Sapa Town, which is administered by Lao Cai province in the northwest of Vietnam, is one of the most famous tourist attractions of our country. This area is known for its beautiful scenery, its cool weather, and diversity in culture. Its location is breathtaking, Sapa is gifted with some of mother nature’s most stunning scenery. Not only that, Sapa is a converging point of ethnic cultures. Within seven days, you can easily discover all its corners as well as cultural spotlights. I’ve created an itinerary in the span of a week and I want to share it with you.
Day One – Preparation for An Energetic Week with A Food Tour
After a long trip to reach Sapa, what do you think about rewarding yourself with the unrivaled foods of this land? With a special location paired with optimal weather, Sapa’s food is very unique compared to other places in Vietnam. The delicious dishes here are characterized by the ethnic minorities. Each ethnic group has unique recipes which are unparalleled and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The most memorable dish is thang co, which is a dish of horse meat soup of the H’mong people. How do you feel about trying a 200-year old recipe? But wait, the smell is terrible! While the odor is an outstanding aspect of thang co, many travelers have become addicted to this special meal. This is a typical example: do not judge things just by their appearance, or smell in this case.
You might also be impressed by com lam, a distinct cooked rice originally coined by the Thai people. In Vietnam, generally we use rice as the main food and eat with other side dishes. We cook rice in a pot and eat it in a small bowl. However, in Sapa, you will see that people stuff their rice in bamboo tubes. This is com lam.
In Sapa, locals also eat pork and chicken like in urban areas, but the pork and chicken here, I guarantee you, is much more delicious than anything you have tried in Vietnam! What makes pork and chicken in Sapa special is the way locals raise the pigs and the chickens. They don’t lock them up in pens but let them free to find their own food. This gives the meat of these animals an incomparable sweetness.
We have collected the unique foods that you can only try in Sapa in this article. You can visit and plan for your food tour on the first day in Sapa.
Day Two and Three – A Perfect Beginning with Trekking
Located in the highest area of Vietnam, Sapa is a perfect place for trekking. While trekking in Sapa, admire the magnificent nature of our northwestern mountainous area. The dangerous mountain ranges, the immense terraced paddy fields, and especially the cool air makes for an ideal trekking environment.
There are two ways for travelers to go trekking in Sapa: on a tour and without a tour guide. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
If you want to go with a person who has rich experience and knowledge about this land to learn how to discover Sapa in the best way, a trekking tour is a smart choice. In Sapa, we find that Sapa O’ Chau and Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventures are the two organizations running cool trekking tours for travelers. The precious thing about these two groups is their meaningful purpose in running this business.
The Sapa O’ Chau mission is to aid Sapa’s children and the young to receive good education and employment. Sapa Sisters aims to upgrade the living standard of H’mong women. Since Sapa is located in a remote and high area, the living conditions of the locals are not as good as in the urban area. These two organizations offer from one to four days of trekking.
The disadvantages of this trekking type are that it costs money, you cannot dictate your own schedule, and you cannot choose to stay in a town you fall in love with. So how about trekking on your own? You can go without a tour guide. Is it dangerous? Yes, it will be a bit more challenging, but it’s well worth it.
Explore Sapa in your own style. Just follow a few safety tips, prepare, and have a detailed map of excellent trekking points.
What are the must-visited trekking destinations in Sapa?
Trekking is an activity that takes a lot of energy, but the awards of seeing the beautiful landscapes will dissolve your fatigue. Take a look at this list of what you shouldn’t miss:
- Ham Rong (The Jaw of the Dragon): is a mountain shaped like the powerful jaws of a momentous dragon. Stand on Ham Rong mountain and get an overview of Sapa with its healthy fields of flowers.
- Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall): is known as the waterfall of love because of its romantic scenery. You shouldn’t visit during the dry season since the water will not be rushing down the falls.
- Cong Troi (Sky Gate): is the peak of a twisted pass named Tram Ton. Stand at Cong Troi and observe the astonishing view of Sapa.
- Cau May (Rattan Bridge): is a bridge made with rattan based on the architecture of the H’mong people, across the Muong Hoa stream.
You can also visit the famous and wonderful villages like Lao Chai, Cat Cat, and Ta Phin. Read more about these places in the feature article I mentioned previously.
We also published a Sapa Trekking Guide article that covers everything you need to know. Two days are perfect to trek around Sapa and discover all the fantastic corners of this land.
