12 Incredible Things To Do In Sapa, Vietnam

There are many fantastic things to do in Sapa, Vietnam. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, I am here for you.

Sapa is situated in northwestern Vietnam, specifically in the mountainous Lao Cai province. Covering an area of 677 square kilometers (261 square miles), the hilly district has long been inhabited by hill tribes from various ethnic groups that make up Vietnam’s highland minority peoples.

During the colonial era, the French established a hill station here in 1922. This attracted a number of wealthy professionals to build lavish private villas in the area.

During the 1950s in the Vietnamese War of Independence, many of these buildings were destroyed, but the prominence of Sapa and its attractive hilltop location remained.

Today visitors are drawn here with the promise of rolling green mountainsides, far-flung villages and lush landscapes — and all just 337 kilometers (209 miles) north of Hanoi, making it easy to get to either by road or rail.

Curious to discover more? Then continue reading. In this post, I will share my pick of the unmissable things to do in Sapa, and will provide practical information that will help you plan your trip. But first of all, are you wondering if Sapa is worth visiting? Let me answer that below!

If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, my post The Best Vietnam Travel Tips will be very useful.

Claudia in Sapa Vietnam
Exploring the Sapa Valley, Vietnam

Is Sapa Worth Visiting?

Yes! Of course, Sapa is worth visiting and as the title of this post suggest, there are many great things to do in Sapa. It’s an ideal place to go to see not only beautiful landscapes, but also one of the best places for trekking in Vietnam, and an interesting place to learn about local people outside of the major cities.

If you are interested in discovering more of the natural landscape of Vietnam, then putting time into your itinerary to make a trip up north to Sapa is something you’ll want to do. This isn’t the kind of destination where you will go partying, admire modern history architecture, or hang around drinking Vietnamese coffee watching the world go by.

Instead, it is more about meeting the local communities, being awed by the dramatic scenery and hitting the trail to get in amongst it all on all manner of different trekking opportunities.

things to do in Sapa Valley
With my sister on a hike in the Sapa Valley

Best To Visit Sapa, Vietnam

The climate of Sapa is very different from other parts of Vietnam. Its location, high above sea level, means that temperatures are much cooler than in coastal or lower altitude regions.

July and August are the warmest times of year, while December and January see temperatures plummet to near freezing; sometimes snow can fall in the highlands.

One of the best times to travel to Sapa isn’t so much to do with the weather, but more to do with the scenery.

Between September to November, as the rice harvest begins to take place, you’ll be greeted with valleys stepped with rice paddies in all shades of deep, bright green — the signal to rice farmers that their crops can be harvested.

Local women of Sapa Valley
Local women of Sapa Valley, Vietnam

It’s also this time of year that you’ll see farmers and people from the village wearing their colorful traditional clothing, usually red and indigo, which is an eye-catching contrast to the green of the rice paddies.

For the perfect weather for trekking, then you should visit between March through May. This spring season sees less rainfall than the summer, and the days are clear with pleasant temperatures (though nights can get cold). We visited in March and enjoyed nice, sunny days.

Now that I have inspired you to visit Sapa, let’s discover all the best things to do in Sapa, Vietnam.

things to do in Sapa Vietnam
Photo by Pharts @shutterstock

Best Things Things To Do In Sapa, Vietnam

Shop at Bac Ha Market

The town of Bac Ha is known as one of the main settlements of the Flower Hmong people. Completely surrounded by lush countryside, Bac Ha is a quiet town that comes to life every Sunday with its vibrant market.

Bac Ha is often seen as a kind of “alternative” to Sapa by visitors, who also use it as a jumping-off point for hitting trails around the region, but the main draw is its market.

People come here from miles around, all across the region, to sell their wares and to shop for produce and other essentials.

Outside of its market, the town is quite sleepy, but provides a haven for those looking for a much more laid-back and relatively non-touristy place to explore. There are a few places to stay in town, and a handful of restaurants geared towards visitors too.

