Sa Pa is a charming mountainous village located in northern Vietnam, close to the border with China. Despite sounding similar to Sabah, Sa Pa is very much different from the Malaysian state。
At 1,650 metres above sea level, Sa Pa offers soothingly cool weather, making it a great place to escape the summer heat. What’s more, being one of the main producers of rice in Vietnam, Sa Pa is filled with the rustic scenery of paddy fields and quaint countrysides.
Home to numerous different indigenous tribes, Sa Pa is indeed rich in culture and heritage. There are five main ethnicities is Sa Pa: the Hmong, the Dao, the Tay, the Giay, and the Xa Pho. In fact, most of the local guides in this area actually come from these tribes, which is why they’re so familiar with every corner of Sa Pa.
Most of the hotels here offer Sa Pa tour packages. This is because the mountainous roads in Sa Pa are narrow and winding, making it quite dangerous for inexperienced individuals to travel on. Therefore, having a guide to show you around the beautiful sights here is much more convenient.
In addition, there are plenty of shopping options in Sa Pa. Plenty of stores here sell travel necessities like rain boots, rain coats (for the mountainous climate) and even backpacks. That being said, some of the goods sold here are imitation goods. Look out in particular for well-known brands like The North Face and Adidas etc.
Here’s a quick 3D2N itinerary to help you experience the best of rustic Sa Pa!
There are two main ways to get to Sa Pa from Hanoi:
1) By bus: Meet in the Old Quarter district between 8.30 p.m. to 9 p.m. You can arrange a shuttle there with your hotel. Board the bus and you should arrive in Sa Pa at about 5 in the morning.
2) By train: The train departs at 10 p.m. and reaches the station in Sa Pa at 6.30 a.m. From there, take a bus to reach the mountains.
From what we can see, taking the bus is both quicker and cheaper. However, I do feel that taking an overnight train is an experience in and of itself. What’s more, you can also rest comfortably in the bunk beds as well.
Day 1: Mount Fansipan + Mường Hoa Valley + Ham Rong Mountain + Thac Bac Waterfall
My personal recommendation for your first day in Sa Pa is to hire a car and let the driver know some of the places you want to visit.
The most popular sight in the surrounding area of Sa Pa happens to be Vietnam’s tallest mountain:Mount Fansipan。Mount Fansipan stands 3,143 metres above sea level and is only 19km away from the main town.
It might not look like much, but it’s certainly not an easy place to visit. The rugged terrain and unpredictable weather are sure to bring some unforeseen difficulties to many a traveller.
However, if you’re a fan of hiking, you’ll love this place to no end. That being said, you don’t need expert mountain climbing skills to enjoy Mount Fanispan, as long as you have a fair amount of stamina.
If you’re not up for some hiking, you can ride the cable car to the top too! It’ll take you only 20 minutes to reach the summit that way, compared to almost two days of hiking. A return journey will cost you about RM120.
While it might seem pricey, you have to consider the time and energy you would be saving. Apart from that, you’ll also be able to admire the lovely scenery of Sa Pa as you ascend to the top of Mount Fanispan, and that alone may well be more than worth the price.
At the cable car terminus, you’ll have to climb about 600 steps to get to the very top. It is often very misty here and the weather can turn really cold, really fast, so make sure to bring appropriate clothing. There will be plenty of tourists taking pictures at the observatory and you’ll most likely join them too!
Note: Before embarking on your journey, make sure to check the weather forecast. Otherwise, your view at the top might be obstructed by heavy mist or rain clouds.
The terrace fields of Mường Hoa Valley is often cited as one of the most breathtaking sights in Sa Pa. Located 14km away from the town，this valley is found in between two mountains parallel to the southeast of Sa Pa.
Apart from the alluring scenery, you can also visit the local villages and experience daily life at Mường Hoa Valley.
Along the path of Ham Rong Mountain，you can stroll along lush greenery and enigmatic stone carvings as you make your way to the top for a memorable view of Sa Pa.
The path along Cloud Yard is equally alluring. I recommend spending at least 2 hours here just to soak in the scenery. On a clear day, you can even see a gorgeous panoramic view of Sa Pa as well. The best time to visit is during spring, when the cherry, peach and plum blossoms are in full bloom.
The entry fee for Ham Rong Mountain is just a meagre 70,000 VND (RM12) for adults, and 20,000 VND (RM3.50) for children.
For a pleasant view of the famous Thac Bac Waterfall, you’ll need to climb a short distance of stairs to the viewing platform. Priced at 20,000 VND (RM3.50), it’s quite an affordable and worthwhile attraction.
Day 2: 2D1N Mountain Excursion
During my travels in Sapa, I engaged a local guide named Mao. Petite in stature but extremely kind and friendly, Mao welcomed us with open arms. When we got tired on the journey, she would find ways to cheer us up so that there was always a spring in our step.
Our package included a 2D1N excursion and a home stay at Mao’s place. According to each person’s individual physical condition, Mao recommended different routes to her village. Be warned though that during the colder seasons, the roads in Sa Pa turn muddy, so if you plan on doing some trekking, make sure you have adequate footwear.
As you traverse the mountain terrain, fields and streams, you’ll meet various locals along the way. After lunch, you will continue on your journey and by the time you arrive at Mao’s village, you would have completed a 10-12km trek!
Arriving at Mao’s village, you have the option of helping her prepare dinner for her family. Along the way, you can pick up some skills and learn how to cook some of the local dishes.
After dinner, you can mingle and socialise with other travellers from different countries and listen to Mao as she shares her life stories. You can also indulge in some “Happy Water”. Nope, it’s not some magic potion, it’s a local rice wine made in the village. Let the good times roll as you savour the exquisite flavours.
Day Three：Continuing the Excursion + Return to Hanoi
After a hearty breakfast, Mao brought us on a sightseeing tour of the local sights. Take the time to admire some pristine waterfalls and learn about the farming process from the local farmers.
You’ll pass by plenty of paddy fields, giving you a chance to watch as the farmers plough the fields with their oxen.
On the way, you will no doubt bump into locals peddling their wares, generally consisting of local handicraft and trinkets. While it’s nice to have a look, some of the merchants here can be quite imposing and pushy, so do take note of that.
After having lunch at the town centre of Sa Pa, it’s time to head back to Hanoi. Regardless of which mode of transport (train or bus) you choose, you should arrive by 8 p.m. in Hanoi.
To avoid any potential communication breakdowns, I do advise that you look up and plan your travels in Sa Pa beforehand. Hopefully, this 3D2N itinerary gives you a good idea on where to start!
Being able to bask in and enjoy the embrace of nature is one of life’s most memorable experiences. So, don’t miss out on the lush greenery, lovely mountain air and famous terrace fields of Sa Pa!
Translated from: 三天两夜：越南沙坝行程