Your Ultimate Guide to Sapa, Vietnam
Sapa is one of the most scenic destinations in Vietnam. This is one of those regions in Vietnam where you will find the iconic rice terraces that seem to stretch right up into the clouds.
The cold air in Sapa is a total escape from Vietnam’s otherwise humid tropical climate. In fact, it even snows in Sapa every now and then.
The cool climate draws lots of local tourists from all over Southeast Asia, looking for a change from the normally hot and humid conditions.
Things to do in Sapa, Vietnam
There are plenty of things to do in Sapa that can easily keep you busy for up to a week. I personally spent 5 days in Sapa and felt as though I could have hung around for a few more. Here I will run you through some of the most popular things to do in the region.
1. Explore the Hiking Trails
One of the most popular things to do in Sapa is the explore the walking trail through the terraced rice fields. There are quite a few guides around town that can take you up the mountains exploring the narrow foot trails.
From high up in the mountains you’ll get some pretty epic views of this northern end of Vietnam.
Depending on the time of the year, you will get to see locals either planting or harvesting rice in the terraced paddies. The work is all done by hand, old fashioned. The farmers are usually assisted by water buffalo instead of tractor.
If you don’t mind getting a bit muddy you can ask to jump in and help. Just remember that the mud is mixed in with loads of buffalo shit. Some say that’s what makes all the rice taste so good.
There are one day and multi day hikes through the terraced rice fields to choose from. Multi day hikes include an overnight stay at a local farmers house, an experience called a farmstay, more on these below.
2. Summit Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Pang)
At 3,143 metres high, Fansipan is the tallest mountain in Vietnam and nicknamed “the roof of Indochina.” If you are an avid mountaineer or just love hiking, then Mount Fansipan must be on your Vietnam bucket list.
The relatively low summit means you can climb Mount Fansipan without any special equipment, porters, or guides. Yep, you can go at it solo! But make sure you read on for some important information.
The hike to the summit is around 11km, one way. If you are fit the climb should take around 6-7 hours. If you’re not so fit, then allow up to 9 hours. Given the duration, it is advisable to start early in the morning.
You will need to carry plenty of drinking water and snacks as there are no shops up the mountain. It is also advisable to prepare some warm clothing for cold weather, and a rain jacket in case the weather turns. Vietnam Coracle has a great in-depth review on conquering Mount Fansipan.
There have also been deaths on Mount Fansipan by unexperienced backpackers trying to climb solo. We highly recommend that even while climbing independently, you don’t go alone. Something as simple as a sprained ankle could leave you out in the weather overnight and turn quite dangerous.
Since 2106, a cable car also runs from just outside of town to the summit of Mount Fansipan. Although the ride to the top is over 6km it only takes just over 15 minutes. The cable car offers some stunning view of Vietnam’s mountainous landscapes. Tickets cost around 700,000 VND ($30) but make the descent a whole lot quicker and more comfortable.
3. Visit Silver Waterfalls (Thac Bac Waterfall)
The Thac Bac Silver Waterfall is located about a 30 minute drive north of Sapa. This huge waterfall towers up to 200 meters high and although you cannot swim in it, this is definitely a sight worth seeing!
The easiest way to get to Silver Waterfall independently is to rent a motorbike in town. Motorbikes rent for about 100,000 VND ($5) per day. Make sure you get a full tank of fuel before departing.
You will find the entrance to Silver Waterfall along the side of the road heading up to the summit of Mount Fansipan. There are lots of small stalls around the roadside here, so you can’t miss it. There is another 10 minute walk from the entrance to the base of the waterfall.
4. Explore Sapa Town Centre on Foot
Although the town centre of Sapa feels a bit touristy, it is still worth exploring by foot for a couple of hours. There are a few key attractions you can easily visit such as the Sapa Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Ham Rong Mountain.
5. Visit the Sapa Love Market
The Sapa Love Market is one of the most unique markets in Southeast Asia (or perhaps the world). Held every Saturday night, villagers from the regions Mong and Dao ethnic groups gather here to meet each other. This is a great place to see the locals gathering in their traditional highland dress.
6. Day Trip to Muong Khuong Bird Market
The market is held every week on a Sunday morning. Locals from the surrounding ethnic hill tribes will gather here to sell a variety of handicrafts, fresh vegetables, cattle, and various birds.
All throughout Vietnam it is a tradition to keep small birds, typically nightingales, in small cages out the front of a house or shop. Those with the best songs are worth the most and can go for a small fortune.
Don’t be surprise to see a crowd gather around a bird cage at the Muong Khuong Bird Market.
How Many Days in Sapa, Vietnam?
We recommend spending about 4 to 5 days in Sapa which will give enough time to explore the town and surrounding regions.
- Day 1: Explore Town
- Day 2: Summit Mount Fansipan
- Day 3 & 4: Hike the Rice Fields and Visit a Farmstay
- Day 5: Visit the Muong Khuong Bird Market