Sapa is an ideal highlands escape from the bustling city with breathtaking views of terraced rice fields, forests, and hidden wonders of nature that any adventurous traveler should never miss when coming to Vietnam. Immersing in a dynamic cultural exchange with ethnic minorities, you can also gain valuable exposure to the rich culture and traditions. Our comprehensive Sapa Travel Guide filled with things to do, markets, festivals, and foods to try will help you fully explore the beauty of this charming town.
WHEN TO GO TO SAPA
Weather in Sapa and The Best Time to Travel to Sapa
Sapa is the place to visit if you prefer the chilly weather over the tropical climate. Sapa has a cool temperature all year round, about 15 degree Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), but you can still expect a lot of rain during the summer from May to August. Within one day in Sapa, you can experience different weather from all four seasons: a cool spring morning, a summer afternoon with a little sunlight, a cloudy and foggy autumn evening with a cool breeze, and finally, a cold winter night.
The best time to travel to Sapa is in October, November, March, and April. During these times, the rain gets lighter, and the weather is not as freezing. Especially in spring (around April) when all the flowers start to bloom, you can witness a magnificent picturesque scene in this mountain city.
Other Vietnam Travel Information: a guide to the Vietnamese Currency
HOW TO GET TO SAPA
There are no direct flights or trains to go to Sapa, so if you want to visit Sapa, you will have to take the plane or train to Hanoi (if you are not in Hanoi) and take another train or bus to go to Lao Cai to connect to Sapa.
Standard train route (1) Hanoi → (2) Lao Cai → (3) Sapa
Standard bus route (1) Hanoi → (2) Sapa
The major airport for transit to Sapa is Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi.
Check our Vietnam guide on travel time and taxi fares from Noi Bai airport to the city center
From Hanoi, you can take the night train and arrive at Lao Cai early in the morning and take a 2-hour bus (VND 30,000/ticket) or a 1.5-hour private transfer (from VND 150,000/ticket) from a van/minibus to Sapa.
Traveling by train takes 8 – 9 hours. The train often departs between 8 PM and 10 PM.
The day trains are not as comfortable as the night train; it takes a longer time to travel as it makes more stops. Sleeping on the train at night saves you travel time.
A ticket for the night train is VND 700,000 – 1,600,000/person/way, depending on cabin class
A ticket for the day train is VND 200,000 – 400,000/person/way, depending on cabin class
Before almost getting to Lao Cai’s train station, the crew onboard will offer to sell private car transfers to get to Sapa. They will take your contacts and phone numbers or will take you directly to the van waiting outside of the train station. Negotiate the price before you hop on. It should be a standard price of VND 150,000/person. And you will only need to pay once you have arrived in Sapa. If you are happy with their services, take the driver’s name card and arrange for your return trip leaving Sapa.
Train stations’ addresses:
Ha Noi: Station A: 120 Le Duan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Station B: Tran Quy Cap, Dong Da, Hanoi
Check out the train timetables on Vietnam Railway’s website.
Sapa’s bus station
You can book a bus tour straight from Hanoi to Sapa or from Lao Cai to Sapa. The Hanoi – Sapa route takes about 6 hours, and the Lao Cai – Sapa route takes about 2 hours.
For more information on the bus schedule, you can send your inquiries to these contacts:
From Hanoi to Sapa:
Depart at 7:30 AM and 10 PM – 32-beds sleeping bus: VND 320,000/ticket
Depart at 6:30 AM – 28-seater bus: VND 340,000/ticket
Pick up location in Hanoi: 12 Ly Thai To Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi (Be there 30 minutes in advance)
From Sapa to Hanoi:
Depart at 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM – 32-bed sleeping bus: VND 320,000/ticket
Depart at 3:30 PM – 28-seater bus: VND 340,000/ticket
Pick up location in Sapa: 2 Cau May Street, Sapa (Be there 30 minutes in advance)
From Hanoi to Sapa:
Depart at 7 AM and 10 PM – 38-beds sleeping bus: VND 220,000/ticket
Pick up location in Hanoi: 208 Tran Quang Khai Street, Hanoi (Be there 15 minutes in advance)
From Sapa to Hanoi:
Depart at 8 AM, 4 PM, and 10 PM – 38-bed sleeping bus: VND 220,000/ticket
Pick up location in Sapa: 72 Ngu Chi Son Street, Sapa (Be there 15 minutes in advance)
You can also catch the bus at these bus stations: My Dinh, Gia Lam, Yen Nghia, and Nuoc Ngam with the buses named Hung Thanh, Hai Van, or Ha Son. There are daily buses here departing Hanoi at 6.30 AM or 10 PM with prices between VND 250,000 – 350,000/person.