You may want to consider this guided tour of Bac Ha market that departs from Sapa and includes transportation.

sapa vietnam
Selling local produce at the market

Check out other markets

For travelers who want to see more of the rainbow of markets that Sapa and the surrounding region are famous for, then you’re in luck. You’ll be able to explore a whole lot of local commerce throughout the week. No matter what day it is, there’s usually something going on somewhere around Sapa.

For example, on Tuesday there’s Coc Ly Market. Coc Ly is around half the size of Bac Ha, but has a bustling atmosphere; it’s a good place to come to pick up locally-made crafts and textiles.

The day after, on Wednesday, there’s the market at Cao Son, which is a mingling of different ethnic minorities in the region. It’s an early-morning affair, full of a variety of produce, and the locals are happy to haggle and chat.

Bac Ha market
Bac Ha market

On Saturday, head to Can Cau. Around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the center of Lao Cai, the market here is really traditional, with produce and textile laid out for sale on the ground. You can pick up some beautifully made fabrics here.

Muong Hom is the closest village to Sapa that hosts its own market (also held on Sundays), and its proximity means that you don’t necessarily need to take a tour to reach it.

However, with the other markets, you’ll have to join a tour, so expect a lot of time spent traveling in a minivan if you want to see them all.

things to do in Sapa Vietnam
Photo by Sergii Figurnyi @shutterstock

Explore Cat Cat Village

Visiting Cat Cat village is one of the unmissable things to do in Sapa.

Nestled in a lush mountain valley, this is often cited as one of the most beautiful villages in northwest Vietnam. Just over 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Sapa itself, it’s actually possible to walk there if you’re staying in Sapa, making it a must-visit if you’re a keen explorer. It’s what we did and it was a great walk!

In the village itself, you’ll see little bridges spanning the river that runs through the valley, houses clinging to the slopes, and even a waterfall — the Tien Sa Waterfall, with a rushing 10-meter-drop.

There are winding streets here with shops that sell crafts and locally made goods, plus a few homestays if that’s what you’re interested in. There is a token entrance fee for visitors to the village – don’t worry, it’s a very small fee.

The walk from Sapa to Cat Cat is a picturesque one, and you can stop off along the way at various stalls that serve snacks and coffee. Then you buy your ticket at the checkpoint before you enter the village.

Sapa Vietnam
Photo by Reggie Lee @shutterstock

Visit Sapa Museum

Visiting Sapa Museum is one of the most interesting (and free) things to do in Sapa if you feel you need a good starting point for your explorations when you first arrive in town.

The museum offers up an understanding of the history of the region, including its people and the French colonial era. The museum itself isn’t the most modern or polished, but it has got a whole host of interesting local pieces, books and artifacts — all on display inside the walls of a traditional stilt building.

One of the most interesting parts of the Sapa Museum is that it tells the story of the Sapa region’s ties with Vietnam’s ruling dynasties, and with the French colonists. Another particularly intriguing part is being able to learn about traditional textiles, which you can see up close here, and how each pattern and different color represents different meanings across the region.

Bac Ha
Bac Ha

Go inside Sapa Church

You would not thing of visiting churches as one of the things to do in Sapa, but this one os special!

Situated in the center of Sapa, this stone church — officially called Our Lady of the Rosary — is a relic of the French occupation. It was constructed in 1902, 25 years after Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral, and is quite different in terms of architecture.

For many years following Vietnamese independence, the stone structure was actually used as a rice store, the cool stone exterior creating the perfect conditions.

However, in the mid-1990s, the church was restored and brought back to its original elegance. Inside you’ll find pretty wooden pews, wood-paneled walls, a black-and-white tiled floor and stained glass windows. The church still holds services every day.

Hiking in Sapa Valley


Hiking is one of most fun things to do in Sapa. The area is famed for its trekking, and Sapa is used as the base of operations for many backpackers and independent travelers who want to hit the trail and explore on foot.

