Sa Pa

Sa Pa

Sa Pa (or Sapa) is a small market town in the north west of Vietnam which attracts a lot of tourists due to it's picture perfect views, it's dramatic landscaping and it's cultural antics. Snuggled into the mountains and overlooking a deep valley, this French settlement has become the tourism central for the region. The town is filled with colour as the local hill-tribe people flood the streets, and even on a misty day, which is quite common in the mountains, the views are spectacular.

The town is quickly increasing in size, and due to some building regulations being ignored, the buildings are growing taller and taller over the years. The town is heavily reliant on tourism bringing in money, and as a result the town is quite busy and not as quiet as "a small town in the mountains" suggests. Most people who visit the area have come to immerse themselves in a world of trekking and hiking, and so the town merely serves as a place to sleep and eat after a long day of tramping through the hills.

The area is awash with the iconic cascading rice fields that are often seen on postcards and travel websites for the area. Set against a backdrop of dramatic mountains, rolling mist, and small local villages, the real charm for the region lies outside of the city. A lot of tourists also opt to see the area by bicycle with plenty of routes to explore and plenty of rental opportunities from the town. For those exploring the area, it helps to travel light, but also to prepare for rain and bad weather with a lightweight waterproof jacket as weather conditions change very quickly in Vietnam, and even quicker when you are at higher altitudes.

Sapa is also home to Vietnam's highest peak, Fan Si Pan, which stands at 3,143m above sea level. The trek to the summit is a three day ordeal and is probably the most challenging route for tourists to tackle. If you want to take on Fan Si Pan, it is not allowed that you hike alone and a local guide is required, as well as highly recommended. There are campsites at around 2300m and 2900m where you will sleep after your first and second days of hiking. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking, and will be worth all of the hard effort of travelling up there when you have a panoramic view of Vietnam. The hike passes several remote villages, going through different types of forest and crosses over mountain streams, providing interesting and diverse landscapes throughout.

For those looking for something a little easier, there are medium and easy graded walks that can last for everything between a few hours and and a few days. Always make sure you have spoken to local experts to enquire about track conditions, weather forecasts, the difficulty of the walk and what equipment is required.

Sapa can endure some quite rough weather, and for those who are dissuaded for venturing outside when the rain is falling, there is plenty to see and do in the town itself that should shelter you from the showers. There is a museum quite aptly named Sara Museum which showcases the history and ethnology of the area, including information about the ethnic minorities and the French colonisation. This is located behind the tourist information office and is worth a quick visit. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can relax after a long hike. There is also a market which operates just outside of the centre of town in a purpose built bus station.

Sapa is just a short journey from Hanoi, and some people even chose to hike there from the capital city. It offers a lot of diversity and contrast to the bustling streets of the capital, and is a great stop to include on even a short itinerary, especially for those looking for something a little more rural and a little more natural. There are plenty of transport options for those not willing to hike, and plenty of multi-day guided tours that leave from Hanoi for those who want to leave all the hard work and preparation for somebody else to worry about.