GETTING AROUND IN SAPA
Once you are in Sapa, you can hire a motorbike or book a tour with a travel agency to explore around. Read more about driving in Vietnam.
Motorbike: You can hire a motorbike for VND 100,000 – 200,000/day at local hotels, bike rental shops with signs displayed outside, or at Lao Cai Tourism Information Center. You will need to leave your passport as collateral. The fee may be different depending on whether you can ride it out of town and when you can return it. You will also need to pay for any other extra expenses like gasoline, but it should come with 2 helmets.
Private transfer: varies depending on the destination and vehicle’s size. For more information and booking details, you can check out these services: GreenLion Bus, Topas Mountain Express, Victoria Sapa Coach, and Sapa Express.
WHERE TO GO IN SAPA
Hiking and Trekking
One of the most exciting things about traveling to Sapa is the beautiful landscape. Although in the city center, many services are available and open for visitors, if you get out a few kilometers outside of Sapa, you can indulge yourself in the arm of Mother Nature with many mountains and rivers. Sapa is home to the Indochina Summit and one of the most challenging tracks for trekking in Vietnam, so trekking for a day or multi-day is an activity for any adventurous soul when in Sapa.
Some of the trips might be challenging, and you would spend most of your time outdoors in these places so make sure to have all the pieces of equipment and gear you need. You can check here for recommendations on a good hiking camera to capture the beauty of the surrounding nature.
Fansipan Mountain – Indochina’s Highest Peak
Fansipan is the highest peak in Indochina with a height of 3,143 meters in the center of Hoang Lien Son Range. On your way to the summit, you will be amazed by nature with many kinds of species like Hoang Lien – a special medicinal ingredient, exotic woods, Perdix, and Indochinese serow.
You can sign up for a hiking trip with a tour agency or go with a local tour guide from the Mong or Dao ethnic groups. It would take about two or three days to go all the way to the top, so make sure to prepare yourself for this challenging climb.
You can either choose to trek or take a cable ride to Fansipan’s peak
From 2016 onwards, there’s a cable car system open to transport visitors directly to the top of Fansipan. It is listed in two Guinness records for the greatest elevation difference by a non-stop three-roped cable car of 1,410 meters and the longest non-stop three-roped cable car of 6,292.5 meters. With this cable car system, you can reach the top in 15 minutes, but the prices aren’t low.
Location: 9 kilometers Southwest of Sapa
Information on Fansipan Sapa Cable Car:
Opening hours: 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Price: VND 700,000/ticket/adult
VND 500,000/ticket/child from 1m to 1.3m in height, free for kids under 1m
This is the rate applied since Jan 2018.
Ham Rong Mountain
If you prefer a day hike in Sapa, Ham Rong Mountain or Dragon Mountain is a great option for you. From Sapa City, you can walk there on foot then it takes you another three hours to hike up and down the mountain, but you’ll get to reward yourself with the beautiful scenery. From the top of the mountain, you can look out to Sapa, Muong Hoa Valley, or Ta Phin Village is hidden in the milky white fog. On your way to the top, you can also take a break and take pictures of the colorful flower garden.
