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Sapa is famous for the ethnic minorities and hill tribes that live in the area.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Vietnam > Sapa

Sapa Travel Guide

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Sapa is a charming, mountainous town in northern Vietnam along the border with China.

Located in Vietnam's remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. Sapa is an incredibly picturesque village that lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps".

Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. However, as a result of a recent surge in popularity Sapa has rapidly become a tourist hotspot where money is the new drug of choice. Don't be put off by the rush, your explorations of the surrounding countryside will be worth the trouble.

Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity.   <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Great views of the area can be had (weather permitting) from the nearby hills. One of these, Ham Rong Resort, has been built up into a tourist attraction with various gardens, ethnic minority dance performance areas, viewpoints, and restaurants. It is a short walk south from the central square and then up some stairs. Entrance is 30,000 Dong.

Having a chat with the locals.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Ethnic Minorities

Many ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong and the Dao, live in and around Sapa. Many older women in particular make items such as ethnic-style clothes and blankets, to sell to tourists. Striking up a conversation with them can be very rewarding. Sadly, however, doing this in Sapa town itself will sometimes lead to a scrum as a multitude of vendors taste a potential sale.

Children from these ethnic minorities begin to earn a living as soon as they are five years old. They often peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and they walk for about 3 hours from their villages to reach. Some of the "richer" ethnic women sometimes take a one-hour motorbike ride back to their villages at the end of the day.

Girls as young as ten years old can get married and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. This is especially the case for the more beautiful ones. Poverty has led to a majority of girls who leave their villages each day to go to Sapa town and to have only one meal per day.


You come to Sapa to trek through the area and to meet local people.

With time, you can sign-up for a trekking trip that enables you to stay overnight at one of the villages. These trips are rather slow-paced.

On daytrips, you will likely be able to see as much as on overnight trips, but you will have to walk faster, and spend less time with the local people.

Sapa's scenery is dominated by rugged hills and rice terraces.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Tourists intending to trek to the various villages through the paddy fields should be prepared with good trekking shoes or rubber boots, a walking stick and extra clothing kept in a waterproof bag. Depending on the season, the rice fields, which are build in terraces, can be very muddy and slippery. If one does not wear shoes which enables a good grip in mud, one is likely to keep slipping and falling or even sliding down the slopes. Having said that, we went with sneakers and didn't have any problems.

As the paths are also taken by water buffalos, excrement can be found everywhere. Walking sticks can be bought from children from the ethnic minority groups at about 5,000 Dong. These enterprising children cut sturdy bamboo and sharpen one end to turn them into sturdy sticks.

Village of Cat Cat

Cat Cat is a a popular trekking destination and just a few kilometers walk downhill from Sapa. You're not likely to get lost - just walk down the road out of Sapa, which should be marked on maps, and after a while you'll find a path which descends the hill to your left.

The road down to Cat Cat village.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

This path runs through the village before climbing another hill back to the road. This walk provides a good chance to observe Vietnamese farming and farm animals, and there are excellent views.

The walk back up can be difficult (it is steep in parts) but once you get back onto the road there are plenty of enterprising locals ready to take you back to Sapa on motorbikes which costs 20,000 Dong per person. Entrance to the village is currently 20,000 Dong.


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 proceed 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 efficient heating in their rooms. During that time, more upmarket hotels that do have heating fill up quickly, so make advance reservations if you can afford not to freeze. (Or don't go there in winter time).

It rains very often during the month of August, especially in the mornings.

Sapa has plenty of accommodation options.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Travel Tips

Bear in mind that some of the minorities do not wish to have photos taken of them. Ask permission beforehand.

Bring along a poncho. You can also buy a cheap one in the many shops around.

Rubber boots and trekking shoes can be rented from some shops or perhaps at the hotel you are staying in. However, do bear in mind that they have limited sizes.

Do buy some items from the ethnic minorities, especially if you have enjoyed a good conversation or received help from them. Though they do charge slightly more than the shops, bear in mind that the majority of them are very poor and depend on tourist money to survive.

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