Sapa travel guide & best things to do

Sapa is a small village, 350 km north of Hanoi, near the Chinese border. Sapa is known for having spectacular views of a valley with rice field fields that can be seen on clear days, with mountains towering on all sides from above. The view of this epic landscape is often tempered by dense fog that rolls over the tops, but even when it is cloudy, the local hill tribes fill the city with color.

5 reasons to visit Sapa

  1. Make a trekking through the green rice terraces of the Muong Hoa Valley.
  2. Learn more about the culture and traditions of the local hill tribes.
  3. Climb or take the cable car to the highest mountain in Indochina: Fansipan.
  4. Explore the area by motorbike and drive over Vietnam’s highest pass: Tram Ton Pass.
  5. Visit a local colorful market.

What is in this Sapa travel guide

Book your local Sapa experience

Practical information

Recommended days to stay

It is best to stay from 2 to 4 days in Sapa. A minimum of three days is the best if you want to visit some sights, make a trekking and visit a local minority market.

ATM's & money exchange

There are ATMs in Sapa. Many hotels and travel agents can exchange euros and US dollars.

Best time to visit

  • The best time to visit Sapa is from March to May and from September to November. During these times the weather is relatively stable with sunny days and cool nights. The first period is the autumn time. At this time of the year the weather is very comfortable. It is dry, clear with a lot of sunshine. The view of the terraces of Sapa is at its best between
  • September and October. The cool and dry weather with the stable temperature makes it the perfect time for trekking and photos.
  • In the summer, although it is quite warm, it is not as hot as other regions of Vietnam.
  • If you spend time in this city between April and May, you have the chance to see the beautiful landscapes of many colorful flowers and green fields.
  • In winter, from December to February, the weather in Sapa becomes very cold, especially at night. In return, however, you get the chance to watch the sunrise over the valley in the morning. Snow has also fallen in Sapa in recent years.

10 best things to do in Sapa

This town and the area around it has been very developed over the years, so there are many things to do in Sapa. You can choose to da 

1. Trekking

Sapa trekking guide
Sapa trekking
Some of the best things to do in Sapa can be combined in one highlight and that is a trekking in Sapa! You can choose to do a half-day, full-day or multi-day trek where you spend the night in a homestay. It is the best way to see the rice fields and get in touch with the local minorities.

2. View the terraced rice fields

Sapa rice fields
Ta Van rice fields

The main reason for most travelers to visit this mountain town are the stunning Sapa rice fields. It is for a reason that it is considered one of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam. These impressive terraced fields are spread all over the Muong Hoa valley from the bottom all the way to the top of the mountains.

The locals grow rice here and settle around the rice fields, often at the foot of the mountains. The rice terraces look like straight out of a travel brochure. It is best to discover them by a trekking tour, but you can also drive around by car or motorbike.

3. Visit minority villages

Ta Van village
ethnic minority in Ta Van village near Sapa

The second reason to visit Sapa is the unique culture of the mountain tribes. These ethnic minorities live in the mountains and live from the land for many generations. There are different kind of minority groups to be found in this area, including the HMong, the Dao, the Tày and Giay.

Each group has their own language, traditional clothing and culture. The best way to discover this unique culture is by visiting the local villages outside of Sapa. Walk around the village to discover their daily life and unique way of living in the mountains.

Again, the best way is to do this by trekking tour, but you can also drive by car or motorbike.

4. Stay overnight in a homestay

Sapa homestay view
Sapa homestay trekking

Complete your unique local minority adventure by staying in a homestay. There are several homestays in Sapa and in the villages around it. The most unique experience is of course spending the night in a house of a local hill tribe. The accommodation is often basic and lacks comfort, but the experience is great!

In the evening you can enjoy a family dinner. End your day with a delicious traditional herbal bath or drink rice wine with the family. It will be an experience you will never forget.

The best thing is to combine a homestay overnight stay with a multi-day trek. For example, if you go hiking for two days you will spend the night in a local homestay and the day after you continue walking, going far off the beaten track.

