Regarded as being the Queen of the Mountains, the northwestern town of Sapa is the gateway to another world of mysterious minority cultures, luscious landscapes and a real retreat after all the noise and rush of city life. Overlooking a beautiful valley, lofty mountains towering over the town on all sides, the spectacular scenery that surrounds Sapa includes cascading rice terraces that spill down the mountains like a patchwork quilt which offer great opportunities for photos of a lifetime.
Things to do in Sapa:
Hill Tribe Markets Being a small market town that has been a gathering spot for many local hill tribes for nearly 200 years, Hmong and Dao people, among others, still come here to conduct trade, socialize, and attend an ephemeral ‘love market’ where young men and women choose one another for marriage (these days, it's unlikely you'll see anything more than a staged re-creation of it). Most of the other hill tribe markets occurs at weekend in areas that surrounds Sapa Town and offers much colors to foreign travelers.
Trekking to local villages would be easily the highlight of a trip to this mountainous town when you would really feel far from home. There is nothing like meeting and talking to the local folks, seeing parents and children talking, siblings playing and new babies wrapped in blankets on mothers’ backs, taking a few shots of them and their houses which are incredibly tiny.
Fansipan Sapa is the starting point for many climbers and scientists who want to reach the top of Fansipan Mountain, the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 meters. This pyramid shaped mountain is covered with clouds all year round and temperatures often drop below zero at the higher elevations.
Other fascinating sites in Sapa include Ham Rong Mountain, the Silver Waterfall, Rattan Bridge, the Bamboo Forest and Ta Phin Cave. Regarded as the kingdom of orchids, hikers around Sapa will observe hundreds of different kinds of orchids in all shapes and sizes while trekking through the forest.
Where to go in Sapa:
Bac Ha Market About 100km from Sapa, this is the most famous market in the region and more along the lines of what Sapa was once like. Here, various hill tribes converge every Sunday morning to conduct commerce. As a visitor, you're part of the trade here because folks are keen to sell you their wares which include water buffaloes, pigs, horses and chickens as well as handicrafts and local wine. Bring a camera. Sunday morning from dawn to late morning is prime time, but the market continues until about noon. Most visitors make the 3-hour drive from Sapa in the early morning.
Can Cau Market It’s about 20km north of Bac Ha and just 9km south of the Chinese border, this is one of the most fascinating open-air markets and attracts a large number of Chinese traders. The market is only open on Saturday.
Lung Phin Market This small market is located between Can Cau Market and Bac Ha Town, less crowded than other markets and is open on Monday.
Coc Ly Market Located some 100km from Sapa, this Tuesday market is lesser-known than Bac Ha, therefore, attracts less tourists and locals. The road leading to the market is in pretty good condition, you can go by river also.
Ta Phin Village and Cave is another popular hike which is about 10km from Sapa. After taking a motorbike taxi from the town, most people make a 14 km loop walk of the area. The cave at the town requires a guide with a lantern or flashlight to go through. Explore deep into the cave would be more fun.
How to get to Sapa:
Trains: From Hanoi, you can reach Lao Cai by overnight train (costs about $25) which takes about 10 hours. The day train leaves Lao Cai at 10.20am, while two night trains depart 8.35pm and 9.15pm, with the later express service including the private carriages. Once arrive, catch a minibus to Sapa from outside the station (VND 25,000). (Make sure to book your train ticket at least 10 days in advance to avoid hassle).
The best time to visit Sapa is in the summer months of March to May and August to December, when skies are more likely to be clear. These months are rainier but they are also warmer, and sometimes you can't beat a nice summer rain for atmosphere -- showers are typically brief, but it pours in buckets. Winter (January to February) can be cold, foggy, and rainy, but every three or four days, the weather clears and the views are more gorgeous than they are any other time of year. No matter what time of year you arrive, Sapa has its drawbacks and advantages.
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