Sapa guide

This article has been translated from Russian language using an artificial intelligence-based translation algorithm. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the quality of the translation. You can read the original version of this article in Russian here, and ask questions on the topic of our travel forum in English here.

General information about SAP

Sapa (Sa Pa, Sapa) is a town located among the Hoang Lien Son Mountains, also known as the Tonkin Alps, at an altitude of 1600 meters in northwestern Vietnam in Lao Cai Province. Sapa is almost on the border with China and 400 kilometers from Hanoi (Sapa on the map of Vietnam). This is a popular tourist destination, attracting its magnificent mountain scenery, because it is surrounded by high mountain peaks, valleys, and beautiful rice fields. Also here you can get acquainted with the many ethnic groups with which the northern part of the country is richly populated.

A small remark about the spelling of the name of the city. Often you can find the spelling "Shapa", not"Sapa". Moreover, this writing is found even in authoritative sources and booking systems. In fact, the name of the city is pronounced by locals as "Sapa".

The city was founded in 1910 by French colonists to relax from the Too hot tropical climate, and it became attractive for tourists after 1993, when it was decided to develop tourism in the area. Until that moment, Sapa was a forgotten place, living only on agriculture.

Ta Van Village

Holidays in Sapa

Sapa, first of all, is a great place for hiking in the mountains, trekking, traveling by bike or motorcycle in the surrounding area. Beach holidays here, of course, no. Tourists visit Sapa to see the famous "Love Market", Visit the surrounding villages, enjoy the view of the famous rice terraces or climb the highest peak of Indochina - Mount Fansipan (Fansipan). Exotic excursions, including visits to ethnic villages, acquaintance with families and accommodation in the homes of rural residents, give a special flavor to your stay in Sapa.

The area around Sapa was a cradle for many ethnic groups, eight of which still live here. You can distinguish one ethnic group from another by the color and patterns of traditional clothing, usually embroidered with patterns typical of a particular group. Some villages have an almost medieval look, although some residents have a mobile phone and internet access. Basically, they live a harsh and poor life. Of particular interest to tourists and travelers are the Hmong (Hmong) and Dzao (Dao) ethnic groups living in the district, which are an integral part of urban life. Hmong are more numerous, illiterate, lead a way of life with little use for the achievements of civilization. They are the poorest ethnic group in the region. You can recognize them by their dark blue outfits. Another group is Dzao or CJSC... However, you will find out everything yourself when you get there.

Ethnic residents in Lao Chai village near Sapa

But do not consider Sapa as a place for a good rest for the entire period of your trip. This is, rather, just an excursion place where you can go for a few days, but not for a week or two, unless you set out to study the surroundings in detail. In addition, the town itself, although it is not so small (population about 10,000 people), has little to offer tourists. Although the tourist infrastructure here is developed, in the city itself there is simply really nothing to do after one or two walks along the streets, visiting several city attractions, and going to the local market. There is no other entertainment here. Therefore, first of all, Sapa should be considered as a place to go trekking in the surrounding area or to climb Mount Fansipan. Visiting Sapa without trekking excursions is simply pointless and uninteresting. By the way, you can make trekking here not only with an excursion, but also independently, and so it is even more interesting. For more information on how to do this, see here.

Another important tourist destination of Sapa is the transit point for entry into northern Laos through the border crossing in the city of Dien Bien Phu (Dien Bien Phu).

It is easier and more convenient to visit Sapa as part of an excursion from Hanoi (they cost from $ 100, including train tickets, transfer, hotel), but it is easy enough to do it yourself, and it will be much more interesting. Already in Sapa itself, you can independently purchase trekking tours in the surrounding area, and even to neighboring towns and villages. In the city for this there is a huge number of hotels, travel agencies, developed rental of motorcycles and bicycles. All the necessary information for an independent visit you will find in our guide to Sapa, by the way the most complete and reliable in Russian:

Trekking in Sapa

Weather, tourist seasons in Sapa

Sapa is located at 1600 meters above sea level, and therefore it is mostly cool (the average annual temperature is from 15 to 18°C), and in winter in January Light snow falls. At the same time, the weather here is special: in one day you can feel the change of four seasons at once: in the morning and after lunch it is cool, like spring and autumn; in the afternoon it is sunny and cloudless, like summer; and at night it becomes cold, like winter. When going to Sapa, do not forget to take warm clothes with you, even if you go there in the summer, and this is not a joke. Both warm outerwear and warm underwear will come in handy to sleep comfortably at night.