5. Visit a local market

Bac Ha Market from Sapa
Can Cau market in Sapa

One of the other best things to do in Sapa is visit a mountain market. There are several markets in Sapa and beyond that you can visit. These markets are used by the local hill tribes to trade their locally grown food. But you will find much more here.

Think of clothing, pieces of cloth, brocade, jewelry and even telephones and chargers. One of the most fascinating parts of the market is the livestock section. Here you can see traders checking every part of the animal before making a trade.

It is an incredibly unique experience to visit an ethnic minority market. The colors of all the traditional clothing, the animals and the crowds make it seem like chaos. But this chaos is surprisingly cozy with a good atmosphere.

The most popular market around Sapa is the Bac Ha market (held every Sunday), but there are many other markets you can visit.

6. Fansipan mountain

Fansipan cable car
Fansipan mountain

Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam and for that reason also quite literally the biggest highlight. In the past, you could only get to the top by climbing for 2 or 3 days. And although this is still possible, today there is a cable car that takes you from the cable car station in Sapa to the top of Fansipan in 15 minutes.

A number of temples and pagodas that you can visit have now also been built around the top of the mountain. On clear days you have a great view of the mountains in the area.

7. Tram Ton Pass

Tram Ton Pass
Tram Ton Pass

Next to Fansipan and on the other side of Sapa you will find the highest mountain pass in Vietnam. Enjoy a trip by car or motorcycle on the Tram Ton Pass with panoramic views. At the top there is a viewpoint where you should definitely stop.

Many travelers return directly to Sapa at the top of the mountain pass, but if you have more time, continue all the way to Lai Chau. Along the way you will have many more views of some of the most impressive mountains in this country.

8. Waterfalls

Silver Waterfall Sapa
Love Waterfall Sapa

Combine a drive over the Tram Ton Pass with a visit to some local waterfalls in Sapa and along the same road as the pass. The Silver Waterfall is right next to the road. To get to the Silver Waterfall you have to hike for 30 minutes, but for that reason a lot less visited and special.

9. Sapa by (motor)bike tour

ciking and cycling in Sapa
Sapa motorbike tour

An alternative to trekking in Sapa, you can also take a motorbike or mountain bike to explore the landscapes. Riding a mountain bike is diffidently exciting and enjoyable at the same time.

A motorbike can bring you a lot further than hiking, giving you the opportunity to go even more off the beaten track and away from the crowds in Sapa. There are some scenic roads, but if you are not confident in driving or not a lot of experienced, it is best to go on the back of a motorbike with a local guide.

10. Explore Sapa town

markets around Sapa
Sapa stone church

As all the best things to do in Sapa are actually outside Sapa, but you can still choose to wander around this town. Even though it lost its cozy picturesque feeling, there are some sights you can visit. 

It the city center you find an old stone church and the local market. The market can be fun to visit in the weekend, when it is getting quite busy with local minorities. There is also a museum you can visit about the different ethnic groups. Finally, you can also walk around the lake or enjoy the view of the city on Ham Ruong Mountain.

Best hotels & hostels in Sapa

Where to stay

Hotels around the lake – the cheapest place to book a room compared to the same quality rooms in the rest of the city.

Hotels in Cau May – Muong Hoa – more expensive than the other areas because the view is very beautiful, including views of the Fansipan and Hoang Lien Son mountains.

Hotels in center of Sapa – full of tourists and many options of quality hotels, from affordable to expensive luxury hotels.

Homestay in Sapa – An overnight stay in a homestay is a great alternative to a hotel in the city itself, if you don’t mind staying in a more basic accommodation.

Best hotels & hostels in Sapa

Budget hotels & hostels

  • Mountain View Hostel
  • Go Sapa Hostel
  • Sapa Capsule

Mid range hotel

  • Sapa Elite Hotel
  • Praha Hotel Sapa
  • Sapa Diamond Hotel
  • Sapa Eden Hotel

High end hotel & resort

  • Sapa Legend Hotel & Spa
  • Sapa Freesia Hotel
  • Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel

Food & drinking


There are many restaurant in Sapa, including both local dishes as western dishes as pizza, pasta and hamburgers. Try the specialities of the local hill tribes, often with wild mushrooms, herbs and local fish.

