VietnamNorth Vietnam TravelWhat to Do in Sapa Travel Guide

What to Do in Sapa Travel Guide

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 thoroughly 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 an excellent temperature all year round, about 15 degrees 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 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 October, November, March, and April. The rain gets lighter during these times, and the weather is not as freezing. Especially in spring (around April), when all the flowers bloom, you can witness a magnificent picturesque scene in this mountain city.

Terraced fields in Sapa

HOW TO GET TO SAPA

There are no direct flights or trains to Sapa, so if you want to visit, you must take the plane or train to Hanoi (if you are not in Hanoi) and then take another train or bus to Lao Cai to connect to Sapa.

Standard train route (1) Hanoi → (2) Lao Cai → (3) Sapa
Standard bus route (1) Hanoi → (2) Sapa

Traveling to Sapa by Plane

The major airport for transit to Sapa is Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi.

Traveling to Sapa by Train

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 trains; they take longer to travel as they make 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 contact information 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 your return trip to 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.

Traveling to Sapa by Bus

Sapa’s bus station

You can book a bus tour from Hanoi to Sapa or 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-bed 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-bed 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. Daily buses here depart Hanoi at 6.30 AM or 10 PM with VND 250,000 – 350,000/person prices.

Check out other options to travel to Sapa below:

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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 rentals in Sapa

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 differ depending on whether you can ride it out of town and when you can return it. You will also need to pay for extra expenses like gasoline, but it should come with 2 helmets.

Private transfers in Sapa

The cost varies depending on the destination and the vehicle’s size. For more information and booking details, check out these services: GreenLion Bus, Topas Mountain Express, Victoria Sapa Coach, and Sapa Express.

You can also find car rentals in Hanoi to travel to and around Sapa

WHERE TO GO IN SAPA

Sapa Attractions

Hiking and Trekking in Sapa

The beautiful landscape is one of the most exciting things about traveling to Sapa. Although many services are available and open for visitors in the city center, if you get out a few kilometers outside of Sapa, you can indulge yourself in Mother Nature’s arm with many mountains and rivers. Sapa is home to the Indochina Summit and one of the most challenging trekking tracks 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 will spend most of your time outdoors in these places, so make sure to have all the 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, 

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 to the top, so prepare yourself for this challenging climb.

You can either choose to trek or take a cable ride to Fansipan’s peak

From 2016 onwards, a cable car system is open to transport visitors directly to the top of Fansipan. It is listed in two Guinness records for the most significant 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. You can walk from Sapa City on foot, and 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 hill, you can look out to Sapa, Muong Hoa Valley, or Ta Phin Village, hidden in the milky white fog. On your way to the top, 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’s mountain passes is Tram Ton. You should be able to find your way to Sapa Heaven’s Gate, which is 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 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 natural rocks and the ethnic rice terrace. Hundreds of stones 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, a long, beautiful spring 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, a small dirt path leads to Coc San. The way to Coc San is short, about one kilometer from the highway, but it could be tricky because it’s pretty dark and sometimes blocked by rocks. Coc San’s beauty lies in its wilderness; you can 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

Rose Valley

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

Sapa Villages

You may already know about Vietnamese minority groups from a museum visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi. Still, 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. Many traditional handmade crafts, such as woven items of clothing from cotton and flax, 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, such as the brocade craft and rice terraces. Inside the cave near Ta Phin, water erosion has formed and changed the rocks into many shapes, like fairy or animal, 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, built in 1895 by the French, reflects Roman Gothic architecture. It has recently been preserved and reinforced 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.

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 colors 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 meant to raise awareness about deforestation among the villagers. Recently, the Nhan Song festival occurred when there were too many cases of deforestation or poor harvesting 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 summarize the following rules. A similar festival is “Nao Song,” in which they talk about deforestation and damage from unattended cattle, 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 festival’s name 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 January of the Lunar Calendar, the Giay ethnic group in Ta Van holds a Roong Pooc Festival to wish for good fortune and good harvests 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 plants and cattle are dying out.