Location: 3 kilometers from Sapa
Price: VND 70,000/ticket/adult and VND 20,000/ticket/child
Sapa Heaven’s Gate
One of Hoang Lien Son range of mountain passes is Tram Ton. You should be able to find your way to Sapa Heaven’s Gate located at the top of the Tram Ton pass. From Heaven’s Gate looking down, beneath the thick cloud, you will see mountain roads packed with a line of cars submerged in various shades of green from the valley and the ethnic paddy, and at the far end lies the Silver Waterfall. You also get to see Fansipan Summit floating in the sky, standing on the edge of a seemingly bottomless cliff.
Location: 18 kilometers to the North of Sapa
Muong Hoa Valley – Sapa Ancient Rock Field
The unique thing about this valley is the ancient rocks lying in nature and the ethnic rice terrace. Hundreds of rocks here have unusual signs sculpted on them; the origin and meaning of these signs remain a mystery today. Sapa Ancient Rock Field has become a national heritage and proof of Vietnam’s ancient civilization. In Muong Hoa Valley, there is also a long beautiful spring that runs through many villages such as Lao Chai, Ta Van, Hau Thao, and Ban Ho.
Location: 8 kilometers Southeast of Sapa
Coc San Caves and Waterfalls Complex
Coc San is an elaborate waterfall with many caves hidden behind the stream. On highway 4D, there is a small dirt path leading to Coc San. The way to Coc San is short, about one kilometer from the highway, but it could be tricky because it’s quite dark and sometimes blocked by rocks. Coc San’s beauty lies in its wilderness; you will be able to get close to nature while walking on the rock beds and exploring the waterfalls and caves.
Location: Coc San, Bat Xat District, Lao Cai – 14 kilometers from Lao Cai City Center
Silver Waterfall – Dinh Deo
Location: Thac Bac Cau May Tourism Center, 4D Highway, San Sa Ho, Sapa
Price: VND 25,000/ticket
Location: ATI Tourism Center, Muong Hoa Street, Sapa City
O Quy Ho Mountain Pass
Location: Son Binh, Tam Duong District, Lai Chau – about 20 kilometers from Sapa City
You may already know about Vietnamese minority groups from a museum visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, but when in Sapa, you can witness what they do with their daily lives and where they live when visiting these ethnic villages.
Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat is one of the oldest villages of the Mong ethnicity. There are many traditional handmade crafts like weaved items of clothing from cotton and flax that are planted in the community. It has been invested in and made to become a tourist attraction.
Location: 2 kilometers from Sapa
Price: VND 50,000/ticket
Ta Phin Village
At Ta Phin, you can still see the customs of the Dao Do (Red Dao) ethnicity like the craft of the brocade and rice terraces. Inside the cave near Ta Phin, the water erosion has formed and changed the rocks into many shapes like a fairy or animals, and the sparkling forest is created by emerald green crystalized dripstone.
Location: 10 kilometers from Sapa
Price: VND 20,000/ticket
Ta Van Village
Location: 8 kilometers from Sapa City center, follow the 4D highway to the Southeast
Price: VND 40,000/ticket
Sin Chai Village
Location: 4 kilometers from Sapa City center, with little tourism exposure
Other Sapa Attractions:
Sapa Holy Rosary Church
Sapa Holy Rosary Church was built in 1895 by the French reflecting Roman Gothic architecture. It has been preserved and reinforced recently to become one of the most iconic attractions of Sapa city. The daily masses are at 7 PM, and Sunday mass is at 9 AM.
Location: Sapa city center
Hoang A Tuong Castle
Hoang A Tuong Castle architecture is a combination of Asian and European styles. It was built in 1914 as a place for the Mong Ethnic King and his son, Hoang A Tuong. Recently, the castle has been repainted with vivid color to remove the gloomy feeling of the old gray walls.
Location: Center of Bac Ha District, Lao Cai
Opening hours: 8 AM – 4 PM
Entrance fee: free
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN SAPA
Festivals in Sapa
Nhan Song and Nao Song
Nhan Song is a festival of the Red Dao ethnic group in Giang Ta Chai village in the first month of the year. The festival is to bring awareness about deforestation to the villagers. Recently, the Nhan Song festival occurs when there are too many cases of deforestation or poor harvest because of unattended cattle. In the event, the person who guards the forest will give a speech about regulations against deforestation and punishment for those who fail to commit it. Everyone discusses further and “Chau Chieu” will be the one to summarize the rules to follow. A similar festival is “Nao Song” in which they talk not only about deforestation and damage from unattended cattle but also about theft prevention and how to protect the harvest.
Sapa – Lao Cai Xuong Dong Festival
The event starts on the 8th day of Tet every year. The event is a way to pray to God for another good harvest year; the literal translation of the name of the festival is “get down to the paddy.” They will do rituals to get soil and water to the fields and give offerings to God. The festival starts with a dance and traditional arts of Tay and Dao ethnic groups. Xoe is one of the most special dances in which the Tay girls stand back to back in a circle, open their fans made from colorful cloth and make a ring with them. The ring gets wider and wider until the music stops. When the performance ends, people join in traditional games like throwing “con” and tug of war.
Roong Pooc Festival
Every year in January of the Lunar Calendar, Giay ethnic group in Ta Van will hold a Roong Pooc Festival to wish for good fortune and good harvests to come in the next year.
Gau Tao Festival
Gau Tao Festival is of the Mong ethnic tribe held in the first half of January of the Lunar Calendar. In this festival, they ask for God’s blessings on happiness and good health when they want to have a baby or their house has members in critical condition, or the plant and cattle are dying out.
Tet Nhay Festival
This festival happens on the 1st and 2nd days of Tet. The main event is to pray for good fortune and to show respect and appreciation to their ancestors. “A sorcerer” will do the offering ritual and men in the village will perform 14 dances as a part of the traditions.
Quet Lang Ceremony
The ceremony of the Xa Pho ethnic tribe happens in February of the Lunar Calendar to wish for peace and a prosperous harvest. They have sorcerers coming to houses to perform rituals to drive away bad luck.
Famous Markets in Sapa:
Markets in Vietnam are not only a place for exchanging goods but also meeting places for cultural exchanges. Besides, you can also enjoy the breathtaking scenery while wandering among numerous authentic specialties ranging from clothes, and jewelry to foods. Colorful brocade dresses with skillfully embroidered patterns and beautiful bracelets from the locals have always been attracting numerous visitors. Coming to markets in Sapa can also be an opportunity to learn more about the unique cultural features made by ethnic minorities.
Takes place every Sunday right in the center of Sapa town, the market primarily features fresh fruits in temperate zones instead of goods and livestock. In particular, ethnic people from faraway regions usually start their journey on Saturday not only to catch up with the fair but also to gather together in the evening under the firelight.
Location: Sapa city center
Time: every Sunday
Bac Ha Market
60 kilometers away from Lao Cai city, Bac Ha market is considered the largest fair in the highlands. Despite being built on a concrete floor not soft ground, the market still preserves the original characteristics and national identity which makes it popular among locals and visitors. Wandering around in the noise of trading activities, you can hear the beautiful sound of young adults singing and playing panpipes to attract attention.
Location: Bac Ha town center
Time: every Sunday, around 7:30 AM – mid-afternoon
Coc Ly Market
Lying on a hillside along the Chay river, the Coc Ly market opens only on Tuesday weekly. The image of the market between Bac Ha mountains covered in a blanket of fog is so poetic and worth every minute of immersing in the scenery. You will quickly encounter the Flower Hmong, Dao, Nung, Giay, and Tay tribes there selling goods, dining, and drinking. Like other markets in Sapa, Coc Ly market also features cattle, costumes, and handicrafts where you can find your favorite local specialties here.
