Destination Inspiration: Sa Pa, Vietnam
Sa Pa lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, home to many hill tribes
Sa Pa is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking base. From here, hikers set out into the backcountry of tumbling rice terraces and centuries-old, hill-tribe villages.
Views are often eclipsed by thick mist rolling in from the Tonkinese Alps but on a clear day, the imposing peak of Fansipan looming over the rainforest is a staggering sight.
Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, overlooks Sa Pa
The H’mong and Red Dao tribes welcome hikers to their villages, and even allow overnight stays. Ta Phin, located about 11 miles from Sa Pa, is known as ‘the brocade village’ since it’s the main supplier of bright embroideries for Hanoi and beyond.
Alternatively, settle for a one-day trek closer to town. Cat Cat village is within easy walking distance of hotels in downtown Sa Pa and offers a rare glimpse into the cultures of the ethnic minorities that live there. Buying souvenirs here – or in Sa Pa’s lively central market – will ensure your money goes directly to the people who made them.
When to go?
Walking routes from Sa Pa extend through valleys into remote, mountainous areas
Sa Pa’s climate is what you’d expect of a high-altitude location, with clear, dry summers and cold, wet and very foggy winters. Views are clearest between September and November, which is also the best time for trekking and taking photos. Another popular time is after the Lunar New Year, when the cherry trees are in bloom.
Where to stay?
Sapa Clay House – Mountain Retreat – Sa Pa, Vietnam
Sapa Clay House – Mountain Retreat
This bamboo and clay-made property sits on a slope overlooking Sa Pa town centre. The traditionally decorated rooms include wooden bathtubs and a private terrace with views over the whole Hoàng Liên valley. The freshly prepared breakfast is also a favourite here – the French toast in particular.
Sapa Centre Hotel – Sa Pa, Vietnam
Sapa Centre Hotel
As the name suggests, Sapa Centre Hotel is right in the centre of town, so within walking distance of restaurants, tour operators and the local train station. But what really wins guests over here is the team of hard-working staff, who will gladly help you arrange guided treks in the hills.
Eco Palms House – Mountain Retreat – Sa Pa, Vietnam
Eco Palms House – Mountain Retreat
Animal lovers will feel at home in Eco Palms House, with plenty of puppies and kittens to keep them company. There’s a cup of hot cinnamon tea served on arrival, and the views of the rice paddies from the private bungalows are fantastic. Guests also love to relax at the on-site cocktail bar in the evening.
Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa – Sa Pa, Vietnam
Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa
Perched on a ridge overlooking the town centre, this new property boasts contemporary design along with top-notch spa facilities. Guests love the rooms, which look out to the mountainous Hoàng Liên valley – on a foggy day the clouds will literally roll in when the balcony door is left open.
Yen’s House – Sa Pa, Vietnam
This family-run mountain chalet has a homely feel that guests love. Mealtimes are lively, sociable and guaranteed to leave you feeling stuffed. Breakfast varies from toast and omelettes to banana pancakes and even a fishy pho soup if desired. Yen’s House also offers bike hire for exploring town and the surrounding area.