Nestled in northern Vietnam, the spectacular hillside town of Sapa is a hidden gem. The relaxed pace of living and spectacular landscapes, combined with the vast array of activities available, makes Sapa an unmissable destination.
The town itself could be mistaken for a ski resort with wooden cladded buildings and restaurants offering mulled wine. The only difference is the snow!
Whether you like trekking, exploring on motorbikes or just relaxing in stunning surroundings, Sapa is the place to go. You’ll be rewarded with unbelievable views of luscious green rice paddies and mountainous landscapes.
We visited in the rainy season and were unfortunate to have bad weather for the majority of our time there. Despite this, we still had an amazing experience and we’ll definitely be planning a trip back.
Two Day Trek from Sapa
Sapa is overflowing with trekking shops, offering hundreds of walks for all abilities. We shopped around and were amazed at how affordable some of them were. As soon as the weather cleared, we laced up our walking boots and were off on a two day trek.
The guides met us outside our hostel in Sapa. The tarmac lasted for 500 meters before we descended into the rice paddies. To say it was muddy is an understatement. Due to all the torrential downpours and the steep decent, the paths were turned into mud slides.
Luckily there was a group of local women on hand to help. Making it look easy as they jumped around in their sandals, they held our hands through the tricky sections. Although everyone still managed to fall over at least once, which was great entertainment (until it was your turn). The views were hard to take in, as you were concentrating so much on your footing, but thankfully the rice paddies made way for more solid surfaces after a few hours.
The walk continued through numerous villages and you got to experience rural Vietnamese life. Our guide also explained the cultural differences between the villages, which was surprisingly vast.
We arrived at our homestay in the small village of Tavan at 3pm. Distance wise, it was a fairly easy day of trekking, but the mud made it feel twice as far. The village has little in the way of entertainment except for a few bars, so we decided to pass the time drinking. A few glasses of beer later we were served a delicious dinner, which we washed down with rice wine every few mouthfuls.
The second day began early with delicious pancakes, enjoyed overlooking the rice fields. Moods were high as the sun was shinning and we had a shorter day of walking ahead of us, going from Tavan to the main road near Hau Thao village.
The path passed through a few small villages and was unsurprisingly extremely muddy. En route we also stopped at a waterfall, which was great to clean off our walking boots and of course take photographs of.
Without too much exertion, we made it to the lunch stop and shortly afterwards we were driven back to Sapa. Overall the trek was a fantastic experience and for the money, we really couldn’t complain.
Cat Cat Village
Located a short walk from Sapa, this village has been turned into a tourist attraction to show how the region used to be. The tour takes you around the village, over creaking wooden bridges and down little rocky paths, and en route you see everything from traditional sewing to cooking. Our favourite area was the rice paddies, where water buffalos were grazing and children playing.
The village itself felt very staged and touristy, but it was definitely a morning well spent and it was certainly very photogenic.
Bike Ride to Lao Cai
Lao Cai is a boarder crossing town to China with quite literally nothing there. So why go? The drive is amazing!
We hired a scooter for the day and began the 35km drive. We started climbing uphill shortly after leaving Sapa, driving on winding mountain roads surrounded by beautiful green rice paddies.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, the weather instantly changed. Although it’s only a short distance from Sapa, the heat difference is vast. We had to strip off our waterproof layers and put on some sunscreen.
We were soon in Lao Cai and the town itself is a very bizarre place. Vietnamese flags are everywhere, reminding you what country you are in, and there’s also some communist boards erected on the Chinese side of the border. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and got back on the road as soon as possible, mainly out of excitement for the picturesque journey back.
Unfortunately we ended up getting two flat tires on the drive back, but at least the mechanic shops had great views.
Sapa Town Centre
There’s plenty of shops to explore and a multitude of amazing restaurants to try. Our favourite was sampling some of the delicious snacks at the street barbecues, which were surprisingly inexpensive and were amazingly flavoured.
Every weekend, there’s also a night market, where residents from the local villages come to sell their homemade products. Once you’ve seen a few of the stalls, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but it’s still well worth a walk around.
Sapa definitely makes our top three favourite places in Vietnam (alongside Hoi An and Cat Ba). Everywhere looked like a scene straight from a postcard and we never got bored of just admiring the views. After travelling up the coast of Vietnam non-stop for a month, it was also some much needed relaxation time and the slower pace of life definitely gave us that.