  • Good Morning Vietnam Restaurant
  • Sapa Natureview
  • Little Vietnam Restaurant
  • Moment Romantic Restaurant
  • Good Morning View Restaurant
  • Hill Station Signature Restaurant


Sapa is not known for its hectic nightlife. There are a few bars that offer a place to meet fellow travelers, drink a few beers and play a game of pool. Most restaurants that sell beer and other beverages tend to close early in the evening.

  • Mountain Bar & Pub: Cocktails, cold beer and games, this is the to-go bar for an evening out.
  • Hmong Sisters: A spacious bar with pool tables and a fireplace with great music.

How to get there

Sapa does not have a airport, but there are direct buses from Hanoi and there is a train station not too far from Sapa town.

Buses to Sapa

The bus from Hanoi to Sapa is the cheapest option. The advantage of a bus connection is that it goes directly to the city of Sapa, without stopping anywhere and the bus also runs at night, just like the trains. The bus trip from Hanoi to Sapa takes around 5 to 6 hours..

Trains to Hanoi

Many people who travel to Sapa choose the train because it is safe, comfortable, convenient and time-saving. The disadvantage is that the train only takes you to Lao Cai station, from there you have to take a bus, minibus or taxi to Sapa.

How to get around

Hiking – Places in the city of Sapa are easily reached on foot, because Sapa is small enough. Hiking is also the best way to explore the area around Sapa. However, if you choose this form of travel, you must also provide yourself with good shoes, drinking water and good endurance. There are a few small day walks that you can do alone. It is recommended to do a multi-day trek through the area with a guide who can show you the way.

Cab – The price for a taxi in Sapa is almost the same as in Hanoi. You can often choose between taxis with 5 to 8 seats, depending on the number of people you are with. Some reliable taxi companies are: Sapa Green Taxi, Phan-xi-pang taxi, Northwest taxi. You pay per kilometer from 9,000 to 12,000.

Motorbike – You can rent a motorbike in Sapa from 100,000 VND a day. Keep in mind that driving through the mountains of north Vietnam is not without danger and only meant for people with experience. An alternative is to go on the back of a motorbike with an experienced guide.

Per tour – A comfortable way of traveling in Sapa is per tour. No danger of driving a motorcycle on difficult roads and no stress of getting lost. A simple way to view the highlights and a local guide who can show you things about the area and tell them.

Itinerary 2 days in Sapa

Day 1

  • Start a 2 day 1 night trekking
  • Stay overnight in a homestay

Day 2

  • Get back in early afternoon from the trekking
  • Choose to go to Fansipan by cable car or Tram Ton Pass by taxi/scooter

More tips for traveling in Sapa

Where to go next?

A cruise in Halong Bay or cycling between the rice fields of Ninh Binh are often combined with Sapa. Though, there are no direct buses or trains to these destinations. You would always need to travel back to Hanoi. There are however direct connections with Ha Giang and Mu Cang Chai. Ha Giang is great if you want to explore some of the most stunning mountains of north Vietnam. Mu Cang Chai is the place where you can find the most beautiful rice fields in Vietnam. It might better to choose either between Sapa and Mu Cang Chai, as both destinations are famous for trekking tours between the rice fields.

Sapa with kids

Sapa is a great place to bring children. Depending on their age and stamina, you can choose to make a trekking with them for half a day, full day or multiple day. It is also great to let them learn about the different minority cultures. You can also choose to go to Fansipan, by mountain train and cable car.


Sapa is a quite developed in tourism, so a large number of people working in the hotels and restaurants can speak a fairly amount of English. When you visit the minority villages and want to stay overnight in a local homestay, there is less chance to be able to communicate with them easily. It is wise to do this kind of activities with a guide.

What to bring

Make sure to bring warm clothes when you visit Sapa in the winter months. During summer it will be very hot, but bring with rain. Make sure to bring sunscreen, hat and a raincoat. 

It is also smart to bring a comfortable daypack if you are planning to do a trekking. Read here more for a full list of what to bring during a trekking in Sapa.

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