Sapa is a town in Lao Cai Province in Northwest Vietnam close to the Chinese border. It is located about 350km Northwest of Hanoi. Here is where one will find the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains, which includes Fan Si Pan—the country's highest peak.
This quiet Vietnamese town is home to a population which consists mostly of minority groups. There are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. It is said that Sapa was first occupied by the first four groups, since the Vietnamese from the lowlands (better known as the Kinh) did not colonise the highest valleys.
Sa Pa District is located in Lao Cai Province, north-west Vietnam, and 350 km north-west of Hanoi, close to the border with China. Sapa is famous both for its fine, rugged scenery and for its rich cultural diversity. French used to consider Sapa as Summer Capital of Northern Vietnam in the early decades of the 20th century. Its naturally gifted beauty keeps attracting more and more people to spend their vacation there since then. Particularly, the place is the foremost choice for honeymoon couples!
The scenery of the Sapa region in large part reflects the relationship between the ethnic minority people and nature. This is seen especially in the paddy fields carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the Hoang Lien Mountains. The impressive physical landscape, which underlies this, has resulted from the work of the elements over thousands of years, wearing away the underlying rock.
Most tourists agree that it would be regretful if the leisure and relaxation time in cool and fresh weather is not accompanied by visiting trips to Sapa’s prideful natural beauty spots, such as Ham Rong Mountain, Silver Waterfall, Rattan Bridge, Bamboo Forest and Ta Phin Cave. The town is also the starting point for many mountain climbers and scientists who would like to discover the Fansipan Mount, the highest mountain in Vietnam with 3,143 m height. Can you imagine that Hoang Lien Mountain Range is called “the Alps of the North Sea area” since Fansipan Mount also marks its greatest height among others in the Indochina Peninsula as well. The pyramid-shaped mountain is covered with clouds all the year round. On top of the mountain is filled with frequent below zero temperature, especially at high altitudes.
On approaching the town, the very first thing tourists may find is the detached wooden mansions and villas perched on top or side of the hills, behind thick pine forests, hided by fog in the morning. Old and new villas with red roofs now appear and then disappear in the green rows of pomu trees, bringing in the beauty of European towns.
Foreign tourists are actually fond of scarce and precious specialties of Sapa, such as forest’s product, handicrafts, delicacies (smoked meat, “thang co”, “cai meo”, san lung wine, corn wine, etc.), typical of ethnic minority people.
Most travellers do like to bring some of the local fresh vegetables back home for presents. Thanks to the fresh and cool air, Sapa is the ideal land for fresh temperate vegetables such as cabbage, chayote, precious medical herbs, fruit trees (plum, pear), and so on.
Sapa is famous for its special cultural diversity in a combination of ethnic minority groups’ culture. Visitors to Sapa will have opportunities to discover the unique customs of the local residents. Local markets are the town’s typically cultural element, which are always crowded and joyful, attracting hundreds of visitors. This is the common place for minority groups to gather and exchange goods. Market sessions are also a chance for local people to promenade. No foreign visitor could help joining such a market session, a typical cultural element of Sapa. What is more, tourists coming to Sapa at weekends have the great chance to learn about local ethnic people's courtship and martial life, through the Sapa love market and wife kidnapping ceremony of the H’Mong group. The ceremony will begin on April 29th. This is part of a five-day festival, titled Festival on the Cloud, to mark the beginning of the Sapa 2006 tourism year, in the northern mountain township of Sapa, in Lao Cai Province.
How to get there?
Visitors can choose to go to Sapa by train or car, but train is more advisable because of the long and bumpy road. Most tourists arrive in Lao Cai, the province to which Sapa belongs, by train and it is definitely an impressive ride. The train leaves Hanoi train station in the evening and arrives in Lao Cai train station in early morning. From Lao Cai train station to Sapa is another hour bus ride, which gives your eyes a massage with the endless blue sky and colourful terraced paddy field. The road is curved around the mountain and you will just go from one surprise to another. The further you go, the closer you are to the sky and to nature.