgers from CC ]

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 

Extreme Sports Adventure
[image from sapacanyoningtour]

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 in Sapa

Mountain Biking Trails
[by Krisztian Tabori from Unsplash]

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 two or three day trip to Bac Ha or 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 

Sapa Lake
[ by JesusAbizanda from CC ]

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 and tours 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
[ image from Facebook ]

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 good quality 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 

Bac Ha Market
[ by JesusAbizanda from CC ]

There are a number of 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 and it’s about 100 km northeast of Sapa city.

A number of ethnic groups gather to trade 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. The market also trades produce, implements, and livestock.

Responsible tour agents don’t recommend one day excursions to Bac Ha from Sapa or Hanoi. This is largely due to ‘over tourism’ disrupting the lives of local people. It’s best to plan an overnight local homestay in Bac Ha. 

Protip: You can take a one or two day cycling tour to Bac Ha and from there do hiking trails. 

More about Bac Ha Market and City

How to Get to Get to Sapa 

Sapa city is 380 km from Hanoi, so you have to plan for a day or overnight trip. One way to get there is by train to Lao Cai, and then to transfer by bus or minivan to Sapa the next morning. The other way is by various types of buses which go directly to Sapa. 

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. 

Train to Sapa

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. There are day trains too, but day buses are faster.

Bus to Sapa

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. 

  • Hasonhaivan.com runs comfortable and affordable buses from Hanoi to Lao Cai, Sapa, and Bac Ha. 

Travel Van to Sapa

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. 

  • At A21tours.com you can book various buses and vans to Sa Pa. 

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

  1. Cat Cat Village (làng Cát Cát) – 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. From Cat Cat, you can also walk to nearby Sin Chai Village.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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 its 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.

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