Tourist’s guide to Sapa – Vietnam’s rice terraces

Sapa is a place in Vietnam where travelers from all over the world strive to get to, for whom a holiday is not just swimming in the sea and lying on the beach.

This small town appeared in 1910, when it was built by colonists from France to escape the sweltering heat. In 1993, the country’s authorities actively began to develop tourism in this region. Today it is one of the most visited places in Vietnam, where active and inquisitive people come. Why Sapa is so attractive for travelers? Keep reading to find out!

Rice fields near Sapa
Rice terraces near Sapa

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General information

The name of the city is pronounced in two ways – Sapa and Shapa. It is located in the province of Laokai, among rice fields, valleys and mountains at an altitude of more than 1,500 m in the northwestern part of Vietnam.

Sapa is a border town located near China. Its distance to Hanoi is 400 km. The city of Sapa (Vietnam) is interesting for its architectural and historical heritage, and of course its beauty comprising of amazing landscapes.

Sapa city view

Not far from the town is Mount Fansipan – the highest point of Indochina region. The foot of the mountain is covered with dense jungle, but the number of inhabitants of tropical forests has sharply decreased as a result of vigorous agricultural activity of the local population.

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Several ethnic groups live in the city and its environs, which differ in the color of traditional clothes. Around the city there are many villages, almost all retain a medieval look. Most residents lead a secluded life.

Why you should go to Sapa

First of all, Sapa is a completely different Vietnam – colorful, authentic and unique. In other Vietnamese resorts, everything is different – the climate, the local population, nature and the surrounding landscapes.

Vietnamese women in ethnic dresses in the market


In the market

Many people come to the city of Sapa to get to know the local way, learn about the ethnic population and broaden their horizons.

Another reason (albeit not the main one) to visit the town is shopping. There are markets in Sapa where you can buy quality fabrics and handmade souvenirs.

The city is unlikely to be suitable for relaxation during your stay in Vietnam. This is a sightseeing village where you can come for 2-3 days. The infrastructure in the town is quite developed, there are guesthouses and hotels. However, there are not so many entertainments in Sapa. Experienced travelers recommend visiting Sapa only with trekking excursions.

There is no beach in the town, people come here for hiking in the mountains, cycling through the mountainous areas densely covered with greenery. The most exotic vacation option is hiking trails in the villages and living in the homes of local residents.

Attractions in the city

The main attractions of Sapa are the central part of the settlement and the market. There are cafes and restaurants in the center, they cook delicious food here, you can look at souvenir shops, take a walk near the lake or rent a boat.

Sapa Museum

Exposition in one of the halls of the museum

Here they tell the history of the city in detail. The exposition is not very rich, but the entrance to the museum is free. The main part of the exhibits is presented on the second floor, and a souvenir shop is located on the lower floor.

Useful information:

  • Each visitor is offered to make a voluntary donation
  • The museum is open from 7:30 to 17:00
  • There is an attraction near the central square

Stone church

Catholic Church in the city center

The Catholic Church is also called the Stone Church or the Church of the Holy Rosary. It’s located in the central square of Sapa, making it impossible to pass by unnoticed.

The cathedral was built not so long ago at the beginning of the last century. The building is completely made of stone and the interior decoration is quite modest.

The church is operational and open to visitors during the conduct of services. In the evening, the cathedral is lit up and looks especially beautiful.

Useful information:

  • The time of the services: on weekdays and Saturdays – 5:00, 18:30 and 19:00; on Sunday – at 8:30, 9:00 and 18:30.
  • the entrance is free.

Mount Ham Rong

The foot f this hill is located almost in the center of Sapa, near the central square. Climbing to the top is a great way to discover the unique flora and fauna of the region. It is a well-kept, beautiful park, decorated with gardens and waterfalls. There is a playground for children in the park and there are show programs.

View from the top of Ham Rong Mountain

Walking will require serious physical exertion. A staircase leads up and down the observation deck which is located at an altitude of 1800 m. To get to the top and explore the mountain, it is better to set aside at least 2 hours.

Useful information: ticket price for adults – 70 thousand dong, the price of a child ticket – 20 thousand dong.

