Sapa Tours are among the best tours for toursits visiting Vietnam or Indochina. More and more Sapa becomes popular so taking a Sapa excursion should be in your list of the destination when you visit Vietnam before it become too touristic.
There aren’t many visitors to Vietnam who don’t have Sapa lined up for at least a short excursion from Hanoi. The hill region in the northern reaches of Vietnam is the deep green eye of a curved dragon, who rises from south of Ho Chi Minh City right up to Lao Cai Province on the border with China, bestowing beautiful scenery along the entire length of the country, but saving its best for the very top.
Guestroom walls throughout the country are strewn with pictures of Sapa’s glorious golden rice fields and backdrops of forested mountains; such is the region’s popularity and reverence around Vietnam. Vietnamese people are rightly proud of the international prestige that Sapa has accumulated over its history, growing from a small trade route with China, through French occupation and the beginnings of tourism to the hive of trekking activities that it finds itself at today.
From short walks to long treks, tours of Sapa leave lasting memories of a truly poetic scene in the minds of visitors. Here, you can meander at a pace that suits you, along brilliant green or gold rice paddies that trickle like layers of lava from hillsides to the valley floors. The enormous limestone sentries that flank the rice fields are a consistent sight on any Sapa tour, beautiful on both clear days and days where wisps of fog swim languidly across their fronts.
Perfect scenes are matched by the smiling faces on locals, wonderfully content with their farming and tour operating lives in one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. The people of Sapa are of varying backgrounds and ethnicities, belonging to some of the 53 ethnic minorities that make up the population of Vietnam along with the Viet (or Kinh), who account for 86%. The H’mong are the largest ethnic group in Sapa and their regional variations (Flower H’mong, Red H’mong, Black H’mong, White H’mong etc.) can be distinguished throughout by the colour of their elaborate clothing. The Giay and Dao minorities make up much of the rest of the hill tribes in Sapa and their differing customs are a cause of much interest in the region.
It is ultimately the meld of Sapa’s many charms that make it such an attractive destination for tourists. Tours of Sapa range from brief one-day excursions to multi-day treks, with options for tag-on excursions to Bac Ha Market and Ha Giang also available. Check out the best of Sapa’s tours below.
The northern expanses of Vietnam’s rising dragon experience the four seasons, unlike most of the rest of the country that merely alternate between wet and dry seasons. Each season has its attractions and drawbacks, so the best time to visit Sapa is subjectively dependent on what you are looking for from your Sapa holiday.
After Vietnamese New Year (Tet), Sapa wakes from a dormant sleep and the fresh green rice that is planted in its terraced fields grows in harmony with the pink cherry blossoms and white pear flowers. The new medley of colour can be enjoyed in a moderate temperature that is ideal for trekking, rising gradually from 15°C (59°F) to 20°C (68°F) over the three months of spring.
Rainfall at the start of spring is very minimal, but it increases threefold by the end of May as Sapa begins to dip its toes in the wet season. Tours of Sapa are plentiful at this time of year because of the many spells of perfect weather that descend on the hills and valleys for days on end, along with the patchwork of flower blossoms dotted along village roadsides.
The strength of the congregating clouds during the end of spring becomes very apparent for the four months of the wet season, where sporadic torrents of rain become a way of life for villagers. 80% of Sapa’s rains occur during summer and a staggering one metre of rain falls over the months of July and August. Temperatures are bearable on average, but highs of 26°C (79°F) make trekking tours of Sapa less of an attractive option than seeking shelter from the sun.
Lush rice paddies are a welcome sight during summer in Sapa, flourishing into stretching fields of green during the wet months. The Summer Tourism Festival also comes to Sapa during the quieter season, where various hill tribes from around the region are invited to Sapa town square to showcase their individual cultures and customs.
Clearing clouds towards the end of summer make way for sunnier, drier days throughout autumn, often considered the best time to visit Sapa. Green rice reaches its final stage in the field as it turns to gold and is harvested; this is one of the highlights of trekking and camping in Sapa during autumn, both of which grow immensely in popularity.
Ideal temperatures of around 18°C (64°F) add to the appeal of booking a Sapa trekking tour, though excursions towards the end of autumn can induce a few shivers when a blast of wind rolls in through the valleys. Rainfall during the end of autumn falls to 40mm compared to its beginnings at 320mm, meaning October or November are likely the best times to book a Sapa tour.
While rainfall drops to its lowest levels of 40mm, temperatures make most of Sapa’s activities more of a grind, dipping as low as 6° (45°F) during the night but averaging around 10 or 11°C (52°F) during the day. Rice fields are barren after the harvest but can sometimes, if rarely, be graced by snow, the only place where it falls throughout the country. Vietnamese people enjoy coming to Sapa for the winter to experience the snow, reveling in the much smaller crowds of international tourists.
Nowadays, orchids are beginning to blossom at the end of January and their presence helps to accentuate the beauty of Sapa. Tours dry up as the bitter weather bars people from enjoying Sapa fully, but this means hotels and homestays have much better rates. Sheltering indoors with a blanket and watching the mist settle just feet from your face can still be an amazing experience.
