Sapa seems to be on everyone’s “to visit” list when planning a trip to Vietnam. Ironically, it wasn’t initially on mine. I was afraid it’d be too touristy, too commercialized, too inauthentic. And while, yes, it is the most popular destination for backpackers in Northern Vietnam, it’s for good reason. It wasn’t until my original plans to explore more of Ha Giang fell through that I found myself needing to rearrange my itinerary, so I decided to check out Sapa nonetheless. After all, touristy places are usually touristy for a reason.
Upon arriving, I realized that it wasn’t as touristy as I had imagined. Yes, there are some backpackers and some pushy H'mong women trying to sell you their crafts, but once you veer from the main strip, you wouldn’t know that Sapa was one of the most popular places in the north. I highly recommend staying at one of the hotels up the hill, a few minutes from the town center; there, you’ll find genuine locals, tasty food at extremely reasonable prices, and a quietness that you won’t find in the center.
If you only have a handful of days in Sapa, there are 8 things that I recommend you do…
1. Go for a Trek
This is the #1 thing to do in Sapa. Its surroundings are characterized by vibrant, rolling rice terraces that one could gaze at for days. While I did a two-day trek, you can arrange everything from half day hikes to multi-day treks. I’d recommend joining a guided trek led by the local H’mong people. At first I was quite hesitant about this, as I’m a comfortable hiker and didn’t feel the need to be guided, but it turns out that the trails aren’t well-marked and the locals make it a far more immersive experience. I spent half a day on a guided trek, and the other day and a half exploring on my own. Your hotel will be able to help you with your booking, and provide you with maps of your own as well. Read about my solo Sapa trek here.
2. Grab a Bike and Ride the Tram Ton Pass
3. Stand in Awe at the Cong Troi Lookout
4. Check out the Muong Hoa Valley
5. Walk around Sapa Lake
6. Look up at the (touristy) Silver Falls
7. Wander the Vuon Hoa H’Mong Flower Gardens
8. Hike to the Top of Ham Rong Mountain
9. Visit the Cat Cat Village
10. Sleep in a Capsule
Whether you spent the day riding around the mountain passes or trekking through the rice terraces, I personally love knowing that at the end of the day I’m headed back to comfortable accommodations. I found just that at the Sapa Capsule Hotel. As soon as I saw the name online, I knew it was the place for me; I’d always wanted to sleep in a capsule hotel in Japan, but it’s difficult to find a capsule hotel that allows women.
The Sapa Capsule Hotel is located up a hill surrounding the city, so it’s not only peaceful, but also surrounded by great local eateries, and offers sweeping views of Sapa below. The Capsule itself is totally awesome and offers complete privacy. Each Capsule has air conditioning, a mini safe, and plenty of outlets, as well a mirror and LED control board. I highly recommend the “Superior Capsule Room with Mountain View” because it has an epic terrace as well as double beds within the Capsule. On top of the incredibly comfortable Capsules, the staff was fantastic — as nice, welcoming, friendly, and helpful as could be. I shared a few meals with them and they were simply wonderful! Truly enhanced my experience.
Despite the touristy vibes associated with Sapa, I couldn’t recommend visiting more! It’s an absolutely stunning region with landscapes that are bound to blow you away.
Looks like a magical place 🙂
Sarah, I heard you this morning on Plash Phelps 60s on 6. I’m so inspired by your travels and although I got a rather late start on my international travels I’m looking forward to visiting some of the countries you’ve written about. Thank you for sharing your blog. At age 68 I may not hit the 100 country mark but I’ll be thankful for the ones I do visit. I plan to take each of my 4 grandchildren on an international trip when they are 9. My grandson, Luke and I visited the Galapagos in 2016 and next year his sister and I will be doing a Rhine River cruise visiting Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Happy travels! Carol
Hello. Thanks. Really enjoyed reading this page. Myanh Hoang