But if you do want to go out and go trekking (it would be a shame to come all the way here and not hike!), note that you should never go hiking alone. Hiking with a local Hmong guide is the best way to do it.

That way you can give money directly to the community, and be led by a knowledgeable guide who not only knows the way, but who can also tell you about history and culture, too.

As for different hikes on offer, there are plenty of those — and a lot of choice, from easy one-day cultural hikes to nearby villages, all the way to full-on, multi-day treks in Ba Be National Park.

I recommend this Muong Hoa Valley trek and local ethnic villages tour that lasts 5 hours. It’s led by a local guide.

Love Waterfall
Photo by AntonyTR @shutterstock

Hike to Love Waterfall

It’s not all about markets and rice paddies in Sapa. There’s also the chance to get deep into the hills, which can often lead to uncovering some incredible natural sights. One of these is Love Waterfall.

Situated in the San Sa Ho Commune around 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Sapa town, Love Waterfall isn’t named after its shape, but rather the cascades are connected to a local legend about a love story.

To get there, there’s a well-marked trail that leads through the wild scenery of the Hoang Lien National Park.

Though the trail is only around 20 minutes if you walk continuously, you’ll be stopping along the way to read the informative signs that have been posted up. These alert visitors to the presence of various flora and fauna in the area, such as orchids and rhododendrons, and even colorful beetles too.

It’s best to go on a tour such as this one to reach it, or you could also rent a motorbike and do it independently if you’re feeling adventurous. There is a small entrance fee to see the waterfall.

Local communities in Sapa
Hanging out with a group of local women

Meet local communities

This is definitely one of the unmissable things to do in Sapa!

Vietnam’s northern highlands have long been home to their own communities and culture, separate from the people of the lowlands and coastal areas.

The hill tribes, as they are known, are intrinsically connected to the land they live in, spilling over borders into China, Laos and Thailand. These communities have their own languages, their own customs and their own identities.

Children playing in the valley

If you want to learn more about the people of Vietnam’s highlands, then you will have the opportunity to do so if you visit the many small villages around the Sapa Valley.

The main ethnic groups around Sapa are the Hmong (called the Miao in China) and the Yao (or Dao) people, the Giay, Tay, and Pho Lu. Each has their distinctive clothing, often with color and textile techniques that reflect their own identities (such as marital status and social standing).

A good way to get a deeper insight is to go on a tour that ensures that your money goes to the right places, and that the intent of the tour is on education rather than cultural sightseeing.

things to do in Sapa Vietnam
Cable car to Fansipan

Hop on a cable car to Fansipan

Part of a mountain range once known as the Tonkinese Alps, as the French called it, Fansipan is Vietnam’s highest mountain. Measuring 3,143 meters (10,311 feet) above sea level, it is often called “The Roof of Indo-China”.

For most of its history, this lofty peak has been inaccessible to most. However, this recently changed with the opening of the 6,292 meters (20,643 feet) long cable that shuttles travelers from Sapa, through the cloud layer, across the Mong Hoa Valley to (almost) the summit of Fansipan itself.

Tickets for this adventure can be purchased at the ticket office in the main square in Sapa. From there, you can hop on a funicular train which takes you down to the lower cable car station.

Once you arrive near the peak (taking around 15 minutes), you have the option of either climbing 600 steps or taking another funicular to reach the very top, passing by a number of glistening pagodas as you near the summit.

However, if you are feeling adventurous, one of the best things to do in Sapa is hiking to Fansipan. The only point I need to make about this incredible hike is that you should not do it alone – the trails aren’t well marked and it’s easy to get lost.

For example, you may want to consider this full day guided hike to Fansipan that also includes lunch.

