Despite its commercialization during the last seven years, Sapa is still a must-see on any northern Vietnam itinerary. On a clear day you will treated to views of steeply terraced rice fields, towering verdant ridgelines, primitive mud-thatched villages, raging rivers and astounding waterfalls.
Nestled high in the Tonkinese Alps near the Chinese border, Sape was built as a hill station during French colonial days, to serve as a respite from stifling Hanoi summers. These days, weekends are still the biggest draw in this crumbling hill-tribe center. Visitors from the capital flock to Sapa for a glimpse of the famed "Love Market," a trek to local hill tribe villages, or an ascent of Vietnam's highest peak, Fan Si Pan.
Some eight ethnic groups inhabit Lao Cai province: Hmong, Dao, White Thai, Giay, Tay, Muong, Hao and Xa Pho. The most prominent in town are the Red Dao, easily identified by the coin-dangling red headdresses and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women, and the Hmong, distinguished by their somewhat less elaborately embroidered royal blue attire. Groups of ethnic Hmong youngsters and women can be seen hauling impossibly heavy, awkward baskets of wood, stakes, bamboo, bricks, mud and produce. Deep in the valleys surrounding Sapa, the Muong Hoa River sluices a wild, jagged course among Giay, Red Dao and White Thai settlements, their tiny dwellings poking out of the neon rice fields like diamonds on a putting green. One- to four-day treks are offered by a handful of outfitters. Guests sleep in tents or in the homes of villagers, their gear hauled by Hmong porters. Be warned: Despite what the local innkeepers will tell you, both the Hmong and the Dao really do not enjoy having their photographs taken unless they're paid for it. It's a certainty that any brochure you see of smiling, care-free ethnic hill people was shot under a Screen Actors Guild contract.
Sa pa is famed for its "Love Market" – sort of a cross between a peacock mating ritual, a Middle Eastern arms bazaar, an Amish square dance, a bad Pavarotti concert and Bangkok's Patpong (except here the people wear clothes). On Saturday nights, Red Dao hill tribe youths of both sexes congregate in a weekly courting rite, singing tribal versions of Loretta Lynn love songs to woo the opposite sex. The songs are highly personalized and boast of the composer's physical attributes, domestic abilities and strong work ethic. While Dao women are indeed highly industrious, the men, it seems, prefer to spend most of their time drinking, smoking opium or sleeping, only occasionally slapping the rump of a lethargic bovine moving more slowly than they are. Few of their songs, though, are about drinking, smoking opium, sleeping or slapping rumps.
Topping out at 3,143 meters, Fan Si Pan has become the Mount Everest of Vietnam, with queues of yuppie trekkers in their latest TravelSmith "totally-packable" rainwear forming mountaineering traffic jams at base camps. Footprint Travel can arrange guided ascents.
Sapa itself is a somewhat bedraggled village meshing crumbling, mildewed French colonial architecture with the pencil-thin, brick-and-concrete mini-hotels that have become so ubiquitous in recent years all across Vietnam. This neglected, cultural mishmash would be an eyesore in any place less spectacularly scenic than Sapa. Because of its Shangri-la-like setting, Sapa actually seems quaint – a tranquil, restful village. Which is, of course, what the French originally intended the place to be. Amenities are limited unless you choose to stay at the Four Star Victoria Sapa, a sprawling alpine campus nestled discreetly into a hillside in the center of town.
The best times of the year to visit Sapa are in the spring and fall. Summers tend to be rainy and muddy, while winter temperatures can drop to the freezing mark (Sapa ushered in 2000 with snow!). Weather really does make a difference here, because the spectacular scenery is all but blotted out when there is cloud cover and rain. Ignore the other Nikon-toting tourists in the villages and get out into the countryside, where you just may still catch a glimpse into hill-tribe life of a couple of centuries ago.
For your information about the places to visit during your holiday in Sapa, we've made a small guide about thee best places. These are the places tourists have found most interesting and informative. We hope this guide will make your stay in Sapa more pleasant and enjoyable.