Location: Coc Ly Commune, Bac Ha, Lao Cai Province
Time: every Tuesday
Can Cau Market
Happening every Saturday, Can Cau market is where the Flower H’mong, Phu La, Giay, Black Dao, and even Chinese from the border join together and create such a lively and bustling atmosphere. Apart from commodities and household items, cattle are the main thing they sell here while the number of buffalos is the greatest, explaining why people also call it the Buffalo market. In the food area, traditional ethnic cuisine such as “thang co” – a combination of some animals’ organs, black noodles, and corn wine is particularly favored by visitors you should try.
Location: on the foot of Can Chan Su steep, Can Cau Commune, Si Ma Cai District, Lao Cai
Time: every Saturday 6 AM – midday
Cao Son Market
From Lao Cai city, following the 4D highway, you will reach Phong Nien Commune in Bao Thang District. Continuing on Road 153, you will arrive at the boat station of Bao Nhai Commune where then you can take in the magnificent scenery of mountains, forests, and peaceful river water on a yacht down the Chay river to the market. A variety of goods such as vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, honey, and brocades are sold and exchanged here. Visiting Cao Son market, it would be a waste not to try Coc Dam, Coc Ngu wine, buffalo meat, and horse meat of the H’mong ethnicity.
Location: Cao Son Commune, Muong Khuong District, Lao Cai Province
WHAT TO EAT IN SAPA
Horse Meat (Thang Co)
This traditional dish of the H’mong minority requires skills, and time, and with 27 different types of seasonings such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, citronella, anise, etc. “Thang co” is a pot of soup made of organs of a horse, cow, vegetables, and hot pepper, which is often found in local markets. In restaurants, Thang Co is cooked with a more suitable taste for tourists, so it is something you can consider.
Address: Thang Co A Quynh Restaurant – 15 Thach Son Street, Sapa
Hours: 7 AM – 10:30 PM
Price: VND 200,000/dish
Grilled Black Chicken with Honey (Ga Ac Nuong Mat Ong)
This chicken has tough meat and crunchy skin when grilled. The wonderful taste and smell of chicken with honey is definitely worth a try!
Address: Sapa Cuisine Restaurant – 17 Xuan Vien Street, Sapa
Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM
Price: VND 120,000+/dish
Cap Nach Pork (Thit Heo Cap Nach)
“Cap Nach” is the name describing the image of the locals catching pigs with their hands and deliver to the market for selling. The pigs are not kept in cages but are free to roam around to find food, so their meat is a specialty with fresh thick meat, and crispy skin when grilled. There are diverse ways to cook this dish, so you will have a variety of options.
Address: Hoang Minh Restaurant – 23- 24 Sapa Food Court, Sapa
Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM
Price: VND 150,000 – 180,000
Nung Din’s Ginger-Seasoned Pork Ribs (Thit Gung Nung Din)
A traditional dish of the Nung Din ethnic group made of backbones, ribs, and ginger. These ingredients are chopped, added a little corn wine and slices of ginger then stewed or steamed, and various delicious dishes are ready to be served. This traditional dish can be found at Bac Ha Market around winter or Tet or in restaurants in Sapa.
Address: Vietnam Discovery Restaurant – 15 Thach Son, Sapa
Hour: Lunch is from 11 AM and Dinner is from 5:30 PM
Price: VND 50,000 – 220,000 per dish
Dried Buffalo Meat (Thit Say Khang Gai)
Dried meat, especially buffalo, is an excellent cuisine every food lover should note in their what to eat in Sapa list. The meat is cut off into 1 – 2 kg pieces, well-dried, and can be stored for months. To make the dish, locals usually fry them with tomatoes or bamboo shoots which is tasty and delicious.
Address: Tuoi Tre Restaurant – 5 Fansipan, Sapa
Hours: 8 AM – 10:30 PM
Price: From VND 800,000 to VND 1,000,000 per kg
Cuon sui is a unique dish that includes rice noodles, beef, fried peanuts, small pieces of chili, and a specially made-sauce. To properly eat and enjoy this recipe, you need to mix all of the ingredients, add some more herbs, and joyfully taste the best favors! You can find this dish at local restaurants that specialize in Chinese cuisine or at the Lao Cai train station.
