Sapa is a remote town in northwestern Vietnam that’s known for its pristine rice terraces and cool mountain atmosphere. It offers a wealth of trekking opportunities that take you through the region’s picturesque hillsides and smaller ethnic villages.
While trekking is the number one reason why travelers make the trip from Hanoi to Sapa, it isn’t the only thing you can do there.
From tasting indigenous horse meat stew to riding a cable car to Vietnam’s highest peak, this guide will show you ten of the best things you can do in Sapa.
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THINGS TO DO IN SAPA
1. Go Trekking
As described, trekking is the most popular activity in Sapa and why most travelers visit this mountain town. I went on a self-guided trek but many people opt for multi-day guided treks with homestays in neighboring villages like Lao Chai, Ta Van, and Giang Ta Chai.
You can trek for as many days as you’d like but 1-3 day treks seem to be the most popular. Prices vary but you can expect to pay between USD 20-40 per person per day depending on the length and difficulty of the trek. Prices typically include meals and accommodations.
For the best prices, it may be best to arrange for a trek when you arrive in Sapa. People will approach you offering treks but you can ask your hotel or homestay for help as well. My hotel routinely arranged treks and other tours for its guests.
Expect to Pay: USD 20-40 per day
2. Try Horse or Salmon Hot Pot
If you were to have just one dish in Sapa, then it should probably be thang co or horse meat stew. It’s a traditional H’mong hot pot dish made with different types of meat like beef, pork, buffalo, and goat, though the main ingredient is horse meat.
The H’mong people have been using horses for transport for generations. When the horse becomes too sick or too old to work, they butcher it for its meat which is how this dish came to be.
Simmered in a large pot or pan for hours with up to twelve different spices, they use every part of the horse like its liver, lungs, intestines, and kidneys so nothing goes to waste.
If horse meat is a little extreme for you, then perhaps you’d like to try salmon hot pot instead.
Salmon in Sapa may sound out of place at first but rainbow trout has been successfully farmed in the region since 2005. So common is rainbow trout that salmon hot pot is now considered a local specialty in Sapa, one that’s particularly popular in winter.
I opted for the horse hot pot but any restaurant serving thang co will typically offer salmon hot pot as well. Hot pot servings in Sapa are usually good for at least two people but the A Phu Restaurant was kind enough to serve me a single portion of thang co.
Expect to Spend: VND 350,000 (horse), VND 450,000 (salmon) for 2-3 people
3. Ride the Cable Car to Fansipan
At 3,147 meters (10,326 ft), Fansipan Mountain is the highest mountain in the Indochine Peninsula. On clear days, it offers spectacular views of the valleys below.
For VND 700,000 roundtrip, a 15-20 minute cable car ride takes you up to the top of the mountain. You can then climb up the 600+ steps to Fansipan peak or pay an additional VND 70,000 (each way) to ride the funicular.
Because clouds can make or break the view, my hotel’s owner would advise me every morning if it was a good idea to head up to Fansipan Mountain. It was misty everyday so I didn’t wind up going. Based on what I’ve read, March to April are the clearest months in Sapa.
Cable Car Fare: VND 700,000 roundtrip
4. Hike to Love Waterfall
Love Waterfall is beautiful. It’s located in San Sa Ho Commune, about 15 km west of Sapa town. It’s one of three waterfalls I visited in Sapa and by far the most beautiful.
Part of what makes Love Waterfall so appealing is its remote location. You’ll need to walk for about half an hour through a forested path to get to the falls. When I went, there were just a few people there so I had the place pretty much to myself.
Flowing into a stream and with viewing decks on either side, what you’ll find at the site is actually just a small part of the falls. Love Waterfall is said to begin from the top of Fansipan Mountain.
Love Waterfall is too far to get to on your own so you’ll need to arrange for transportation. I paid VND 250,000 to be taken to Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall by motorbike, which I arranged through my hotel.
I enjoyed the trek to Love Waterfall as much as the falls itself. From the ticketing booth, it’s about a 30-minutes walk on a scenic cobblestone path through dense forest and open plains to get to the falls.
Admission: VND 70,000
5. Climb Up Silver Waterfall
Located on the main road between Love Waterfall and Sapa town is Silver Waterfall. It’s less than 3 km before Love Waterfall so you can easily visit both on the same day.
Called Thac Bac in Vietnamese, Silver Waterfall looks bigger and more impressive than Love Waterfall but its location by the side of a busy road makes it a little less appealing. Because it’s easier to get to, you’ll find a lot more tourists there.