Tet Nhay Festival

This festival occurs on the first and second days of Tet. The main event is to pray for good fortune and show respect and appreciation to their ancestors. A sorcerer performs the offering ritual, and men in the village perform 14 dances as part of the traditions.

Quet Lang Ceremony

The Xa Pho ethnic tribe holds a ceremony in February of the Lunar Calendar to wish for peace and a prosperous harvest. Sorcerers come to houses to perform rituals to drive away bad luck.

Famous Ethnic Markets in Sapa

Markets in Vietnam are places for exchanging goods and 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 attracted countless visitors. Coming to markets in Sapa can also be an opportunity to learn more about the unique cultural features made by ethnic minorities.

Sapa Market

The market takes place every Sunday right in the center of Sapa town. It primarily features fresh fruits from temperate zones instead of goods and livestock. In particular, ethnic people from faraway regions usually start their journey on Saturday to catch up with the fair and 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, which sell goods, dine, and drink. Like other markets in Sapa, Coc Ly market also features cattle, costumes, and handicrafts, and you can find your favorite local specialties here.

Location: Coc Ly Commune, Bac Ha, Lao Cai Province
Time: every Tuesday

Can Cau Market

Every Saturday, the Can Cau market is where the Flower Hmong, Phu La, Giay, Black Dao, and even Chinese from the border join together and create a lively and bustling atmosphere. Besides commodities and household items, cattle are the main thing they sell here, while the number of buffalos is the greatest, which is 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 you can take in the magnificent scenery of mountains, forests, and peaceful river water on a yacht down the Chay River to the market. Various goods, such as vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, honey, and brocades, are sold and exchanged here. Visiting the Cao Son market 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
Hours: Wednesday

WHAT TO EAT IN SAPA

Horse Meat (Thang Co)

This traditional dish of the H’mong minority requires skills and time and uses 27 different types of seasonings, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, citronella, anise, etc. “Thang co” is a pot of soup made of the organs of a horse or cow, vegetables, and hot pepper, which is often found in local markets. In restaurants, Thang Co is cooked to a more suitable taste for tourists, so it is something you should 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 worth a try!

Address: Sapa Cuisine Restaurant – 17 Xuan Vien Street, Sapa
Hours: 9 AM – 10 PM
Price: VND 120,000+/dish

Grilled/Roasted Pork (Thit Heo Cap Nach)

“Cap Nach” describes the image of the locals catching pigs with their hands and delivering them 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 various 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 that every food lover should note in their what-to-eat list in Sapa. 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 it with tomatoes or bamboo shoots, which is tasty.

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

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, mix all the ingredients, add some more herbs, and joyfully taste the best favors! You can find this dish at local restaurants specializing in Chinese cuisine or at the Lao Cai train station.

Price: VND 40,000/bowl

BBQ

The way locals season foods distinguishes Sapa’s grilled food from those in other provinces. Everything from meat, eggs, corn, and potatoes to vegetables can be grilled, and all taste delicious! 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

Salmon Hotpot (Lau Ca Hoi)

Sapa Salmon hotpot is widely considered low-fat, nutritious, and with thick meat. However, what makes this hotpot special is its broth cooked with some local vegetables and fresh salmon meat, which creates such beautiful flavors. 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

Crab 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, tastes 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, an upscale Mediterranean restaurant, and entertainment facilities such as a kids’ club, karaoke, and event facilities.

Booking link: Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sapa

Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel

Located on a hill in the center of Sapa, Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel overlooks the Muong Thanh Valley. It is only a few minutes walk 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.

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.

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 a reasonable price. All rooms are furnished with coffeemakers and mini-fridges. There are beautiful balconies overlooking the spectacular terrace paddy fields.

Booking link: Lacasa Sapa 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, complete with what to do, places to visit, and food to try, will help you make the most of your time in Vietnam.

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