Sapa lies in the Lao Cai province in the very North of Vietnam, a 12-hour night bus from Hanoi and close to the Chinese border. The town of Sapa rests at an altitude of 1650m and the highest mountain, (the last peak in the Indo China Himalayan range), in the region Mt Fan Si Pan towers 3142m above sea-level.
Sapa town is idyllic, thriving with shops and quaint wee cafes. If it wasn’t so warm you’d swear you’d stumbled across a ski-resort in the French Alps, made more prominent by the towns people’s ability to communicate in French which highlights the reign of the French in Vietnam. The idyllic town is also home to plenty of bars/restaurants/massage parlours to relax after your days hiking and a thrifty market boasting hand-made local souvenirs as well as the mass of factory made fakes.
The Catholic Church in Sapa again highlights to prominence of the French invasion and is well worth a peek during your stay in Sapa.
Highlights of the region include visiting the rural town of Cat Cat which involves a 3km stroll down hill into the town preceding the inevitable shin-busting 3km hike back up the hill, nb: not for the faint hearted and suitable shoes should definitely be worn, although if you are n the brink of dehydration and collapsing on the way back up to Sapa (as many on my tour were,) there are a lot of very accommodating moto taxi drivers more than happy to xe om you back up the hill for a couple of dollars. Cat Cat town boasts a thundering waterfall where the local Hmong tribe can be found performing traditional dances, encouraging tourists to join in.
Guides are more than happy to take you trekking through the rice paddies, crossing acres of streams, exotic wild flowers and enough rice to put you off for life.
If you’re not much of a hiker, the other option is to hire a xe om to taxi you around the hills or rent a moto yourself. The feeling of freedom weaving round the bendy roads curved round the mountains is remarkable but take care, although there’s close to no traffic, uneven surfaces and unfamiliarity with a moto can lead to trouble for the unexperienced, as I found out during my stay in Sapa.
If you have time during your travels in Vietnam, I urge you to make the journey from Hanoi to Sapa, it’s unlike anything else you’ll see in the country and gives a real taste of rural life in Vietnam without being spoilt by the influx of tourists.