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The top things to see and do in Sapa, Vietnam
Explore the town on foot
Walking around the Sapa town is an absolute must. Even though it is a little touristy, this shouldn’t put you off exploring the many things that make Sapa what it is. You can tick the Sapa Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, Cat Cat Village and Ham Rong Mountain off your list quite easily as these are located within walking distance of each other. Don’t be afraid to wander off the path as you will come across intriguing alleys and hidden gems.
Shop for handicrafts
It is very likely that every hilltribe woman you bump into will try to sell you something – be it handicrafts, food, tours or a place to crash at night. There are tons of items you can buy, from bracelets, anklets and headbands to scarves, jewelry, handbags, shoes and carpets – each with embroidery intricately sown with love and care. The colors and patterns on the items represent the different tribes of people, and it is interesting to figure out which is which. Don’t be afraid to let your curiosity get the best of you. Talk to the women and find out. Not only do these items make for great souvenirs for yourself, but your loved ones at home will adore them too. Sapa Market is full of stalls with colorful displays, and we are sure you will not come out empty handed.
Rent a motorbike and drive around
While tours to every popular location are available, it is almost always better to do it by yourself at your own pace. Renting a bike for the day will allow you to do just that. A favorite route among travelers to drive through is Dinh Deo Pass that leads to Heaven’s Gate. If the dangerously serpentine roads don’t make you hold your breath, the stunning views on both sides of valleys and mountains will surely do. If you have never ridden a bike before, this is not the place to learn. Hop on the back of the bike of an experienced rider and let them take you around. Make sure to stop frequently so you can get as many photos as possible! The town is also a great place to explore on a motorcycle, by the way.
Northern Vietnam is home to the highest peak in Indochina, Mount Fansipan. At an elevation of 10,312 feet (3,143 meters), this is a beast to conquer and is definitely worth your time and effort. Do not attempt to do this by yourself, as there have been cases where things have gone wrong. There are many tour agencies in Sapa and Hanoi offering various types of guided tours up the mountain, and you can choose one that appeals to you. The best ones span over two days and offer all-inclusive packages, so you do not have to go through the hassle of finding homestays yourself. Once you reach the summit, you will be rewarded with beautiful views over the city and the terraced rice fields below. If it is cloudy though, your view might be obstructed.
Trek Muong Hoa Valley
Just like everything else on this list, this is an absolute must when in Sapa. You can only truly appreciate the beauty of Muong Hoa Valley if you take your time to trek it and spend a night or two at a local village homestay. You can book trekking tours online (try Sapa O’Chau) or through travel agencies you come across in Hanoi or in Sapa. Sometimes women from the regional ethnic minority tribes may even approach you while in town (the bus station is a popular place for this) and offer a trek and homestay. Don’t be afraid to say yes. Often these are more authentic than the ones done through tour agencies. Taking muddy trails through terraced fields, drinking water out of streams, sleeping on the floor in traditional long tail houses, and spending time hanging out with local families and drinking happy water (rice wine) in Aquafina bottles – are typical things that will happen on these tours. The memories made up in the North are unrivaled.
Hang out with members of the different ethnic tribes
The H’Mong are the predominant minority tribe in Sapa, but you will come across Yao and Zay people as well. Striking up a conversation is easy, as most of them are well-versed in English, having learned from other tourists they have bumped into, or at school. Get to know them and their stories and you will probably be invited to their home to share a meal and laughter. It’s a humbling experience to live with them, even if it’s just for a day, and you will leave Sapa with a new found appreciation for life.
Eat to your heart’s content!
Leave your cravings for burgers and pizza behind and indulge yourself on some of the delicious regional cuisine. Thang co, a favorite dish among the H’Mong tribe is hotpot made of horse meat, internal organs and bones. Salmon hotpot, black chicken, and bamboo sticky rice are also worth trying. You can find these dishes and many more in restaurants like The Hill Station Signature Restaurant. For thang co, visit A Quynh, a popular venue among locals.
Drop by the Sapa Love Market
This is a unique experience in Sapa, and only happens on Saturdays. The Sapa Love Market is where young ethnic tribes people would come to meet one another, fall in love, and get married. Because villages in Sapa are sparsely populated, those living in far-away villages would make the journey days ahead so they can arrive in time to find someone. You will see boys and girls hanging out, laughing, drinking, eating, doing traditional dances and playing traditional games together. It’s a different world to what we are used to. At the end of the day they part ways but promise to meet again, probably in a week, when the market comes to life again.