Sapa - Heaven Town in Cloud
The Paris of the Orient
Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa is the one place in the northwest where tourism is booming. It’s now firmly on the European and North American package-tour circuit, and well-equipped trekkers are a common sight around town.
The town is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days. It overlooks a plunging valley of cascading rice terraces, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even if it’s cloudy, Sapa is still a fascinating destination, especially when local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.
The town’s French colonial villas fell into disrepair during successive wars with the French, Americans and Chinese, but following the advent of tourism, Sapa has experienced a renaissance. The downside is a hotel building boom, and because height restrictions are rarely enforced, the Sapa skyline is changing for the worse.
Inherent in this prosperity is cultural change for the hill-tribe people. The H’mong people are very canny traders, urging you to buy handicrafts and trinkets. Many have had little formal education, yet all the youngsters have a good command of English, French and a handful of other languages.
Getting there & around
The most popular way is the night train: The train trip between Lao Cai (gateway station to Sapa) and Hanoi has become much more comfortable with the advent of a soft-sleeper class and private rail carriages hitching a ride on the main train.
The road is better now with more than 6 hour driving up hill (380 km from Hanoi)
When to go
In winter, the weather in Sapa often gets cold, wet and foggy (temperatures can drop to nearly freezing). Travellers have rolled into town on a glorious clear day and proceeded to spend a week trapped in impenetrable fog. In winter, bring along warm clothes or prepare to be cold and miserable, as many hotels do not have especially efficient heating in their rooms. It rains very often during the month of August, especially in the mornings.
Where to stay
The best resort is Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa
What to do in Sapa
Sunday Bac Ha Market
Trekking to Lao Chai, Ta Vai Villages
Trekking down to Cat Cat Village
Climp up to Ham Rong Mount to get the view of Sapa