Sapa lies in a beautiful valley near the Chinese
border. It is the north's main drawcard for tourists
looking for magnificent scenery and a diverse mix of
ethnic cultures in the countryside inhabited by
various hill tribes.
Surrounding Sapa are the Hoang Lien Mountains, which
the French nicknamed the Tonkinese Alps. These
mountains include Fansipan, which at 3143 metres is
Vietnam's highest. If you decide to go walking it's a
good idea to hire a reputable guide.
Unlike the nearby hill tribe village, the architecture
of Sapa looks distinctly European. This is because for
nearly 100 years, up until 1954, many French people
moved there from other parts of Vietnam to escape the
It's not hard to find accommodation in Sapa which
would look at home in the French Alps, such as the
Victoria Hotel, which even has a fireplace.
The H'mong and Dzao people are the largest ethnic
groups in the region. While the most eye-catching
people are Red Dao, who wear scarlet head-dresses with
woollen tassels and silver trinkets.
The most numerous are the Hmong people, who make up
over one third of the district's population. Hmong
women are the most commercially minded, selling their
embroidered indigo blue waistcoats, bags, hats, and
silver jewellery to tourists.
Sapa is a great place to base yourself and shop beside
the locals who frequent the Saturday market.
If you're looking to escape the tourist buses, head a
bit further afield to Bac Ha.
Over the past few years this highland town, two and
half hours up the road, has emerged as an alternative
There are 10 Montagnard hill tribe groups who live
around Bac Ha in the highlands, and many make the trek
down from the mountains for their big shopping day.
Some hill tribe people have to walk up to 30
kilometres through the mountains to get there, with
all their goods in tow on the way back.
Thai Airways International flies to Hanoi 26 times a
week. Prices start from 34 per person