Sapa rice fields
Sapa rice fields

Explore the rice fields

Sapa’s rice fields or paddies have become world famous for their scenic beauty. Reaching their peak in the autumn months (September to November), these glistening green facets of daily life in the region are a captivating sight, carpeting the hills of the hilly landscape in bright, verdant hues.

There are a number of different ways to see Sapa’s rice fields, from up close and personal, all the way to viewpoints that give you a bird’s eye view out over the bright green paddies. Either way, embarking on a trek or hiking tour to the rice fields is probably one of the best things to do in Sapa.


Try local food!

Vietnamese food is well-known across the world — everyone knows summer rolls, pho and banh mi. According to tradition, the food is supposed to be colorful, with the colors representing the five elements: black, green, red, white and yellow foods representing water, wood, fire, metal and earth respectively.

But in Sapa, things are slightly different as this is not Hanoi, and it’s certainly not Saigon.

That isn’t to say that you can’t sample the local cuisine of Sapa when you’re there. In fact, there are quite a few top eateries in town where you can try out some local delicacies, specifically in the form of hotpot and roasted suckling pig restaurants.

Countries with the best food

There are several of these places clustered together along Xuan Vien; hotpots are a medley of local vegetables and meats all stewed in a deliciously spice-infused broth.

Viethome Restaurant Sapa is a favorite among travelers, who come to try home-cooked type food (including hot pot), which is served up in generous portions. The owners are very friendly and happy to chat in English, and recommend dishes if you ask.

Elsewhere, the down-to-earth Co Lich is a lively venue for locals and visitors alike where regional favorites can all be sampled under one roof. Sapa Market also has food stalls where you can pick up locally made bites to eat and snacks much cheaper than you can from a restaurant.

things to do in Sapa Vietnam
Photo by Anton_Ivanov @shutterstock

Go to Silver Waterfall

If you like waterfalls, and didn’t get your fill from visiting Love Waterfall, then you’ll also want to make your way to Silver Waterfall.

Known locally as Thac Bac, the impressive 200 meter (656 feet) tall waterfall comes gushing down in a series of torrents, plunging into pools before cascading down a further drop, until it joins the river again.

It’s a fearsome sight to see — and to hear (it’s very loud) — as it comes rushing over the mountainside. There’s a staircase that leads up the side of Silver Waterfall, and you can get up close to the cascade thanks to a bridge that straddles it.

There is an entrance fee to the waterfall. Once you pay, make your way there to see this particularly awe-inspiring waterfall and take some great photos of the landscape.

Hmong People in Vietnam
Photo by marzia franceschini @shutterstock

Practical Guide For Visiting Sapa, Vietnam

Now that you know about the most interesting and adventurous things to do in Sapa, let’s check out how to plan your trip.

How to get to Sapa from Hanoi

Sapa is located to the north of Hanoi, by road the distance is around 325 kilometers (202 miles). Being one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam, you won’t have an issue finding the most suitable way to get to Sapa as per your travel style and budget. Here are the various options available.

By bus

The bus is the quickest and most convenient option for traveling to Sapa and is the best choice for those who are short on time, as it is a direct route which does not require changing at any point.

There are a number of different buses that regularly run along the route between the two destinations, from budget-friendly slower buses to more time efficient luxury tourist minivans.

The tourist buses take between 6 to 8 hours and cost around USD $12 to $20.

train to Sapa
Train to Lao Cai

By night train

For those who want to travel in style, there’s the Victoria’s Orient Express train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. Once there, you will have to take a bus or shuttle to Sapa.

There are various kinds of train you can pick from – from budget to luxury.

Luxury train runs daily (apart from Saturday) and boasts the chance to dine on a luxury dinner during the trip, luxury bedding and added extras like towels and toothbrushes. It’s not the cheapest however (you are looking into paying $200 USD and more), but it’s a price worth paying if you are keen on a luxury train experience.

The standard night train also runs from Hanoi. In this case there are several ticket options with the cheapest in the range of $15 USD. The most budget friendly is that for a standard bed. You will pay more for for a private room with air con.