Market of love

Theatrical show on the Love Market

The unusual name of the attraction is connected with the history of this place. Previously, boys and girls gathered here in search of their better half. Today on the market there is a theatrical show on Saturdays. Be sure to bring money with you as their actors ask money in exchange for songs.

Note: admission is free, but actors need to be given a nominal fee. The performance is shown on Saturdays, in the evening, it takes place in the main square.

Main market

Photo: Sapa's main marketThe entire central part of the city of Sapa can be called a market, because here they sell and buy everything. However, the main trading point is located near the church. It sells fruits, fast food, household goods, everything you need to travel to the mountains. Locals sell handicrafts on the tennis court (near the market).


The market is open until light, admission is free.

Attractions around Sapa

Thac Bac Waterfall

Located 10 km from the city, its height is 100 meters. The majesty and beauty of the waterfall takes on only in the rainy season, and in the dry season it significantly decreases in size.

Photo: Tha Bak Waterfall

Near the waterfall (which is also called Serebryany) there is a market, paid parking, and the climb to the top is equipped with a staircase. For greater convenience, there are arbors on the way where you can relax and take beautiful photos of Sapa (Vietnam).

Advice! Transport is not necessary to leave in a paid parking lot, you can drive to the entrance to the waterfall and leave the bike or car on the road.

  • Entrance is paid – 10 thousand dong.
  • You can visit the attraction daily from 6:30 to 19:30.
  • Getting to the waterfall is easy – it is located north of Sapa. You can get here on your own or with a guided tour.

Ham Rong Pass

View of the Ham Rong Pass path

The road passes at an altitude of 2 km through the ridge of Mount Fansipan in the north. It offers amazing views of Vietnam. The only thing that can obscure the landscape view is fog and clouds.

The pass separates two zones with different climatic conditions. As soon as you cross the Tram Ton, instead of cool you feel the hot climate of the tropics. As a rule, tourists combine visiting the pass and a waterfall, they are 3 km from each other. Near the mountain road there are trading counters. The distance from the city to the pass is approximately 17 km.

Excursions to local communities

Photo: Tourists on excursions in the ethical settlement


Tourists with locals in one of the villages

Excursion tours regularly depart from the city to the surrounding villages. They are sold by travel agencies in hotels and just on the street. Some excursions are conducted by locals who have already been re-qualified as guides.

Some hiking trails are quite difficult, so they are recommended to be passed exclusively as part of the excursion group. You can also arrange an individual walk with a guide. The cost depends on their duration:

  • calculated for 1 day – $ 20;
  • calculated for 2 days – $ 40.

It is important! Climbing to the top and traveling to the villages of Ta Van and Ban Ho cannot be carried out alone. High risk of getting lost.

Recommendations for visiting local settlements:

  • a visit to the village on average will cost 40 thousand dong for adults for children 10 thousand dong;
  • it is better to come on a bike and rent a room in a guesthouse;
  • if you travel on your own, it is safest to join a group of tourists.

Mount Fansipan

The highest point of the mountain is 3.1 km. This is the highest point of Indochina. Climbing to the top will undoubtedly be a fascinating and unforgettable adventure in life. During the trip, you will get acquainted with the amazing flora and fauna, and when you reach the top, you will feel that you have overcome yourself.

Photo: Mount Fansipan

Several hiking trails have been laid to the top, which differ in degree of difficulty:

  • one-day – designed for hardy people, ready for intense physical exertion;
  • two-day – involves spending the night in a specially equipped camp, which is organized at an altitude of about 2 km;
  • three-day – involves two nights – in the camp and on top.

Organizers of excursion trips provide all the necessary equipment for an overnight stay.

Advice! You need to have a raincoat, comfortable shoes, socks and sweets with you to provide the body with energy. Things should be a minimum.

Useful information: the minimum cost of climbing is $ 30, a tour from Hanoi will cost $ 150. This amount includes the fare from Hanoi and accommodation in one of the hotels.

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Terraced Rice Fields

This feature gives the city and its environs a unique look and color. Terraced fields are located in the vicinity of Sapa. From far away it seems that rivers of rice are rolling down the mountains.

Photo: Terraced Rice Fields

Ancient fields were created by residents for several centuries. They demonstrate the unlimited creative potential of man and the determination of people to fight the power of nature, to conquer territories, but at the same time live in harmony with it.

