Top 10 Things to Do in Sapa and Beyond

Top 10 Things to Do in Sapa and Beyond
Photo by Léo Nguyen / Unsplash

If you're looking for a list of things to do in Sapa, we have 10 top suggestions that will help you put together a perfect itinerary for your next trip to this Northwest region of Vietnam.

From bustling markets and breathtaking panoramic views to post-trek restorative herbal baths, Sapa is unlike anything else you'll discover or experience in Vietnam.

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Best Things to Do in Sapa and Beyond

Although sometimes cold and misty, Sapa is, no doubt, one of the most picturesque regions of Vietnam. The terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, fantastic views and locals in their traditional outfits will give you memories you'll never forget.

But before you go, remember to pack your camera, warm waterproof clothes if travelling outside the dry season and some comfortable walking boots - there's a lot of ground to cover on this trip.

1. Eat Your Way Through Sapa

Vietnamese spring rolls
Vietnamese food 

The first thing you should do when you arrive in the misty Vietnamese mountains is to eat your way through Sapa. You'll have no shortage of restaurants and bakeries with gorgeous food available to warm you up, so indulge in the Vietnamese cuisine and escape the rain.

Cau May Street is the central restaurant area, but do wander off the beaten path to explore the local food scene further. Try the hearty hot pots, delicious Vietnamese rolls, homey tomato soup or just-out-of-the-oven French pastries. And don't forget to taste some Vietnamese wine with your lunch or dinner.

La Gecko Cafe is a popular choice among visitors. But if you are interested in making a difference when travelling, there are a couple of NGO cafes similar to the Reaching Out Tea House in Hoi An. Sapa O'Chau Cafe is a social enterprise supporting local youth in bettering their futures.

On arrival, Sapa may welcome you with lower temperatures than the rest of Vietnam, so a cup of thick Vietnamese coffee could be just what you need to start (or end) your day right. If you've spent any time in Hanoi before arriving in Sapa, then you'll know all about the tasty Vietnamese coffee.

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Luckily coffee in the remote Hoang Lien Son mountain range is just as good as in the Vietnamese capital. Sipping it at the Nature View cafe might just be one of the best things to do in Sapa. It's common for cafes in Vietnam to serve coffee all day long, so if you are staying in the town, come here for a picturesque sunset.

Alternatively, for a casual coffee break, you can always pop into the cafe chain Cong Caphe for a hot drink or cold beer, if you prefer.

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2. Explore Sapa Town

Lake in Sapa town
Sapa town in Vietnam 

With your stomach full of Vietnamese delicacies, exploring the town will be the next great thing to do in Sapa. It's a small place and the main base from which you can explore the stepped rice valleys independently or with a local guide.

Sapa is home to different ethnic groups and the local ladies in their glorious outfits roaming the streets are an attraction in itself. They make great photo opportunities, but you should ask them first if you can take a picture from close up.

Start your explorations by visiting the small Notre Dame Cathedral built by the French in 1895. Located right in the heart of Sapa town, it's one of the oldest places to visit in Sapa. The stone cathedral itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the mountainous backdrop behind the church is quite beautiful.

The man-made lake in central Sapa is a great place for a chilled walk at any time of day, but if you want to avoid the crowds, get here early in the morning.

For things to do in the rain in Sapa, pop into the tiny Sapa Culture Museum where you can learn more about the local tribes through the pictures and embroidery displayed in the showroom. Visiting the museum will give you a greater insight into the ethnic Sapa tribes before you head off for your Sapa trekking adventure.

3. Go on a Sapa Trekking Tour

Sapa trekking
Trekking rice fields in Sapa

One of the main reasons why people come to the alpine Lao Cai Province is for a trekking experience. This is no doubt, one of the top things to do in Sapa and beyond. Just like the many food options, there's no shortage of Sapa trekking tours lasting one-day, two-days or longer.

You can organise a short trek yourself, but Sapa is a maze of valleys, bamboo forests and tiny villages and you can easily get lost. We were saved by the local tribal ladies in the bamboo forest when we tried to do a walk ourselves and later paid handsomely for our rescue.

We speak from experience when we say that booking a knowledgeable tour guide will make your treks through the lush Hoang Lien National Park unforgettable.

