Two main roads wend their way into the north western mountain area: the latter part of the trip offers good views, but the roads are poor and the twelve-hour journey is tiring. For most visitors, overnight train travel to Lao Cai and by road to Sapa is the best option.
The original Lao Cai town was destroyed during the 1979 invasion of Vietnam by the Chinese Army. As none of the present buildings predate the event, the only attractions for visitors is the road to Sapa and the border gate with China
Sapa came into existence as a hill station during the French occupation. Previously a Black H’mong village, it was ‘discovered’ early in the twentieth century and developed as a resort for French military officers, civil servants and business people. Its marked similarity to alpine areas in France and its temperate climate made it a haven from Hanoi's clammy winter dampness and sultry humid summer. By 1940, it was a sizeable town populated almost entirely by French citizens.
As France’s grip on the country weakened, the buildings emptied. After their victory at Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Minh demolished most of the buildings. One that escaped was the summer residence of the Governor General of Indochina, which was commandeered by the Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party as his holiday retreat. That was also flattened during the 1979 Chinese invasion.
Sa Pa today
Today, a few buildings have been restored, notably the church, shelled by the French as the Viet Minh began to advance through the northern mountains. Several of the new buildings are vaguely based on the long gone French villas – the Auvergne Hotel is a good example. Apart from that, the only enduring memento of the French presence is the inclusion of open fires and chimneys in many buildings – a welcome addition as the temperature often slips below zero in winter.
Sapa has several reasonable local hotels, and one of international standard. A recent arrival is a small four-room guest house owned and managed by the Hoa Sua organization. It’s comfortable, friendly and puts money into the local economy.
The ethnic minority groups
The main attraction of this area, apart from its superlative natural beauty, is Vietnam’s largest concentration of ethnic groups. Many distinct groups live in this area and, apart from those living around the tourist centre of Sapa, their dress, buildings, traditions and lifestyles have changed little over the last hundred years.
Sapa Tourist Attractions
The Sapa weekend market held on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ethnic groups from different villages would flock to town for trading and for meeting with lovers. The whole town of Sapa would be colored by their traditional colorful costumes.
There used to be a love market in town on Saturday night until late 1990s. Since more and more tourists travel to Sapa for witnessing the love market, it's not in session as it was once.
Cat Cat Village is about 1 km from Sapa town. It's located at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley and near the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. Cat Cat is home to the Black H'Mong who accounts for over 50% of Sapa population. To visit village, you walk through Sapa Market down the valley. Once you walk out of the crowd, you'll be stunned by the nature's beauty with high mountains of over 3000 m and the green rice terraces dropping nearly 1000 below. The sun shines across and there is H'Mong houses scattered in the valley. The walking tour of the whole loop would take you about 2 hours.
Lao Chai and Ta Van Villages are home to the Giay People and Black H'Mong People. They are at the bottom of the Sapa Valley and offer breathtaking scenery of rice terraces dissected by the running water of the mountain streams. To visit these 02 villages, you'll need to hire a jeep or a motorbike and travel past the stadium and Sapa market gate. You'll follow this main road for 8 km, and then you'll see a path down the valley to the right where you'll get off and start the walking trip of Lao Chai and Ta Van Villages. The whole tour takes about 1.5 hour.
Ta Phin Village is 12 km from Sapa Town and it's home to the Red Zao People. The village nestles itself on the mountain slopes and offers unreal mountain views. You can take a motorbike/jeep from Sapa to the village and enjoy a walking tour around chit-chatting with the local young girls selling handicrafts. Very likely you'll be invited to visit their home. The tour takes about 1-1.5 hour.
The Silver Waterfall and the Gateway to Heaven: these 02 sites located about 15 km from Sapa Town on the road from Sapa to Lai Chau province. The Gateway to Heaven is Tram Ton Pass between Sapa and Binh Lu town which offers stunning panoramic view of the Fansipan and the deep valley below. The trip takes 2 hours by jeep or motorbike. Make sure the camera has enough memory for this route.
Ham Rong Mountain is just right in the center of Sapa Town. The mountain offers a panoramic view of Sapa and its surroundings including Fansipan - the Peak of Indochina. Accessing the mountain, you'll go alongside the church from the town center to the end of the road and turn left for the ascending path. There are steps which will guide you through the fresh orchid gardens and flower gardens to the top. There's also an ethnic house on the mountain with ethnic music and performances played by the local girls and boys.
Mount Fansipan (3143 km elevation) is the Peak of Indochina. You can join Paradise on an adventure of a life time conquering this summit in 4 days. Our staff including H'Mong boys will help us with logistics for the tour. Mountain camps as accommodation, untouched jungles on the way to the top, hotly cooked meals accompanied by sounds of jungles are highlights of the adventure.
Bac Ha Market
The road zigzags along the foot of the mountain from Lao Cai provincial town of Lao Chai Province, which is 300 km north of Hanoi, to an altitude of 1,000 meters where there appears a small district town in a green valley of tall Samu trees. It is Bac Ha district town, home mainly to the Mong ethnic minority.
Coc Ly Market
It is the colorful market in a mountainous area where the Flower H'mong mainly gathers to exchange their homemade products.This Tuesday market is about 35km from Bac Ha. You can get here via a fairly good road, or by road and river; hotels in Sapa and Bac Ha can organize trips. Coc ly is a small village on the Chay river inhabited by the Flower H'mong Minority people.