Sapa Love Market: Montagnards from surrounding villages, especially Red Dao people don their most customers and head to the market on Saturday. The girls try to hide in the dark shadow and sing the love songs to attract the boys. The boys try to find where the songs come from. If they are well matched they together into the forest for 3 days. Back from the forest, they can get married if they want. besides, some people also go to the market to their old girlfriend, or boyfriend whom they couldn't get married to for some reasons. The Love market takes place very late in the evening (from 10 P.M ).Be quiet and patient to discover it. Do not miss it !!!!
Ham Rong mountain (1,5 km from Sapa ): 1750m hight. From here you can see the whole panorama of Sapa town. Ideal for walking 2,5 hours round the trip. The scenery is really wonderful. Discover the artificial orchid garden and enjoy the art show program of the ethnic minority group in Sapa at 10:30 am everyday &at 12:30 P.M every Friday and Saturday...
Cat cat village (4 km ). You can go to Catcat by Jeep, motorbike or on foot, it is a small village of Hmong people, where you can relax beside the waterfall or visit the old power station of the French... .Lao chai - Ta van: Take a car from Sapa to Laochai village (H'mong people) (9 km), Walking to Tavan village (12km),you will see the H'mong , Zay , Dao people and others dressed in the traditional style that is unique to the Northern region (well-prepared boots or trekking shoes for a two hour trek through terraced). The driver will wait for you here and take you back to Sapa.
Tafin village (red Zao people ,Black Hmong). (15km ).You can reach Tafin by Jeep or motorbike.The trip takes tree hours. You can leave your car or motorbike at the entrance of the village and walk inside the village to visit the Red Zao, Black H'mong houses & experience their daily lives.
Female outfits vary but typically elaborate with silver- color beads and coins (the wealth of the woman is said to be equal to the weight of the coins she carries).Long locks of hair are tied up in to large red embroidered turban.
Thac Bac (Silver Water fall) (13km).you can reach the Thacbac by motorbike or car. After climbing to the Silver Water Fall, 100m high, you can continue up to the highest pass in Viet Nam. The 2047m high Tram ton pass. Aside from magnificent views, the bizzare thing is how dramatically the climate changes. On the Sapa side of the mountain, you can often expect foggy, cold and generally nasty weather. Drop down a few hundred meters below the pass on the Laichau side and it will often be sunny and warm.
Binh Lu market (50km ) is one on the remote villages of Sapa. Diverse ethnic minority groups surround it, each maintaining its own language and tradition. These distinct people have developed an amazing variety of music, dance and handicraft. A big cave is also available for you to discover in Binh Lu
Bac Ha market (100km): Discover the most famous market of the region-Bac Ha market. Here you can meet all the different minority group of the region: Flower H'mong, Tay, F'la, Thai, Nung. The colorful market is well-known for its handicraft objects. The market only operate on Saturday morning. Depart from Sapa at 6am, you will be in BacHa at 9am. This is the good time to visit the market. On the way back to Sapa, it is possible to hop off in Laocai and catch the night train back to Hanoi,
Muong Hun market (75km): It is quite hard to discover this area. This is the program for the strong ones. It is mountainous district like Sapa but have different ethnic minorities such as :Flower H'mong, Zay, Red Hmong, White Hmong, Tay, Thai, Nung, Tu Di,dao Tuyen. The market only operate on saturday morning. Depart from Sapa at 6am , you will arrive Muong Hun at 9am. After visiting the market you will go back to Laocai station. You can also visit Muong Vi cave and villages along the road on the way to Laocai.
Coc Ly market (95km): Join us for the amazing excursion of Coc Ly, the latest market discovered in the region, the only one operating on Tuesday. Depart from Sapa at 7am, you will arrive at Coc Ly at around 9.30am. This is the good tine to visit the market. After visiting the market, which is the most fresh and unspoiled market of the region, offering a wide range of different colorful ethnic minorities such as Flower C'mon, Black Dao, Tay , Fula, Lachi, Sandui and Nung....there will be an exciting boat cruise winding you through a breathtaking, out of this-world landscape where the mountain grow from water presenting their most hidden mysteries, including caves and tiny minority ...A picnic lunch box can be prepared for your most convenience....