After a long overnight bus/train ride to Sapa from Hanoi, you’ll want to take it a little easy in the morning. Walking around town is the best way to get a feel for the culture of this H’Mong-dominated region. Visit Sapa market (6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.), where you can find handmade trinkets, clothing, accessories and a variety of food. An intricately embroidered bandana or bag donning the patterns and vibrant colors of the H’Mong, Yao, and Zay people would make perfect gifts for loved ones back home.
Enjoy an hour or two exploring the Sapa Market and talking to the locals about their culture. A good many of them will speak English, learning from the tourists themselves. Make sure to try any of the dishes that catch your eye for breakfast. After all, you’re in foreign territory, so you should leave the thought of morning bacon and eggs behind. Afterwards, carry on exploring by foot. Check out other attractions in town worth visiting, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral of Sapa, Cat Cat village and Ham Rong mountain, where, at the foot of it, you can find numerous flower gardens and a beautiful forest of wild peaches. All of these attractions are only a few minutes’ walk from each other and the center of Sapa, so you can easily spread your morning around them.
For lunch, drop by The Hill Station, Sapa, and indulge yourself in some delicious local cuisine. After filling up, it will be a little hard to carry on walking, so rent yourself a motorbike and explore the outskirts of the city. Seven miles (12 kilometers) to the West of Sapa is Thac Bac (Silver waterfall), which from the distance looks like a white dragon looking down from the sky. Another two miles (three kilometers) further from the waterfall is Dinh Deo O Quy Ho pass, where you will find breathtaking views of Fansipan Peak. Follow on through the scenic route toward Binh Lu, and, five minutes later, you will reach what is known as Heaven’s Gate, where you get beautiful panoramic view of the valley below. After a few hours of exploring the area on your bike, when darkness begins to approach, it’s best to head back, have some dinner and rest for day two.
The Hill Station, 37 Fansipan St, Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam, +84 214 388 7111
After a filling breakfast (try Nature View restaurant) and some delicious mountain coffee, your first stop today will be Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina, which is a beast to conquer. Usually one does so by taking a group tour, easily bookable online or via travel agents, and the best ones span more than two days. If you don’t have so much time to spare, lucky for you; in 2016, a cable car system to the summit was built. Each car can carry up to 35 people and will take you up to the top in less than half an hour. After spending the morning there, and basking in the view, head on back down and get some more coffee.
Nature View, Fansipan St, Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam, +84 915 449 707
A trip to Sapa is incomplete without visiting the magnificent Muong Hoa Valley that stretches through the Ta Van, Lao Chai and Hau Thao villages. It is best explored by foot, and the trek would span over three days; hike your way through terraced rice fields and come across many small streams and waterfalls. Unfortunately, two days is not enough, yet again, but if you read this and decide to extend your time in the area, check out the trekking tour offered by Sapa O’Chau, a social enterprise offering authentic, responsible treks and homestays in Sapa.
Sapa O’Chau, 08, Thac Back Road, Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam, +84 2143 771 166
Even if trekking is out of the question for you right now, you can still enjoy a lot of what Muong Hoa Valley has to offer. Hop on your motorbike and head to the Ancient Stone Sculpture area in the valley, at Hau Thao village, seven miles (12 kilometers) southwest of Sapa, with over 200 stone blocks in various sizes, with ancient carvings still remaining undeciphered to this day. After, take some time to visit Ta Van village and talk to the locals. Some may even take you to their home for a meal or offer to walk you around to spots where you can find beautiful views of the valley. Luckily, due to the influx of tourists, the locals around here can speak English pretty well. If you prefer to do it yourself, just bike down the few roads you find, and you will surely come across hidden gems.
Before it gets dark, it’s time to head back into town. If you happen to be around on a Saturday, after you get back, head over to the Sapa Love Market. You will get to witness how the ethnic minorities in the region date, which is very different from typical movie nights with significant others. Local couples hang out with each other, talk, laugh, sing and play traditional village games with one another. At the end of the night, they part ways and promise to see each other again. Just like you will when you leave Sapa.