Have you ever heard of Sapa? Known as one of the places to see in Vietnam due to its fantastic location in the mountains, its terrace rice fields for as far as the eye can see, its highland tribes and Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan, the ‘Roof of Indochina’. The city has undertaken a complete change due to its popularity amongst tourists, so we were wondering if the charm of the area remained intact and went on exploring by ourselves.
As soon as you get off the highway from Hanoi, and start driving in the mountains, you can enjoy some beautiful scenery. The higher you get, the more breathtaking the valley becomes. The mix of colours makes it so special, from yellow to green then brown, a complete colour palette reflecting the sun rays.
Then your drive arrives in Sapa. A mini-Hanoi with cooler air some may say. Many restaurants, shops, hotels, and there in the middle, a Catholic Church to remind you of a time when French occupied Sapa.
To give some general information, Sapa is a small mountain town located 350km Northwest of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border
. It is the home of several ethnic minorities such as the Hmong, the Dao, the Giay and the Tay. The women all wear traditional clothing rich with so many colours that it adds up to the charm of the area.
The centre of the town is as charming as can be for a fast-developing city, many hotels are being built to welcome the travellers but it is well-organised and you still have clear spaces as the streets are large and you can find a lake in the middle.
The fast expansion of Sapa is partly due to the opening of the Sun World Fansipan Legend’s suspended cable car system, departing right from the city centre. Many people have disregarded this operation. It is perceived as an act against Nature by some and that Fansipan’s lonesome beauty had somewhat been shattered.
Cable car to Fansipan
After experiencing it, we have to admit we enjoyed ourselves and appreciated every minute from the little train from Sapa city centre to Sapa
Station where the cable car departs from, to the visit of the temple at the top of Fansipan.
The stations are built following French 19th century-style, chic and sober. It almost makes you feel like you have embarked in some grand adventure from another century.
View from cable car on Sapa valley
We have to say we were blown away by the spectacular 360° view the cable car provides. Sun World Fansipan Legend allows everyone disinterested in hiking, the possibility to discover the highest mountain top of the country and create great memories. From leaving Sapa Station until Fansipan Station, you float high above the valley, appreciating its beauty even more from above.
But it does not stop at Fansipan Station. The cable car does not take you to the top, this is an exercise you need to achieve yourself by climbing about 600 stairs to the Roof of Indochina. There is of course a small funicular available there to take you to the top if you are unable to continue by foot, but we would advise against as the views are magical and the reward greater, even though breathing becomes slightly more difficult with the altitude.
Fansipan peak culminates at 3143m, some of us may have forgotten to bring jackets, so we take this opportunity to advise future visitors to bring a warm piece of clothing to face the temperature at the top!
Funicular bringing customers to the top
The complex at the peak consists in several temples and sculpted bronze statues that lead the way to a 20-metre Buddha statue perched on the mountainside. Even though the constructions are recent, the architecture remains in a traditional-style, not clashing too much with the wilderness of the mountain.
After reaching the highest point, and dozens of pictures later, you can enjoy a small break at a café on your way down. The architecture is stunning, it feels like you enter a glass cube allowing you take in the sights all around while sipping a – preferably – hot beverage.
A traveller and Buddha
The Mother Goddess watching over the valley
Happy travellers who reached the top
On your way down by cable car, you will once again be mesmerised by the hundreds of rice fields below, almost giving you the feeling that it is the first time you are seeing them. A scenery that will probably never get old.
We would like to conclude this testimony with a small piece on accommodation. Even though you have a large ion of hotels in Sapa, we settled for a local homestay 30 minutes away, in Da Van Village. For just 200,000 VND, approximately 8 USD for taxi, we could enjoy another side of the valley with its rice fields, share a meal with a local family, and hike the next morning with hardly any tourist around. We made our way through the maze that forms the terrace rice fields, until reaching a group of hard-working people planting rice.
This expedition allowed us to share some very special moments and discuss with those women. They explained that they work on the fields during the low touristic season, but in high season they are local tour guides. Our group included non-Vietnamese persons, and they switched to English in an instant, making it look so easy and accessible to anyone.
View from the homestay in Ta Van Village
Morning talks with locals in the rice fields
Locals planting rice
offers both possibilities, experience a city-life with its restaurants and modern facilities in the city centre, but on the other hand, as soon as you get some distance, it gives you the opportunity to converse with the local people and get lost between mountains and rice fields. This close and easy contact with the local people is the authentic side of Sapa region, and Northern Vietnam in general, and we found in just a weekend a perfect balance to meet any travellers’ needs.
NOTE FROM MR LINH:
We regularly check and try our tours
to make sure the experience remains the best. After returning from Sapa, we have decided to highly recommend the cable car attraction as it really blew our minds and allowed us to discover Sapa from another angle.
The cost for the cable car attraction is $36/person.