Remote Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam Published on: 21-04-2017

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Sapa is a frontier township in north-west Vietnam. It's one of the main market towns in the area, where several ethnic minority groups live.

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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?

By train

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.

By motorcycle

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.


9 Days in Hanoi, Sapa & Halong Bay

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9.0 days
238.81 USD
Total travel distance
Number of places
32 places




Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam

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Tips for you

  • It is possible to change money,and get cash advance on credit cards at the bigger Hotels in Sapa. Furthermore, there are ATMs on the main street that now accept all major cards such as Visa, Mastercard or the Maestro network.
    What to know
  • Anywhere in the main village of Sapa can be reached on foot, and the town is small enough that you're not likely to get lost. A basic map will be good enough for most travellers.
  • There are more restaurants than one could stomach along the main strip, Pho Cau May; they all have nearly the same menu, with many of them offering, oddly enough, Italian as well as Vietnamese fare.

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