VietnamNorth Vietnam TravelFirst Time in Sa Pa

First Time in Sa Pa

Sa Pa is a town located in Lao Cai Province in northern Vietnam at the height of 1,600 m above sea level.

sa pa terraced rice fields 2

Terraced rice fields at Sa Pa

Population of Lao Cai Province (2019): 700,000, Sa Pa Town: 9,500

Ethnic groups: H’Mong, Tay, Viet (Kinh), Dao

Highlights: Mount Fansipan, Bac Ha Market, Sa Pa Town, terraced rice fields


The average annual temperature is 15-18oC (59-65oF). It is cool in the summer and cold in the winter. Visitors at Sa Pa can feel the 4 seasons in one day in the summer. Rain is expected from May to August.

The fresh and cool air at Sa Pa is favorable for growing medicinal herbs, temperate vegetables (cabbage, chayote), and fruit trees (plums, peach, pear).


Lao Cai City is 320 km from Hanoi and Sa Pa Town is 38 km from Lao Cai City.

Most people will travel from Hanoi to Sa Pa through 2 options:
1) Take the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then take a bus (common option), taxi, or motorbike from Lao Cai to Sa Pa. (Hanoi to Lao Cai by train is 8 hours, then bus transfer from Lao Cai to Sa Pa is another 1.5 hour)
2) Take a sleeping bus straight from Hanoi to Sa Pa Town. (about 6 hours)

Note: to avoid having to haggle for prices for a ride from the Lao Cai train station to Sa Pa, visitors should book their transportation ahead of time. The ride up to the mountainous town of Sa Pa is about 1.5 hour from Lao Cai train station. 


Buses between Hanoi and Lao Cai run daily from Hanoi’s My Dinh Bus Station (view map). 

See bus & train prices from Hanoi to Sa Pa

sa pa bus station

Sa Pa Bus Station is located behind the Sa Pa Market


There are some comfortable options on the train between Hanoi and Lao Cai:
SP1 & SP2: Fansipan Express, Tulico Express, Hara, Royal Express, Pumpkin Express
SP3 & SP4: Orient Express, Green, Victoria Express, Sapaly Express

Hanoi Railway Station (view map)
120 Le Duan Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

Lao Cai Railway Station (view map)
Khanh Yen Street, Lao Cai City

Lao Cai Bus Station (view map)
Minh Khai Street, Lao Cai City

Sa Pa Bus Station (view map)
Xuan Vien Street, Sa Pa Town, Sa Pa District

See bus & train prices from Hanoi to Sa Pa


At Sa Pa Town, motorbikes for rent are widely available for VND 100,000 – 150,000 per day. Rental signs are hung out at coffee shops, travel agencies, and hotels.

sa pa moutain road

The mountain road connecting Lao Cai City and Sa Pa Town

Travel Guides:

Sa Pa Travel Guide

Packing list for Vietnam

How to get from Hanoi to Sa Pa

Accommodations in Sa Pa Town:

Homestay, Eco-lodges, or Hotel options:

(View on Agoda)

See our recommended places on where to stay in Sa Pa

sa pa ethnic women art

Paintings showcasing traditional ethnic costumes

Attractions in Lao Cai Province & Sa Pa Town:

Mount Fansipan – Indochina’s Highest Peak at 3,143 m

(view map)

Mount Fansipan is located 9 km west of Sapa Town in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. Nowadays, visitors can take the cable car option (built in Feb 2016) and climb up a few hundred steps to get to the top peak instead of the traditional multi-day way of hiking and camping. This cable car system holds 2 Guinness World Records for the longest non-stop three-rope cable car at 6,292.5 m and the greatest elevation difference by a non-stop three-rope cable car between its arrival and departure stations at 1,410 m.

sa pa cable car

From a distance, it’s not easy to see Fansipan clearly due to the foggy and misty weather. At the roof of Indochina, there is a stainless steel pyramid first placed in 1984 to mark the altitude of 3,143 m. Now, there are several of these landmarks for visitors to take pictures and “check in” that they have conquered Indochina’s highest peak.

sa pa fansipan peak

sa pa fansipan 4

sa pa fansipan 3

Part of the steps visitors need to climb before reaching the summit

sa pa fansipan 2

O Quy Ho Mountain Pass

(view map)

O Quy Ho Mountain Pass is considered one of the longest mountain passes in Vietnam stretching 50 km across national road 4D.

sa pa o quy ho mountain pass

sa pa moutain road 2

Terraced Rice Fields

Terraced rice fields are seen throughout different villages in the mountainous town. Due to the steep feature and mountain cliffs, ethnic locals from generation to generation have been able to grow rice and establish terraced rice fields thanks to the fertile soil created by the granite rocks.

Depending on the month of your visit to Sa Pa, the field color changes from green to golden yellow. In April and May, the locals prepare for new crops and fields reflect the reddish-brown color of the soil. In June and July, the terraced rice crops start to turn green with fully-grown paddy rice. In September and October, visitors can see the ripening of the fields giving them the golden color.

Besides Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province, other famous terraced rice fields in northern mountainous Vietnam include Mu Cang Chai at Yen Bai Province and Hoang Su Phi in Ha Giang Province. See how to get from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai and First Time in Ha Giang.

sa pa terraced rice fields 3

Cat Cat Village

(view map)

Cat Cat is 2 km from Sa Pa Town. It is a village of the H’Mong ethnic group noteworthy for using plants and leaves to dye brocade fabrics for their weaving craft. Traditional houses of the H’Mong have 3 rooms with 3 doors covered with po-mu (an expensive wood) roof. The main door is always closed and only opens when the house owners organize important events.

Ta Phin Village

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Ta Phin Village is located 12 km northeast of Sa Pa Town made up of mostly the Red Dao ethnicity and the Black H’Mong. With spectacular mountains and rice terraces, Ta Phin is now a popular destination for a day or multi-day trekking tours.

Cau May (Rattan Bridge)

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The rattan bridge made of wood plank spans Muon Hoa Stream and is located 17 km southeast of Sa Pa Town. From the main road, visitors can go along the 3 km long trail to Cau May.

Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall)

(view map)

The Silver Waterfall lies on National Road 4D, 12 km to the west of Sa Pa’s center. The water is from the Lo Sui Tong Mount and used to be very pretty that looked like a white dragon looking down from the sky. In recent years, the water flow has been very weak making the waterfall not as attractive as it used to be.

Ham Rong Tourist Site

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Ham Rong is an attraction in the center of Sa Pa Town that has numerous grottos and stones in extraordinary shapes. Visitors can climb up San May (Cloud Yard) to enjoy the panoramic view of Sa Pa.

Bac Ha District

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Bac Ha is 70 km northeast of Lao Cai City with 14 ethnic minority groups inhabited in the area. The best time to visit Bac Ha is in spring when the peach and plum trees are in full blossoms. The most beautiful plum gardens are located in Ban Pho Commune at the foot of Co Tien Mountain, 4 km from Bac Ha Town. The Bac Ha weekly market (see more info in the market section below) held every Sunday morning is one of the biggest weekly markets in northwest Vietnam.

Hoang Lien National Park

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Hoang Lien National Park is located at a height of 1,000 m to 3,000 m above sea level in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range. With a total area of 29,845 hectares, this diversified forest is a place to preserve and maintain many traditional cultural identities of the H’Mong, Tay, Dao, Giay ethnic minorities.

Eating and Drinking in Sa Pa:

Corn wine, peach wine, smoked buffalo meat, salmon hotpot, horse meat hotpot, BBQ street foods (near Sa Pa Lake), Lao Cai beer are the specialties here.

sa pa bbq food

sa pa bbq food 2

sa pa bbq food 3

Enjoying the BBQ food with corn wine in the cool weather

sa pa bamboo rice

Rice in a bamboo tube

sa pa smoked buffalo

Smoked and shredded buffalo meat with a chili sauce and pepper dipping

lao cai beer

Lao Cai Beer

sa pa bayberry

Bayberries to be made into wine

sa pa peach wine

Peach wine

sa pa hmong tea

H’Mong tea: green tea, ginger, cinnamon, lemongrass, and honey

sa pa corn field

Cornfields are planted throughout the mountain slopes

sa pa corn dao ethnicty

Roadside stop to enjoy local grilled corn sold by a Dao ethnic woman

sa pa corn dao ethnicty 2

Shopping in Sa Pa:

Sa Pa Market (view map

sa pa market

sa pa market 2

Bac Ha Weekly Market (view map) Mini buses from Sa Pa to Bac Ha take 2.5 hours. On the way back, it is possible to stop in Lao Cai and then catch the night train back to Hanoi.

Every Sunday morning the market is packed with the H’mong, Red Dao, and Ha Nhi ethnic minorities. Visitors can find handmade embroidered items, try the local specialty of thang co (a mixture of horse parts), and corn wine.

Can Cau Market (view map)

Festivals in Lao Cai Province

Spring Mountain Festival is held from the 3rd to the 5th of the 1st lunar month, right after the Lunar New Year. Celebrate on a sloping hill near the village, this festival of the H’Mong ethnic group is called Gau Tao or San Sai, which means “walking in the open air” or “wandering on the mountain top”. The days of celebration are filled with colorful traditional religious customs and praying for blessings, luck, or a child.

Long Tong Festival is an important festival of the Tay ethnicity held in the fields near the village in the 1st lunar month. It reflects a desire to have good health, crops, and many children. The rituals performed at the ceremony include staging a procession for the Water, worshipping the Village Deity, Stream Deity, and the con tree (cloth-ball tree).

Tourism Division: Zone 4, 30 Thang 4 Street, Lao Cai City

Tourism Promotion Center: 2 Fansipan Street, Sa Pa Town, Sa Pa District

Post Office at Sa Pa Town: (view map

Have questions or comments? Please feel free to leave us a comment below.

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