The small mountain town of Sapa in northwest Vietnam is the country’s trekking haven. The Hoàng Liên Son ranges are home to Fan Si Pan, also known as the Roof of Indochina, which is the highest peak in Vietnam. Hikers can also experience a slice of local life with a night or two in a traditional homestay, or visit one of the highland tribal villages that the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people call home.
Stay in a Sapa hostel in an authentic Hmong wooden house in the mountains and get a taste for local delicacies at communal family dinners, teach English to children, or help take care of the gardens and animals. After trying a cooking class or handicraft workshop, you’ll be ready just to sink into a comfy hammock overlooking the terraced rice fields. Sapa hostels can be found in the heart of Sapa Town, with rooftop terraces and dorm room balconies with views of the Muong Hoa valley and Fan Si Pan mountain.
Founded by French colonialists in the early 1900s, today Sapa Town is bustling with bars and restaurants serving traditional Vietnamese and Western dishes. The daily Sapa Market is packed with traders selling their colourful wares, including silver jewellery, medicinal herbs and embroidered textiles. Cat Cat Village, 3km from downtown Sapa, is the oldest of the local ethnic villages. Visit to see women weaving traditional fabric in front of their wooden houses or the thundering Cat Cat waterfall.
Known for its fresh mountain air, terraced rice fields and breathtaking views, most visitors come to Sapa to hike. You can organise guided treks for up to 3 days, often including an overnight stay in a mountain home, or buy a map and head out on your own. For a less taxing option, Fan Si Pan Peak can now be reached by the world’s longest cable car route. Taking just 15 minutes, you will pass through clouds as you reach the dizzying height of 3,143 metres.
Being a trekking town, the best way to see Sapa is on foot. If you’re feeling tired, you can always jump on the back of a motorcycle or catch a local bus. You can’t fly directly to the town, but buses and trains both arrive from Hanoi. The popular overnight train takes 8-9 hours to Lao Cai, from where a connecting bus heads to Sapa. A bus from Hanoi arrives at Sapa bus station, just north of the town centre, in 6-7 hours.