Depending on the tour, you'll hike through the stunning Muong Hoa valley's terraced rice paddies, walk the trails of the highest mountain in Vietnam, Fansipan and stop at local tribe villages.

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To meet the ethnic minorities such as the Black Mong community during your Sapa trekking experience, you’ll get to visit Y Linh Ho, Cat Cat, Ta Van, Ban Ho and other traditional villages.

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Nestled in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains of Northwest Vietnam, Ta Van village is home to the Giay people, one of Sapa’s ethnic minorities. As one of the bigger tribal communities in Lao Cai Province, it’s also one of the most popular overnight stops on the Sapa trekking route. If

Most of the multi-day treks include an overnight stay and dinner at a homestay with a local family which can be a great experience if you choose the right operator. The locally-run is a good option if you are looking for some unique experiences.

Sapa trekking tours can be challenging if you are not used to long hikes. Due to the constant mist and rain, the pathways can be muddy, slippery and tough to walk on. But the fresh, clean air and views of incredible nature are worth it, especially when the sun comes out and shines down onto the rice terraces.

4. Head to the Markets

Vietnamese tribal woman in Sapa

Out of all the things to do in Sapa, don’t miss a trip to a local market. Bustling with colour and tasty delights, markets in Sapa are some of the best places to have a feel and taste of Sapa life.

To spot the locals interacting, chilling or making crafts in their fantastic ethnic outfits, head to Coc Ly market, Muong Hum market, Lung Khau Nhin market, Cao Son or the Love market in Sapa.

Or even better, take a tour to the famous Sunday Bac Ha Market with an English-speaking guide and meet the Flower H'mong, Tay, Nung, and Dao minority people.

5. Recover in a Herbal Bath

One of the best ways to recover and renew your energy after a tough Sapa trek is to get a full-body massage. The traditional Vietnamese massage is well-known the world over for its muscle and deep-tissue stimulating benefits and is certainly one of the most relaxing things to do in Sapa.

Treat yourself to soothing herbal baths and a traditional massage at one of the many spas in the area. Try the Lavender Spa, Red Dao Spa or La Dao Spa and Coffee House in picturesque Ta Van village.

6. Walk the Roof of Indochina

View from the Fansipan mountain in Sapa
Hikes in Fan Si Pan

Fansipan, Fan Si Pan or the Roof of Indochina is one of the most popular places to visit in Sapa due to its location and spectacular views above the clouds on a clear day. At 3,143 meters high, reaching the Fansipan summit is a tough challenge, but if you can endure a long trek and steep climb, it will be a great adventure.

You can use GPS to navigate and conquer the mountain in one day, starting at Tran Tom. If you're after a full hiking experience, begin at San Sa Ho - Ban Sin Chai or Cat Cat village and prepare for a two-day hike with some camping along the way. It is strongly recommended to hire a guide to help you out with the route.

If you are not interested in a full-on trekking experience to Fansipan, then you can take a cable car to reach the summit. You'll find the cable car station located in the Fansipan Legend tourist park around 3 km outside Sapa. To get there, you can walk, take a train or a taxi.

Round (return) cable car tickets cost around $30 per person. Ask if you can buy tickets in advance at your hotel or head to the cable car station and buy them there directly.

7. Step Into the Cloud Yard

View from Ham Rong Mountain in Sapa
Panoramic views 

For more panoramic views of terraced rice fields but a less strenuous experience than the Fansipan trek, head to the Ham Rong Mountain, just 500 m outside of Sapa.

Here, you can either follow the trails and have a relaxing stroll in nature or climb to the summit. It may take around 20-30 minutes to reach the top depending on your fitness level. The signposting isn't very clear, so try following the most beaten path leading to the Cloud Yard, the observation deck.

At 1,800 meters high, on a clear day, you can enjoy lovely views of the Sapa valley, Ta Phin's spectacular rice terraces and the stunning Muong Hoa valley.

When visiting, wear comfortable footwear and don't forget your raincoat and a warmer jumper. The temperatures in Sapa can drop very quickly.

8. Ride Along the 'Heaven Gate'

One of the best things to do in Sapa for adventurous souls is riding the spectacular Tram Ton Pass on a motorbike. At 1,900 meters high, it's the highest pass in Vietnam located 18 km north of Sapa.

