Located in the most remote northwestern mountain areas of Vietnam in the Lao Cai province, Sapa (also known as Sa Pa) has long been a fascinating tourist hot spot thanks to its breathtaking scenery of rugged rice terraces, lush vegetation, steep valleys and gorgeous mountain peaks. Sapa is also famous for its local ethnicities and unique cultural diversity.
For an ideal itinerary, plan to spend at least 2 nights or longer to experience the unique attractions and soak in the peaceful atmosphere of this hilltribe town. Below are the top Sapa travel tips, itinerary ideas and a comprehensive guide to getting there.
When to visit Sapa
Sapa enjoys tourists all year round, as it offers multi-faceted natural beauty.
The time of the year between September and October, known as the “golden season”, is probably the best time to travel to Sapa and the mountainous region in the Northwest, which includes Lao Cai province and Mu Cang Chai in Yen Bai province.
Visitors can admire the magnificent golden rice terrace fields, enjoy the fresh air and the cool temperatures of autumn, and immerse themselves in the romantic atmosphere of the countryside. It is also during this period (usually mid-September during the rice harvest season) when the local Thai and H’Mong ethnic communities celebrate the Lung Linh Sac Mau Tay Bac or Northwest Sparkling Color festival in Mu Cang Chai, which includes many cultural activities such as art display, brocade and cloth making, folk music and dance performances, traditional sport competitions and culinary exhibitions.
From March to May, the Springtime weather is perfect for trekking and other outdoor activities.
Summer is traditionally the busiest season both for domestic and international tourists. Nature enthusiasts flock from Hanoi to trek around the steep paddy fields and explore the hill tribes.
September to December’s cool and dry weather is also popular. In late winter, the weather may be harsher, but the landscape takes on a new magic under the snow, and there will be fewer tourists to jostle with.
The beauty of Sapa in 4 seasons
During spring, rice is planted and the terraces are flooded with water, creating an illusion as the color of the sky is reflected in the valley like a mirror.
In the summer, rice grows and the terrace fields look lushly green.
Travel to Sapa in fall is less common, nevertheless, visitors are rewarded by a spectacular sight as the green fields turn golden right before the rice is harvested.
In the winter, snow falls and covers the mountains in white.
6 Best things to do in Sapa
1. Ascent the Roof of Indochina
Dubbed the “Roof of Indochina” as it is the highest peak in the Indochinese Peninsula, Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng) is the most famous checkpoint of Sapa. If you are lucky enough, you can reach the top on a sunny day and enjoy the picturesque views of Sapa’s mountains, clouds and villages downhills from over 3,000 meters above.
Back in the days, climbers required two days to conquer Fansipan’s summit, but nowadays, visitors can take a cable car that reaches the top in few minutes. From the top station, you just need to climb 600 stairs to reach the peak.
2. Immerse in a panoramic view of beautiful Sapa
Whilst Fansipan offers a splendid view of Sapa down your feet, you may want to take a closer look at Sapa town from Ham Rong Mountain Park. The name Ham Rong is derived from the mountain shaped like a dragon’s jaw heading towards the sky. Passing through the 148 ha area, you will come across several stunning viewpoints including several Cong Troi (Heaven Gates) and the San May (Cloud Yard).
3. Enjoy a taste of local life at a homestay
Despite living in this remote area, local people in Sapa speak English incredibly well due to a rising demand in international tourism. Expect to receive lots of invitations and offers along the way to stay at the local home-stays and join the daily trekking tours, where prices start from 20 USD per day. Staying with the locals is a highly affordable and recommended experience.
It is also possible to do the trekking by yourself through villages and rice terraces. Some of the most picturesque villages you should mark on your map would be Cat Cat, Ta Phin and Ta Van.
4. Breeze through the hills and villages by motorbike
Besides trekking, one of the best ways to discover the different corners of Sapa is by motorbike. You will get to hidden sights such as as Muong Hoa Valley, Sapa Ancient Rock Field and Heaven Gate much quicker and easier. O Quy Ho Mountain pass offers the most spectacular and dangerous driving tracks near Sa Pa. While driving the 2000-high mountain road pass of O Quy Ho, you will be rewarded with breath-taking views.
5. Trek to stunning waterfalls
Three of the most famous waterfalls are spread across different areas of Sapa: Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall), Thac Tinh Yeu (Love Waterfall) and Coc San.
6. Learn the culture of local ethnicities
The colourful life of Sa Pa’s hilltribe villages can be visited by trekking. In particular, the Ta Van and Ta Phin villages offer top-notch landscape sights, whilst Cat Cat village offers an outdoor museum of local ethnic groups.
Here you can learn a lot from their culture simply by walking around the local houses and examining the authentic textile and handmade products made by the H’mong people.
How to get around in Sapa
The most common way to get around Sapa is to rent a motorbike. You can also hire a moto-taxi (Xe ôm) that can take you around. Roads and valleys around Sapa fascinate adventurous travellers and experienced drivers but require caution and expertise on the motorbike. Once you reach the local villages, leave the bike at your homestay and enjoy trekking to explore the rice paddies.
How to get to Sapa?
The easiest way to get into Sapa is via Hanoi. From Hanoi, Sapa can be reached via direct bus or by train. If you’re taking the train, alight at Lao Cai train station and connect to Sapa via a private or public bus.
Baolau makes it easy to compare transportation options and make advance booking for train and bus tickets. Find out more about traveling by land transport with our comprehensive transportation guides for buses and trains in Vietnam.
Trains from Hanoi to Sapa
Taking the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa is the most popular and comfortable option, allowing you to save one night of hotel and arriving fresh at Lao Cai train station, ready to start your adventure. At Lao Cai, you can book your onward bus ride to Sapa.
The state-operated Vietnam Railways as well as eight private railway companies — Fanxipan Express, King Express, Orient Express, Sapaly Express, Chapa Express, Livitrans Express, Violette Trains and Victoria Express — ply the Hanoi to Lao Cai route. In general, the private trains offer a faster and more comfortable ride, with air-conditioned berth cabins for 2 or 4 people.
Booking your train in advance is highly recommended as tickets are likely to sell out fast during the summer season, harvest season in autumn, holidays and weekends. Before you book, check out our guide to travel from Hanoi to Sapa by train with Vietnam Railways and private railway companies and read a traveller’s experience with Victoria Express: the luxurious sleeper train.
From Lao Cai, you can connect to Sapa via local minibuses that leave frequently from in front of the train station. The ride is one hour and twenty minutes long – you can check the bus schedules and book your tickets on Baolau.
Buses from Hanoi to Sapa
Going from Hanoi to Sapa by bus is the fastest and most practical option for many travellers. With the opening of the Noi Bai–Lao Cai expressway, the travel time is only 6 hours, slightly shorter than the train journey.
Traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by bus is a convenient option as there are frequent sleeper bus and van services in the morning, afternoon and night. It is also more comfortable as passengers are picked up in central Hanoi and dropped directly at their hotel in Sapa.
You can book bus tickets online from several bus companies connecting Hanoi to Sapa such as Eco Sapa, Good Morning Sapa, Hung Thanh, Hason Haivan, and Inter Bus Line. With Eco Sapa, you will get a limousine transport to Sapa, while with Hason Haivan, you can get a cabin of your own.
Book your train and bus tickets to Sapa online
Baolau partners with transportation providers to provide accurate information that helps you plan your journey and secure your seats in advance. Easily compare prices, timetables, route options and book online for a low service fee. Once the reservation is confirmed, customers will receive the electronic ticket by email with instructions for check-in and boarding.