The dry season in Sapa is from January to June. In the winter months it is cold, temperatures drop to zero and it can even snow. Humidity is high and fog is constantly present (160 days a year). Summer is considered the rainy season.

However, a visit to Sapa should be tied rather than to the weather (you will not be able to sunbathe here at any time of the year), but to the time of rice harvest. It is best to visit Sapa before or during harvest - in September-November or spring. The rest of the time, unfortunately, the weather is not particularly favorable. In summer, it often rains, especially in August, and the magnificent scenery will be hidden. In winter (from November to February) it is cold and foggy, and the rice terraces are brown.

Often the city is covered with clouds

Tourist seasons in Sapa by month, when it is better to go

Jan Feb March Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov. Dec

*best time to visit;
acceptable time to visit;
not recommended time to visit

Current weather in Sapa and forecast for the near future:

Shopping in Sapa

Sapa is not a place for shopping. There are no shopping centers, you can buy something only in small shops and markets. There are a couple of supermarkets in the area of the lake and a store with household appliances, and if you need to buy food, water and drinks, it is best to do it here, as in the shops prices for tourists are inflated almost twice. For example, in a supermarket, a bottle of water costs 10,000 VND, and in a shop very close to you they will sell it for 20,000. In general, prices in Sapa are higher than in the resort cities of Vietnam, so it is better to postpone shopping.

However, as it is not surprising, you can buy something here. In the city there are many shops with clothes and shoes for trekking at low prices. For example, transformer pants cost 250,000 VND; synthetic Thermo-sweatshirt-130,000 VND; windbreaker-130,000; jacket with GORE-Tex membrane-340,000. All this is sold in shops and shops under the signs Made in Vietnam, and these things are really made in Vietnam and supplied to sports stores around the world, including in the Russian Federation.

In addition, Sapa is famous for souvenirs made by hand by residents of ethnic villages. These are clothes, toys, bracelets, purses, jewelry made of fabric with traditional embroidery; silver jewelry and costume jewelry; stone carving, and many more original things that can be found only here. You can buy souvenirs at the City Market, at the stalls near the Sapa Museum, in the village of Kat Kat, as well as during trekking trips to ethnic villages. Everywhere you need to bargain, prices really knock down even twice.

Ethnic souvenirs in Sapa

Food in Sapa, where and what to eat

There will be no problems with food in Sapa, there are a lot of cafes for tourists, although prices are almost one and a half times higher than in other resorts of the country. If you need to eat cheaper, then go further from the city center to the Lake District, where there are several cafes in the alleys for locals. There is also an inexpensive food court in the indoor market, but it works until 18 hours, i.e. there is no dinner there. Also in the area of the lake there are a couple of supermarkets with "state prices", and there you can buy milk, snacks, cookies, bread, canned food, etc.

When you go on a trekking tour, food is usually already included in its price. If you go hiking or go to ethnic villages on your own, then there will also be no problems with food. Almost everywhere there are cafes, markets, and shops, Homestays offer breakfast and dinner.

Street food in Sapa

Banks and ATMs in Sapa, currency exchange

In recent years, many banks and ATMs have appeared in Sapa. Most of them are easily found on the main street of the city Ngu Chi Son Street. Here is a part of banks and ATMs in Sapa with addresses:

  • BIDV Bank (Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam)

    • 20, Ngu Chi Son street (near Sapa Lake)
    • 34, Cau may Street (in front of Sapa Royal Hotel)
  • Agribank (Vietnam Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development)

    • 1, Cau May street (near Sapa U Hotel)
    • 2, Ngu Chi SNN Street (near Agribank Guest house)
  • Vietcombank (Joint Stock Commercial Bank For Foreign Trade Of Vietnam)

    • 1, Xuan Vien Street (near the school)
  • Saigonbank (Sai gon Bank for industry and Trade)

    • 18, Ngu Chi Son (near the lake)
  • Post office at 6, Thach Son Street

This list is not complete, and in recent years at least a dozen new branches of banks and ATMs have opened. You can find them using Google Maps by searching for Bank or atm.

