Sa Pa is a unique mixture of ancient H’Mong mountain culture, dramatic scenery, and ski-town vibes topped with an artistic touch. This charming town encompasses approximately six different ethnic minorities living in villages among the sprawling rice terraces.
Like the Vietnamese mountain towns of Dalat and Phong Nha, entering Sa Pa is like entering a different world completely. Sa Pa is an eternal Sunday, one where two days can easily turn into ten. Sundays are for exploring, trying new things, relaxing, enjoying a cup of coffee with a view, and for just existing doing whatever you please. Sa Pa grants all these pleasures and more.
Here are six suggestions for your stay …
1. Go local, find your trek and home stay upon arrival
Skip the tours out of Hanoi, buy the bus to Sa Pa, and meet the array of local H’mong women when you arrive in Sapa. The second you step foot off the bus, you will be bombarded by smiling H’mong women dressed in colorful headscarfs.
Cost: Going local is approximately half the price as the tours dependent on your negotiation skills.
$18-$25 for 1 night, 2 day trek
$45-$50 for 2 nights, 3 day trek
2. Bring layers or buy them here
Sa Pa is known as the city of four seasons, and weather can change rather drastically throughout the course of an hour, day, or week. I arrived to a thick wall of fog, rain, and freezing cold. After two days of white haze, pouring rain, and brutal wind, I awoke to find the sun shining.
That being said, every store on the main street of P. Cau May offers North Face everythaang. From $2 ponchos to $10 raincoats, $20 backpacks and $30 nikes – whatever you may be missing for your trekking adventure, you can find it here!
3. Explore Cát Cát Village
A twenty-minute walk from the main street leads you down steep roads and into the tourist center of Cát Cát Village. As you walk down the steps lined with the never-ending array of local stitching’s, knives, jackets, and purses, you begin to disappear into the surrounding rice terraces towering around you. There is a beautiful bridge and waterfall at the bottom as well.
Cost: 40,000 VND ($2 USD)
4. Go on a water-fall filled motorbike ride through the mountains
Renting a motorbike is one of the best ways to see the surrounding country side which is churning with mountainside waterfalls, stunning scenery, and picturesque local towns.
5. Spend a rainy day at a Buffalo Offering Ceremony
Yes you heard me correctly- a buffalo offering ceremony. We awoke to a freezing, foggy day, and were so bummed until our guide Sho Sho ran into our room saying we must come quickly to drink happy water (rice wine) and see the buffalo offering. We walked down, and sure enough, there was the entire village preparing for the killing of the buffalo.
The men were dancing around pouring shots of rice wine into each others glasses as the women stood in a line on the hill, and the little children pranced around. It was quite a bloody site; one which involved beheading the bull, cutting off the limbs, and draining the blood.
The beauty in being able to experience something like this was the pure, raw nature of the event. Nothing was for show, this was real life, and what an exciting look into real life it was.
6. Stay at Mountain View Hostel: the nicest hostel I’ve stayed at in Vietnam
This Mountain View hostel is secretly tucked away at the end of P. Cau May street (the main strip).
The hostel is extremely clean, has comfortable beds, knowledgeable and helpful staff, and will help you dive into the rich cultural diversity all around you. The rooms have beautiful views of the stunning rice terraces below, and the best part- breakfast is included!
It’s the little things that make a big difference on the road, and I definitely went to sleep dreaming of waking up to mountain views, warm pancakes, omelets, and coffee.
Cost: 160,000 VND for dorm($7.50 USD)
320,000 VND for double private($16 USD)
Sa Pa is one of those towns that sticks with you, it stays engraved in your memory. The air just tastes good, the smiles are endless, and the scenery never gets old. Sa Pa is a place you promise yourself you will return to, and I hope I will one day soon!
Have you ever been to Sa Pa? What was your favorite part, anything I missed? Let me know 🙂
Photos courtesy of the talented Alexandra Panagos, find more of her travel photos on A New Person a New Place!