Improved connections with Hanoi over recent years have helped Sapa’s tourism bubble grow larger. Some Sapa tours will arrange transport from Hanoi for you, but most will pick you up in the transport hub of Lao Cai before driving the extra hour to Sapa by shuttle bus or car.
The most popular method for reaching Sapa from Hanoi, the train is an overnight affair leaving from Hanoi train station at 10 pm and arriving between 5 am and 6 am in Lao Cai the next day. Prices range dramatically from about $32 for a shared soft sleeper cabin to $148 for a private soft sleeper cabin. Trains are a great way to save time but are often a bumpy ride, making sleeping a little tough for light sleepers.
Private buses from the Old Quarter are the best option to save time and money in starting your tour of Sapa. Incredible Asia Journeys can arrange for a comfortable bus directly to Sapa that takes almost half the time of a train at around 5 to 5.5 hours. Buses leave at either 7 am or 3.30pm, arriving at around midday and 8.30pm respectively, giving you at least half a day to explore the delights of Sapa or Hanoi, depending on what time you leave.
For those with a lot of time and a sense for adventure, the road between Hanoi and Sapa is long but easily possible on a motorbike. The quickest way follows the bus route along the Red River, but there are a variety of other options to make the experience more interesting. One is to go directly north, through Tam Dao National Park, up to Ba Be Lake and then west through Ha Giang to Bac Ha before heading onto Sapa. This route takes multiple days but provides the most incredible scenery along the way.
Different from trekking tours in the ease and length of each day’s trek, Sapa walking tours proceed at a slow and relaxed pace, giving you time to soak up the scenery and really get to know the surrounding landscape and the people who live within it. Tours are often multi-day treks that go to communes south of Sapa Town, such as Cat Cat Village, Lao Chai and Ta Van. There are many smaller excursions to do around each village and locals are more than happy to point out the way. While a trek to Ta Van and back can be done in a day, opting to stay in any of the villages en route is a great way to soak up the local culture without the hanging commercialism behind it.
Lao Cai Province, home of the Sapa district, is a lot bigger than many people give it credit, as most tours are confined to the area in the immediate Sapa vicinity. Treks around the extended Sapa area can be longer than a week in duration, requiring a different attitude that will be rewarded with views that most tourists are unable to see due to time restrictions. One such route takes you much further south than a walking tour, through Seo Trung Ho Village and its incredible waterfall, through Ban Ho Village with its friendly Tay hill tribe residents and onto beautiful Thanh Phu Village before heading back to Lao Cai.
For those who don’t have much time but would like to see as much of Sapa as possible, cycling around the beautiful hill region might be an option. Cycling tours in Sapa reach further out destinations and can often achieve in one day what a trekking tour can achieve in three, giving you the chance to explore lesser-known communes to the north of Sapa, in the Bat Xat district that borders China. Walking paths are shared with cycle paths, but are a bit less well-maintained once the popular routes have reached their terminals. Cycling Sapa is no easy feat because of the undulating nature of the hills and valleys, but it is a very rewarding one.
Market day in the Sapa region is a jubilant time to visit. These are days full of festivities as distant friends of different communes around the region congregate for merriment and business. Sapa market tours focus on showing you the weekly events of Sapa’s ethnic minority groups, giving you a chance to learn about them and buy unique and authentic souvenirs straight from the source. The most popular of these by far is Bac Ha market, a wonderfully expansive market where local H’mong people, dressed colourfully from head to toe, sell anything and everything. The Love Market in Sapa is a recreation of a Red Dao traditional market that used to take place in Sapa Town before tourism truly boomed. Other markets in the region include Coc Ly, Can Cau and Muong Hum, all of which can be visited through booking a tour in Sapa Town.
Despite the introduction of a cable car that takes you from Sapa to the ‘Roof of Indochina’, as Fansipan is affectionately known, trekking up the tallest mountain in the Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia area is one of the top activities to do in the region. Sapa Fansipan tours cater especially for this desire, offering one or two-day tours up the mountain. For an enjoyable time, opting for two days is a better idea to take everything slowly and not have to abide by a clock, but those on a time restriction can push for the summit in one day if they start trekking at about 5 am, realistically finishing at about 5 or 6 pm.
Preparing yourself thoroughly for the sporadic weather of Sapa and the challenges of its various treks is best done before departing from Hanoi.
• Trekking boots are a simple item to include, yet many visitors opt for lighter trainers. While the latter is okay for small walks, trekking boots can make all the difference on the longer hikes, and most certainly for any tours of Fansipan Mountain.
• For those who cannot avoid the wet season, a large and thick rain poncho is an essential, and an additional umbrella would also help for those hours-long downpours of rain.
• For when the clouds part, sunglasses and sun cream help to keep the sun’s rays at bay and make for much more comfortable trekking.
• Travel essentials such as your camera, snacks and water and plenty of cash are good items to bring in order to enjoy Sapa to the full.
Incredible Asia Journeys is very proud to introduce to you our various Sapa Tours as listed below.