Remote Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam Published on: 21-04-2017
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Why Sapa is special ?
Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. The scenery of the Sa Pa region in large part reflects the relationship between the minority people and nature. This is seen especially in the paddy fields carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the Hoàng Liên Mountains. The impressive physical landscape which underlies this has resulted from the work of the elements over thousands of years, wearing away the underlying rock. On a clear day, the imposing peak of Fan Si Pan comes into view. The last major peak in the Himalayan chain, Fan Si Pan offers a real challenge to even the keenest walker, the opportunity of staggering views, and a rare glimpse of some of the last remaining primary rain forest in Vietnam.
What to explore at Sapa?
Sapa today is the tourism centre of the northwest. Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even when it's cloudy, local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.
If you were expecting a quaint alpine town, recalibrate your expectations. Sapa's French colonial villas fell into disrepair during successive wars with the French, Americans and Chinese, and modern tourism development has mushroomed haphazardly. Sapa today is undergoing a construction boom and, thanks to rarely enforced building height restrictions, the skyline is continually thrusting upwards.
How to get to Sapa?
From Hanoi it is a 9-hour train journey to Sapa. Trains between Hanoi and Lao Cai are designated by SE-single-digit-suffix. SE-1 and SE-3 are from Hanoi to Lao Cai while SE-2 and SE-4 are back.
By sleeper bus from Hanoi
The bus station in Sapa is in the centre of town, near the lake. While you are more likely to pay between 250,000 to 350,000 VNDs (December 2014) for a sleeper bus to Sapa from Hanoi, you can book sleeping buses to Hanoi for only 300,000 dong from SaPa (Dec 2013). Most buses you can book through travel agents for almost the same price.
By express bus from Hanoi
The Sapa Express Bus, Hanoi - Sapa - Hanoi departs daily at 7 AM via the newly built (September 2014) Hanoi - Lao Cai highway. It takes about 6 hours of driving from Hanoi to Sapa, depending on traffic and weather (they say 5 hours, but it averages 6 hours).
By bus from Lao Cai
Local minibuses leave from in front of the Lao Cai train station (there's a big blue sign saying Bus Station Lao Cai - Sa Pa) at 5:40, 6:00, 7:00, and every 30/60 minutes until 18:00.
Sapa can also be reached by motorcycle from Hanoi by a variety of routes. The most direct route takes at least ten hours for first time riders, though local expats often brag about making it in less.
Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam