Is Sapa Really A Worthwhile Place To Go Like People Say?

Nga Do
Less than 20 years ago, Sapa was as off the beaten path as you might want to go in Vietnam, but is now considered by many to be ‘too touristy.’ This article discuss why Sapa is still worth visiting in 2019.

Sapa is a mountain town in northwest Vietnam, famous for its towering peaks, steep rice terraces and picturesque villages nestled between every breathtaking view. It is one of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations, and for very good reason. 

The mountains are home to distinct ethnic minorities who are willing to open their homes to travelers for a chance to learn about their unique local cultures, and explore their beautiful homeland. It is also one of the best places for trekking in Vietnam, and is home to the country’s largest mountain—Mt Fansipan. For these reasons and more, Sapa is firmly etched on the tourist trail.

Unfortunately, in recent years, people have begun to find Sapa’s charms overshadowed by the tourist crowds.

Is Sapa really a worthwhile place to go like people say?

Sapa today

The ethnic minority communities began to understand the power of tourism in Sapa, they learnt quickly to take advantage of it. They took to English with a ferocity not seen elsewhere in Vietnam, and remodeled their simple wooden stilt homes to accommodate travelers for overnight stays. Today, almost every man, woman and child speaks fluent English (often with strong accents caught from tourists) and every home has a few extra roll mats and blankets in case a trekker stops by.

Sapa Town is where the transformation is most apparent. New hotels are popping up in every available space and people flock to the streets trying to make any extra income they can.


So, considering all this, why is Sapa worth visiting in 2019?

Well, let us count the ways!…

Is Sapa really a worthwhile place to go like people say? 1

Sapa will always be beautiful

Despite a decade of development and hasty tourist infrastructure, Sapa is still one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. There may be a giant cable car etched across mighty Mount Fansipan, and hotels cropping up (even in tiny villages), but the core of the Sapa Valley—its craggy mountains and vibrant green hue - cannot be changed. If you can look past the modernisation, the neon lights, and the crowds of other tourists, the beauty of Sapa will reward you.

The town itself also has a strangely charming atmosphere. With its narrow lanes and crumbling French Colonial buildings that sit beside higgledy-piggledy construction from every era since, Sapa Town is certainly unique.

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Sapa is still one of the best places to trek in Vietnam.

Whether you want to tackle Vietnam’s largest mountain - Mt. Fansipan - or you are happy with an afternoon stroll, there is a hike for everyone in Sapa. While Sapa Town is a heavily congested and bustling place, just 10 minutes in any direction and you will once again find yourself surrounded by nature. The Sapa Valley is a huge expanse of interconnected villages and hiking between them, up and down steep hills and between those iconic terraced rice paddies, is a beautiful experience.

Even on a cloudy day, the mist clinging to the top of the hills gives the valley its own kind of surreal splendour.

Plus, you will often find yourself with no other company than a couple of grumpy buffalo or cute children.

For more magical places that will leave you breathless click here

Another commonly asked question is whether you can hike in Sapa without a guide. Technically, yes. However, we really advise against it and not because there are many dangers of hiking in Sapa alone. Without a local guide, you will miss out on learning about the intricacies of life in Sapa—those cultural quirks that must be shared via stories and anecdotes.

Through years of booming tourism, the locals in Sapa speak fantastic English and they are more than happy to share their culture with you.

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Sapa has never been easier to get to.

For anyone who loves to stretch their legs in the midst of vast mountain vistas, or for those who want to escape the city for some fresh mountain air, Sapa is a mere train or bus ride way from Hanoi.

Newly paved roads and improved rail networks mean that Sapa has never been easier to get to. In just 5 hours, you can travel from the heart of Hanoi to the villages of Sapa by bus. Or, for a little extra comfort, you can take a luxury overnight train and sleep your way into the mountains. The quality, quantity, and speed of transport to Sapa definitely make it a worthy trip from Hanoi.

For details on how to move to Sapa from Hanoi: How To Get From HANOI to SAPA?

Culture in Sapa is holding on.

For those looking to understand more about the diverse cultural makeup of Vietnam, you will not leave disappointed. The local population of Sapa understands, on a fundamental level, that their culture and traditions are the very reason that people want to spend time in Sapa (along with those incredible views, of course).

This means that even in 2019, when much of the world seems so similar, the local Hmong and Red Dao proudly dress in traditional clothing. They still get up before the tourists to work in the fields before a day of trekking. In fact, many hosts will happily take their guests into the fields to teach them about rice cultivation. Hosts are also more than willing to share their stories of marriage, children, and local festivities.

Discover more upcoming destinations in Vietnam in this magazine: Vietnam Travel Magazine

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Tips on traveling responsibly in Sapa:

  • Do not buy from children in Sapa – You may be inadvertently encouraging them to skip school.
  • Do buy souvenirs and local handicrafts – Buy directly from the locals and take a small piece of Sapa’s unique culture home with you.
  • Don’t be shy – Take the time to really get to know your guides and hosts in Sapa, and reciprocate with stories of your own life.
  • Do be mindful of your waste – Take your trash (or any you find) away with you, and do not leave toilet tissue on any trails.
  • Don’t be rude – Even when you feel hassled, try to be as kind as possible to the local people who are simply trying to make a living.
  • Do take your time – Spend as long as you can in Sapa and explore the more remote villages.

Traveling to Sapa in 2019 will certainly mean sharing the experience with plenty of other tourists. If you are thoughtful about where you spend your money and how you interact with the local people, you will be rewarded with beautiful natural scenery, wonderful trekking, and unique opportunities for cultural exchange. Go to Sapa with an open mind and you will find warm people with an interesting story to tell, and you’ll leave with plenty of your own too.

You can see more experience on the 2019 Sapa here.

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