One way to explore the spectacular scenery of the winding Tram Ton Pass (O Quy Ho) is to hire a bike and locate the starting point, the road where Sapa connects Lai Chau. Be extra careful though, the road is very windy and can get pretty busy.

Otherwise, to avoid the hassle, book one of the many tours available from Sapa and enjoy breathtaking views of Ngo Dung and Muong Hao valleys, the glorious Fansipan mountain and Silver Waterfall.

9. Stay with the Locals

Rice fields in Sapa

To experience Sapa fully, you'll want to spend a night or two at local homestays which are plentiful in the area. Some better than others, they offer a unique insight into the day to day life of the ethnic minorities and their traditions.

The great thing is that due to constant contact with visitors, a lot of locals speak good English, affording you a fantastic opportunity to have a chat while enjoying some tasty homemade food.

To assess your options of staying in ethnic villages, check our partner, If you are after a homestay in Sapa town with lovely views, take a look at Surelee Homestay or Little View Homestay.

There are different levels of comfort that Sapa homestays can offer. On the cheapest end of the scale, expect a mattress on the floor. But if you can pay a little more, you can expect a hearty Vietnamese dinner and an electric blanket to keep you warm during the night.

10. Explore the Silver Waterfall

Popular among hikers, you can reach the beautiful 200 meters high Silver Waterfall on a bike or taxi in 30 minutes. Also known as Thac Bac waterfall, you can see some of it from the main road, but to get closer, wander inside it for just under 1$.

From the entrance, it's around a 10-minute walk to reach the bridge from which you can admire the scenic waterfall plunging down the mountain.

Close by you'll also find the Love Waterfall and the Heaven Gate, so it's a good idea to combine these Sapa attractions in a one day tour if you are exploring independently.

Sapa Travel Tips

Sapa in Vietnam
Terraced rice fields in Sapa

Getting to Sapa

Getting to Sapa is easy and can be achieved in one of two ways; by bus or by overnight train. If you choose to go by train, you'll want to catch the comfortable sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Chai station and catch a local bus to Sapa. For more details, read our in-depth post on how to take the sleeper train from Hanoi to Sapa.

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The train from Hanoi to Sapa is the easiest way to reach the lush green rice terraces of Sapa. So we decided to take the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Sapa in Northwest Vietnam to explore the area further. Here’s our guide on how to travel from central Hanoi

How long is the train ride from Hanoi to Sapa?

An overnight train ride from Hanoi to Sapa takes between eight and nine hours.

Top Tip: To find the best prices for all train, air or bus travel in Vietnam, we would recommend using the locally-based travel website 12Go.Asia. We used this site to book most of our journeys in Vietnam. Best of all, you can just show any ticket on your smartphone when boarding your train. That saves any running around to find a place to print your vouchers! Simply pick your travel date for a full page of travel options in Vietnam and beyond!

The best time to visit Sapa

The best time to visit Sapa is anytime from September to December. The best time to trek is between March and May. The rainy season starts from June to September.

Is trekking in Sapa difficult?

Trekking in Sapa can be challenging if you are not used to long hikes. Sapa and the surrounding alpine valleys are often misty, making the trails muddy and slippery. Also, treks can take from 6 hours to two and three days meaning that Sapa treks are all about endurance.

Is it worth visiting sapa in Vietnam?

Absolutely. The Muong Hoa valley, Fansipan mountain and the Tram Ton Pass are some of the most beautiful places to visit in Vietnam.

How many days do you need in Sapa Vietnam?

Plan at least three days or even longer to experience Sapa fully. From trekking the terraced rice fields and bamboo forests to staying with the locals, there are a lot of things to do in Sapa and beyond.

Can you trek Sapa without a guide?

You can map a trekking route independently, but unless you have experience in hiking in mountainous areas, we recommend booking a knowledgeable local guide.

What should I wear for Sapa trekking?

Depending on the time of the year you are visiting Sapa, it can be very misty, rainy and cold. Therefore, pack comfortable walking shoes and warm, waterproof clothes. Good hiking socks will come in handy to prevent blisters.

Do you need a visa for Vietnam?

When travelling to Vietnam, you must get your visa approved before you arrive.
Vietnam is one of the few remaining countries in the world where you need to be ‘invited' to visit.