You can pick up tickets in person at Hanoi railway station or through a travel agent in the city – this is actually a better solution as the train can get quite busy, so you should book in advance.

Once the train arrives in Lao Cai you will then need to take a bus from Loa Cai station to Sapa. The journey takes up to 2 hours and again you have the option to pick between a basic bus and a more comfortable ride, so there’s something in all price ranges, from $1 USD to $30 USD.

Sapa Valley
Green rice fields in Sapa Valley

By road

Many travelers opt to drive a motorbike in Vietnam. Once you have your hands on your own set of wheels the country’s winding highways are yours to explore. Some travelers purchase their own motorbike for the trip. But I don’t recommend driving a car. Traffic is crazy and slow moving and driving is less than fun.

If you just want to take a ride up to Sapa then it’s best to get someone to do the driving for you.

Private cars and drivers can be arranged through your accommodation or through a multitude of tour agents dotted around the streets of Hanoi. A private car will cost around $70 USD for the ride up to Sapa from Hanoi, but it’s a good choice for those traveling in a group as the cost of the journey can be split.

If you are planning to explore Hanoi, my posts The Best Things To Do In Hanoi and The Best Day Trips From Hanoi will provide lots of guidance to plan your trip.

Walking around the rice fields of Sapa, Vietnam

Guided tours of Sapa

Many travelers in Vietnam choose to explore Sapa on a tour. Many of the local villages and mountain treks are hard to access without your own transport and so joining a tour can really help to open up the region. There’s a large choice of tours of Sapa to suit different travelers and budgets.

This two-day one-night tour whisks you from your accommodation in Hanoi up to Sapa in an air-conditioned bus along with a guide and includes trekking and overnight stay in a hill-tribe village.

If you wish to stay a bit longer, you can opt for this three-day tour by train from Hanoi that includes hiking and overnight staying in a hotel.

For something even more adventurous there’s this two-night tour which takes you to the top of Fansipan Mountain.

And if you want a simple one-day tour, there’s the one-day guided tour of three different villages — home to some of the region’s ethnic minorities.

Sapa Valley
Colorful buildings in Sapa Valley

Where to stay

There are many nice places to stay in Sapa, Vietnam. Many travelers opt for home stays but to be honest my experience was not great – the accommodation was tremendously basic, and the it was almost impossible to communicate with the local family. So if you decide to book a homestay, make sure to verify it’s a good one by reading online reviews.

Of course where you pick to stay in general is a matter of budget, so I have picked a place for each kind of budget for you.

Hotel de la Coupole – MGallery

This polished hotel has a choice of chic rooms to choose from each with designer furnishing and sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. Throughout, the hotel has been carefully curated with a high level of detail, from the lounge to the impeccable service.

Staying here means relaxing in style as you indulge in the high-end amenities which include a heated indoor swimming pool, fitness center and French restaurant.

A buffalo in the rice terraces

Sapa Relax Hotel & Spa

Situated in the heart of Sapa town, this 3-star hotel features stunning rooms that are decorated with polished wood floors, modern furnishing and sparkling private bathrooms. In terms of amenities, there’s a choice of spaces for unwinding after a busy day or exploring including the rooftop terrace with captivating views of the area.

Saparis Hotel

Saparis Hotel may be budget-friendly, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks comfort or style. Conveniently located just 400 meters away from Sapa bus station, it’s the perfect place to rest after making the long journey from Hanoi on the night train or by bus.

The accommodation features stylish guest rooms with balconies and city views. There’s also a list of shared spaces to unwind in including a garden, a shared lounger and a communal kitchen. But there’s also an on-site restaurant and bar and breakfast served up each morning, so you won’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to.

Further Readings

Need help planning your trip to Vietnam? Make sure to read the following posts:

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Read about the best things to do in Sapa, Vietnam - via @clautavani

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