There are stairs on either side of Silver Waterfall that you can climb to get to a steel viewing bridge. The bridge crosses over the front of the falls, from one side to the other, giving you a terrific vantage point for pictures.
Admission: VND 20,000
6. Enjoy Breakfast with a View
If you’re planning on exploring Cat Cat Village in the morning, then you may want to start with breakfast somewhere near the top of Fansipan Street. It’s a twisty road that starts in Sapa town then takes you down a steep incline to Cat Cat Village.
I had this terrific “big mountain breakfast” at Sapa Natureview Hotel & Restaurant but there are several eateries you can choose from along this stretch of road. Built on the side of a hill, many offer spectacular views of the rice terraces and valley below.
7. Explore Cat Cat Village
After breakfast, continue walking down Fansipan Street to Cat Cat Village at the bottom of Muong Hoa Valley. It’s the nearest hill tribe village and one of the easiest day treks you can make from Sapa.
Cat Cat Village was established in the 19th century by H’mong and Dzao families who settled in the region to grow corn and cultivate rice. Today, their main source of income appears to come from tourism.
Because of its proximity to Sapa, Cat Cat Village is always packed with domestic and international tourists dressed up in traditional H’mong costumes. They take selfies at the village’s many picture-taking spots which were obviously set up for the sole purpose of taking souvenir photos.
Cat Cat Village is quite pretty but also very touristy, so temper your expectations when you visit. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, food stalls, and souvenir shops to be found there.
If you keep walking and continue past Cat Cat Village, then you’ll find hiking trails that I believe will take you to Lao Chai, Ta Van, and Giang Ta Chai villages. I walked for about an hour just to take in the scenery before turning around and heading back to Sapa.
Cat Cat Village gets its name from Cat Cat Waterfall. Known as Tien Sa Waterfall in Vietnamese, it’s one of the village’s main attractions.
It’s important to mention that it’s a steep but easy downhill walk to Cat Cat Village from Sapa. But it isn’t so easy going back up.
It’s an exhausting climb so you may want to hire a motorbike to take you back up to Sapa. Many locals will be offering their services and if I remember correctly, I paid VND 50,000 to be taken up that steep road that looks so much better going down than going up.
Admission: VND 70,000
8. Visit Sapa Museum
Sapa Museum is a small museum near Sapa Station. Located on the second floor of a handicrafts shop, it offers a few exhibits on the history and ethnology of the Sapa region.
There isn’t much to see at the museum but admission is free so it’s worth a quick stop during your stay in Sapa.
9. Enjoy a Meal at The Hill Station
The Hill Station is the most refined restaurant in Sapa. They have two outlets in town – their signature restaurant located in the same building as their boutique hotel and their deli about 5 minutes away.
The Hill Station serves traditional Sapa food but prepared and presented in a more elegant way. I went to their signature restaurant and had this fantastic lunch of smoked buffalo with pickled local vegetables and three-colored Dzay sticky rice. It was the best meal I had in Sapa.
I didn’t go to The Hill Station Deli & Boutique but I read they serve craft beer and wine along with cheese and charcuterie boards.
Address: 37 Fansipan, TT. Sa Pa, Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Vietnam
Operating Hours: 7AM-11PM
What to Order: Pork, buffalo, rainbow trout dishes
Expect to Spend: About VND 125,000 per entree
10. Have Coffee on the Roofdeck of Dao Coffee
I wasn’t expecting this but the area around Sapa Park gets pretty lively at night. It’s a great place to have a beer or coffee and go people watching in the evening.
There are a few restaurants and cafes around Sapa Park but I suggest checking out Dao Coffee. They have a lovely roofdeck with counter seating that gives you great views of downtown Sapa.
Sitting up here and sipping my hot Vietnamese coffee while enjoying the town’s cool evening air was one of my favorite moments in Sapa.
Address: 6 Thạch Sơn, TT. Sa Pa, Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Vietnam
What to Order: Vietnamese coffee
Expect to Spend: About VND 40,000 per cup
Sapa is one of the more interesting destinations you can visit in Vietnam. It offers a welcome change of pace from larger and busier cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Scenic treks are the main draw but there’s more to enjoy in Sapa. For me, one of the biggest draws was the food. Because of its remote location and hill tribe makeup, there are Vietnamese dishes that you can find only in this part of the country, which is a big reason why I went.
In fact, I wasn’t even planning on visiting this town at all until a google search for the “most interesting food in vietnam” opened my eyes to Sapa.
Whatever your reasons for visiting this cool mountain retreat, I hope this article helps you make the most of your time there.
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