Price: VND 40,000/bowl
The way locals season foods makes Sapa’s grilled food distinct from any other grilled ones in other provinces. Everything ranging from meat, eggs, corn, and potatoes to vegetables can be grilled, and all have a very delicious taste! You can find BBQ dishes mainly in the evening at night markets such as Sapa market, Sapa food court, and the Love market.
The price is from VND 8,000 – 15,000/skewer
Grilled meat and rice wine is a perfect combo in Sapa’s chilly weather
Salmon Hotpot (Lau Ca Hoi)
Sapa Salmon hotpot is widely considered to be low-fat, nutritious with thick meat. However, what makes this hotpot special is its broth cooked with some local vegetables and fresh salmon meat creating such wonderful favors. Enjoying a salmon hotpot in the cold weather of Sapa would be an unforgettable experience!
Address: Lotus Sapa Restaurant – 34 Pho Cau May, Sapa
Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM
Price: about VND 500,000 for 4 people
Meo Apple Wine (Ruou Tao Meo)
Tao Meo is a type of tree that naturally grows on Hoang Lien Son mountain. This wine, a specialty of the H’mong gives a taste like the Northwest forest and will bring you the most memorable experience ever!
WHERE TO STAY IN SAPA
Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa
Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa lies on top of a mountain yet is still accessible thanks to the cable car station, which is only 2 km away. The ultra-luxurious amenities include a fancy spa, a bar, a coffee shop, and an upscale Mediterranean restaurant, as well as entertainment facilities such as a kids’ club, karaoke, and event facilities.
Address: Doi Quan 6, Group 10, Sa Pa
Booking link: Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa
Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel
Located on a hill right in the center of Sapa, Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel overlook the Muong Thanh Valley and is only a few minutes walk away from the beautiful rice paddies in the valley and Tien Sa Waterfall. Aside from the spectacular location, all rooms in the hotel are equipped with modern facilities, namely coffeemakers, whirlpool tubes, and floor-to-ceiling bathrooms.
Address: Muong Hoa, Sapa Town, Sapa
Booking link: Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel
Amazing Hotel Sapa
With panoramic views of the terrace fields and mountains of Sapa, Amazing Hotel Sapa is where visitors can fully immerse in nature while enjoying the most extravagant services. You can enjoy the scenic view of Sapa while having a romantic dinner in the hotel’s polished restaurant, or sipping a cool drink in the terrace bar.
Address: Dong Loi Road, Sapa
Booking link: Amazing Hotel Sapa
Lacasa Sapa Hotel
As one of the most kid-friendly and avant-garde hotels in Sapa, Lacasa Sapa Hotel provides optimum service at the most reasonable price. All rooms are furnished with coffeemakers and mini-fridges. There are beautiful balconies overlooking the specular terrace paddy fields.
Address: 08B Thac Bac, Sapa Town, Sapa
Booking link: Lacasa Sapa Hotel
Sapa Unique Hotel
Sapa Unique Hotel stays right in the heart of Sapa Town, which is incredibly convenient for both tourists and business people to travel around and explore the pristine beauty of Sapa. The young and enthusiastic staff promise to provide the most comfortable experience and the best quality of accommodation.
Address: 039 Fansipan, Sapa Town, Sapa
Booking link: Sapa Unique Hotel
Sapa Panorama Hotel
As the name suggests, Sapa Panorama Hotel offers magnificent views of Hoang Lien Son Mountain. Although the interior is simple with wooden floors and basic amenities, the ambiance is extremely cozy. The friendly staff is always ready to serve and give you the most enjoyable stay in Sapa.
Address: 10, Hoang Dieu Street, Sapa
Booking link: Sapa Panorama Hotel
Find more hotels and homestays in Sapa below:
Conclusion on What to Do at Sapa Travel Guide
We hope that this Sapa Travel Guide completed with what to do, places to visit, and food to try will help guide you to make the best of your time in Vietnam. We currently don’t operate tours in Sapa, but if you have a chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), don’t forget to check out our private featured tours.
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