If you’re visiting Vietnam and want to see as much of the culture as possible you should make time for to a trip to Sapa in northern Vietnam. Located in the mountainous Lao Cai province about 350km northwest of Hanoi, Sapa is a great travel tip and gives you a great chance to see Vietnam’s colourful ethnic minorities and explore some of its most spectacular scenery. For a visit in summer try to go midweek, because the town can be very busy at weekends.
It is also a perfect place for any independent traveller. If you want to know about more places, subscribing to the newsletter of Don’t worry Just travel is a good idea! Please register your email address on the right side.
For your travel planning
There are several options for travelling to Sapa Vietnam depending on where you start from. Most visitors travel from Hanoi. It’s possible to get there by road, but the route goes through the mountains and is badly maintained in places. This makes for a long and tiring journey. It’s much better to go by train to Lao Cai then do the final one hour leg to Sapa by bus. The ideal way to do it is to travel overnight and pay a little extra for a soft sleeper; the sleeper cars have air conditioning, so you’ll arrive in Lao Cai relaxed and fresh. If you book the train at your hotel or travel agent you can also arrange a place on a minibus shuttle to Sapa.
If you plan to travel from China your best option is to get a train from Kunming City to the border town of Hekou; there are two trains each day. In Hekou go through the customs point at the border, and from there it’s only a five minute walk to Lao Cai where you can get a seat on a bus to Sapa.
On arrival in Sapa you’ll find a bustling town that you can easily spend a couple of days exploring. How far you venture is up to you. Many people enjoy touring the old French buildings and wandering through the many markets, catering for both Vietnamese tastes and the Hmong, Tày, Dao and Giay tribespeople who make up much of the local population. The town is small enough to see on foot, or for around 2 USD a local will take you round on a motorcycle. Away from the friendly chaos of the markets Sapa has a very relaxed atmosphere and the locals are welcoming.
You have a range of accommodation options in Sapa. There are several hotels in the town, most of them new and reasonably priced. There are also many private houses. If you want to experience Vietnamese life close up an excellent option is a homestay room in one of the surrounding villages. A night’s stay, a meal and breakfast is usually less than 20 USD.
If you enjoy hiking and trekking you’ll find many routes around Sapa. Any hotel can advise you on good choices and, if necessary, help you arrange transport or a local guide. Be aware that many of the treks are over rough terrain, so make sure you have strong shoes or boots. Take water, too. Also be prepared for the weather. It can be cool around Sapa and unless you’re there in summer rain is likely. If you need warm clothing to cope with the weather you’ll find good, cheap shops beside the Catholic church.
Sapa is very different from Hanoi and Saigon. The pace of life is different and you’ll see a much more authentic Vietnamese culture. It’s also very affordable, and there’s plenty to do once you’re there. A trip is easy to plan and most Hanoi hotels will be able to help you organise it.
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