Vietnam has become a hot spot on the Southeast Asia travel route, but the remote village of Sapa in the northwest of the country is still considered to be off the beaten path from Saigon to Hanoi or vice versa.
Located at 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level in Vietnam's remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. Sapa is an incredibly picturesque town that lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps".
The landscape is mountainous with lush green vegetation and terraced rice paddies built into the sides of the mountains. The people in this area belong to various hill tribes such as the Dzao & Hmong, and are friendly towards travelers.
Hill Tribes of Northern VietnamOver 50 distinct ethnic groups are recognized in Vietnam, each with their own unique language and culture though all share a traditional rural existence that has passed down the generations, cultivating the land for crops and cattle.
Ethnic minorities make up between 10 to 15 percent of the population in Vietnam, which equates to around 12 million people, and these minorities are separated into eight major groups based on language, which in turn are separated into 54 subgroups based on dialect and clothing.
SapaThe former French hill station of Sapa is Vietnam's prime hill tribe trekking destination and with good reason thanks to its epic scenery, excellent hiking opportunities and proximity to the Hoan Lien Mountains where you'll find Fansipan peak.
Within easy walking distance of Sapa are a number of ethnic minority villages including Cat Cat, the Black H'mong settlements of Sa Seng and Hang Da, the Giay village of Ta Van and the Red Dzao village of Ta Phin, which also claims an attractive waterfall nearby.
The routes to these villages vary between easy gradients and steep descents though with so many villages in the area it's easy to find a route that suits any level of fitness.
A popular way to see this area is through a homestay with a local family, you’ll get to experience how people in this area live and get a taste of their unique culture. There are tour operators in the area that can set this up: BOOK A STAY
The best time to visit Sapa is either March – May or Sept – Dec, when the weather is very pleasant and rainfall is minimal. There are lots of trails in the area for hiking, multi-day trekking, or mountain biking.
If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you should make space in the itinerary for Sapa, it’s a little out of the way but the experience will be well worth it.
HOW TO GET TO SAPA
By trainFrom Hanoi it is a 8-hour train journey to Lao Cai Railway Station, the gateway to Sapa.
Vietnam Railways operates 3 services everyday: 2 express trains SP1/SP2, SP2/SP3 and 1 local train LC1/LC2. Occasionally during high season and national holidays the railway company may announce additional services, such as SP7/SP8 and LC3/LC4 services. Express trains run during the night and stop only in major stations, whereas local trains run during daytime at slower speed and stopping in all stations along the Hanoi - Lao Cai railway line.
By sleeper busThe bus station in Sapa is in the centre of town, near the lake. While you are more likely to pay between 250k to 350k VNDs (December 2014) for a sleeper bus to Sapa from Hanoi,you can book sleeping buses to Hanoi for only 300k dong from SaPa (Dec 2013). Most buses you can book through travel agents for almost the same price. You can book a ride here:
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Once you get there, 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 travelers.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The rates, contact details and other information indicated in this post are accurate from the time of writing but may change without IMFWJ's notice. Should you know the updated information, please let us know by leaving a message in the comment box below.
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