Day Four and Five – Understanding The Interesting Life of The Ethnic People
Sapa is host to many ethnic minorities, their colorful clothes a declaration of their love for their homeland. Each ethnic group has different cultural features, including clothing, architecture, and customs. It would be a big loss if you travel to Sapa without exploring the culture of these groups.
There are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: H’mong, Dao Do, Tay, Xa Pho, and Giay. After taking a trek around Sapa, why don’t you choose one or two local villages to stay in and experience life as a Sapa citizen? You may ask: “What should I do with two days in a village with strange people?”
Don’t worry, I’m sure that at the end of the second day, you will want to stay longer. Imagine waking up in a house-on-stilts, a characteristic architectural feature of the highland people in order to avoid wild animals. Maybe you are wearing strange clothes after you bought a few things at the market, which are very colorful and subtly woven. It doesn’t stop there. When you walk outside, people will look at you and start smiling warmly. This is a typical day in a peaceful mountain town, unlike any day you will experience in your life.
You can follow the locals to their gardens and watch how they raise chickens and cattle. The local women may lead you to the terraced fields in order to show you the process of growing rice. Of course you can help them if you want to. How about going to the flower fields and tending to their delicate petals?
As I mentioned above, each ethnic group has their distinct dishes. When you stay with them, they will treat you with their best dishes cooked by the best chefs. You can also help them prepare the meals. Notice the strange kitchen tools and the unique methods of cooking that don’t appear anywhere else.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to join their festivals, which demonstrate clearly their special culture. For a festival, people will dress in their best clothes. The ethnic minorities all wear beautiful clothes but there are variations according to each group. Obviously, each tribe dons its own traditional costumes, which are the distinguishing signs of an ethnic group. Although their clothes are truly stunning, the spotlight of these festivals is the music. Live music is played by the locals with many unique instruments. Immerse in the beautiful rhythm and dance freely to the melody.
To understand more about villages in Sapa, you can access this article about the most authentic villages in and around Sapa. From this, you can make up your mind which village you would like to spend some time in.
We also published an article addressing the culture of the H’mong and Dao Do people. If you decide to stay with these people during your two days, this will be a good source of knowledge to understand and get to know these highland people.
Day Six – Conquering Fansipan, The Highest Mountain in Vietnam
Located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and just nine kilometers away from Sapa to the southwest, Fansipan is the highest peak of Vietnam with the height of 3,143 meters. According to the local dialect, Fansipan is the recording of the word meaning the unstable gigantic rock.
The outstanding height of Mount Fansipan attracts many travelers and trekkers. If you are already in Sapa, why not try to reach the roof of Vietnam?
Although there are many trekking packages to help you reach Fansipan peak easier, it would be more exciting to climb it yourself. When you trek on your own, you can discover the mountain privately, meet many other travelers and locals, and make more friends along the journey.
To reach the peak, you can also choose one of these three trails: Tram Ton, Sin Chai, and Cat Cat.
Tram Ton trail is the most popular trail and most tour companies will take you up this route. Sin Chai trail is shorter but more adventurous than the former, because some of the paths are difficult to find. Cat Cat trail is the longest trail but you can admire the best scenery along this path. Each trail has different pros and cons, so what is your choice?
One thing to keep in mind is that the trekking time may last from one to two days, so I suggest building at least two days into your schedule to conquer Mount Fansipan. For trekkers who want to Conquer Mount Fansipan the Right Way, I suggest you read this article carefully and prepare well before starting. In this article, we also recommend the list of essentials for you to check before embarking.
Day Seven: From Sapa to Hekou, China
You shouldn’t miss Vietnam’s neighbor when you visit Sapa. Hekou is the adjoining town to Lao Cai province. You can spend one last day in this interesting Chinese town before coming back to Vietnam and continuing to explore our beautiful country. Or you can also start exploring China from here.
In Hekou, you can purchase many cheap goods in the border market, experience the tasty Chinese food, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of this town at night. This article, Crossing the Border, will act as your guide to get the most out of your time in China. It provides more details on when to visit, what to do, and papers needed to cross the border between Vietnam and China.
Our Christina’s Blog has published many informative articles about Sapa. We are ready to answer any questions you might have when planning your trip to Sapa like when is the best time to visit, how to travel and reach this beautiful town, and where to stay when you are in Sapa.
I hope that my recommended itinerary in Sapa may help you plan your trip to this town. Spend a week in Sapa and tell us how you feel about it!
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like some more fun info about what to see, do and eat (and a bunch of interesting cafes!) in Vietnam.