Water is carried from the top to the foot of the technology is effective and at the same time safe for the mountain, because it does not destroy it.

Sapa Tribes

Ethnic peoples living in Sapa and its environs are hill tribes, each has its own dialect, culture and customs. Their uniqueness lies in the fact that for many centuries they have maintained a lifestyle.

Black Hmong

Photo: Black Hmong

The largest group is half the population of Sapa. Their way of life is much like paganism – they believe in and worship spirits. If you see a round burn on Hmong’s forehead, you should know how to treat a headache – apply a red-hot coin. The characteristic colors of the clothes are black or dark blue.

Women have beautiful, black hair, laid in a fancy ring and fastened with many hairpins. The standard of beauty is considered to be large earrings in the ears, they are worn for 5-6 pairs. Hmongs are sociable, if you need a guide to the mountains, choose among women of this nationality. The Hmong sell many souvenirs at the Sapa city market.

Red Tao (Zao)

Photo: Red Tao woman

Representatives of the nationality wear red shawls resembling a turban, women completely shave their eyebrows, hair on their temples and above their forehead. The woman’s shaved hair and eyebrows are a sign that she is married. Crane Zao still perform ceremonies and bringing animals to the sacrifice to the gods and spirits. The Red Tao make up a quarter of the population of Sapa. Their villages are rarely visited by tourists, because they are quite far from the city.

Photo: Red Tao

Representatives of these nationalities get married early – at the age of 14-15. Their families have many children, by the age of 40, an average of 5-6 children are born. In the vicinity of Sapa, there are mixed villages where Hmongi and Tao live in neighboring houses, but in public places they prefer to appear separately.

Tai and giay

Photo: Thai girls

A total of 10% of the population of Sapa. However, in Vietnam, the Tai people are numerous. Their lifestyle is associated with farming, rice cultivation and worship of gods and spirits. Representatives of these nationalities adhere to many taboos, for example, there is a ban on eating birds. It is believed that it was the people of Tai who came up with and organized the irrigation system of rice fields. Clothing in indigo colors is made of cotton, the style resembles tunics from China, complemented by bright belts.

Guy’s clothes are juicy pink, combined with green shawls. Representatives of the nationality are uncommunicative, it is difficult to meet them in Sapa.

How to get there

Sapa is a small village in a mountainous area, where there is no airport, so you can only come here by bus. Most often, Sapu depart from Hanoi. The distance between the cities is impressive – 400 km, the road takes from 9 to 10 hours. Most of the way passes along the mountain serpentine, so drivers do not develop a high speed.

There are two ways to travel.

Sightseeing tour

If you don’t want to solve a lot of organizational issues, just buy an excursion from Hanoi. The price includes round-trip tickets, hotel accommodation and a program. The cost will cost an average of $ 100 and varies depending on the saturation of the excursion scenario.

Ride on Your Own

Sapa Express Bus

Buses depart regularly from Hanoi. At a travel agency you can buy a ticket to the city of Sapa. Stop in a tourist area, near the lake. From Sapa transport comes here.

Buses depart day and night. From the point of view of comfort, it is better to go at night, the seats are laid out, there is an opportunity to relax. In Sapa, all transport arrives at the bus station, it is located almost in the center of the city.

On a note! Buy a return ticket at a travel agency. If you purchase it at the ticket office of the bus station, the bus will bring you to the bus station, and not to the lake. The cost of a one-way ticket is about $ 17. On holidays, the fare increases.

You can also go to Sapa from Halong. The fare is $ 25, almost all flights follow through Hanoi.

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Transport in the city

View around Sapa

Given that the town is small, it is better to see it during the walk. This is more interesting and informative. There is no public transport in the city, you can take a motorcycle taxi or an ordinary taxi. The best solution is to rent a bike. There are rental offices in every hotel and on the street. The rental price is about 5-8 $ per day.

On a motorbike it is convenient to explore the city and its surroundings, in addition, it is cheaper than paying for sightseeing tours.

Good to know! There is a bicycle rental, renting a transport will cost you only $ 1-2, and if you stay at the hotel, you can get it for free.

Sapa (Vietnam) is a special place where ancient history, picturesque nature and interesting sights are harmoniously interwoven.

More visual information on the city of Sapa (Vietnam) in the video below.



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