You can change currencies in Sapa in banks and hotels, but be careful with the rate, in hotels it can be underestimated. Banks do not work on weekends or in the evening, and if you come to Sapa at this time from the airport, it is better to change money immediately at Hanoi airport, especially since the exchange rate there is even better than in Sapa. For example, one day the exchange rate at the airport was 23,300 VND per dollar, and at the Bank in Sapa 22,298 VND.

If you are going to Sapa from Hanoi, it is better to exchange money there at a much better rate at one of the jewelry shops on Hang Bac Street (in the tourist area) and Ha Trung (west of the lake of the returned sword).

ATM in Sapa

Useful tips about Sapa

  • Warm clothes. Going to Sapa in winter (from November to February), be sure to take warm clothes with you. In winter, the temperature here drops to 0 and below, and this is with very high humidity. Do not interfere, including warm underwear (thermal underwear), in which you will sleep.

  • The map. If you go for a walk around the city or its environs, be sure to take a map with you (you can ask at the hotel reception), and preferably a compass or navigator. Ideally, download offline maps to your smartphone, OSM or something similar. It is easy to get lost here: the streets are very winding, and the local population will not be able to help you, because it is absolutely not oriented in Maps.

  • ATM and currency exchange. In Sapa, you can exchange money in one of the banks, hotels, travel agencies. The course is slightly different, it is better to walk and find the most profitable. But in general, the rate here is lower than in Hanoi, so it is better to change money there. In addition, the euro and other currencies, except for the dollar, are undervalued and generally change them reluctantly. Also in Sapa there are several ATMs in banks, at the post office. For a complete list of addresses, see this page below.

  • Photographing locals. Before you take a picture of any of the locals, first ask permission, or take a photo from afar. Local ethnic groups live only at the expense of tourists, so for photographing you will most likely start "begging"money with the standard phrase "One photo - one dollar" or asking to buy something from them. For any help rendered to you, they will also expect a small reward, if only in the form of buying souvenirs from them.

  • Shoes for exploring the surroundings. In the wet season, it's pretty dirty around, so it's better to go for a walk in rubber shoes. You can rent such shoes at the hotel or in shops. For long hikes it is better to have comfortable trekking shoes or at least sneakers with a good sole. Such shoes are also rented in local stores.

  • Hotels in Sapa. Despite Sapa's seeming little popularity, in fact the city is awash with tourists, including from Vietnam and especially many from China. During holidays and festivals, and they are frequent here, hotel prices can rise at times. So, for example, during the Holiday "Festival in the clouds" in April-May 2013, absolutely all hotels in Sapa by agreement raised the price 5 times! (even hostels priced at $ 10 rented rooms for at least 50), and even so, it was impossible to find free rooms. Therefore, we highly recommend book a hotel in Sapa in advance.

  • Raincoats. Do not leave the room for a walk without a raincoat, even in good weather. The clouds gather here quickly, and the rains begin abruptly. In extreme cases, you can buy a raincoat here in any shop.

  • "Maintainers" during excursions. During any trekking excursion, representatives of local ethnic tribes will follow along with the group along the way, striking up conversations with tourists and helping them overcome difficult places along the way. This is not at all part of the tour program, and in fact these "escorts" will expect a little gratitude for their help in the form of buying a souvenir from them. Do not deceive their expectations, they will be happy even to buy a thing for them for a couple of dollars, because this may be their only earnings in a few days. But do not forget to bargain a little.

  • Prices. prices for food and drinks for tourists in Sapa are somewhat inflated and usually rounded to 5-10 thousand VND (currency of Vietnam). Sapa is also not the best place to buy exotic fruits: prices are very high.

  • Air conditioners. most hotels in Sapa have no air conditioning. They are not needed here at all, it can be too cool at night. Rather, you should worry about having a warm blanket in the room.

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admin 5 Nov, 2021
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