Located at 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level in Vietnam's remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. Sapa is an incredibly picturesque town that lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps". Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. However, as a result of a recent surge in popularity Sapa has rapidly become a tourist hotspot where money is the new drug of choice. Don't be put off by the rush, your explorations of the surrounding countryside will be worth the trouble.
Many ethnic minorities live in and around Sapa. Excluding the Kinh people or ethnic Vietnamese, eight different ethnic minority groups are found in Sapa; H'mong (pronounced Mong), Dao (pronounced Yao), Tay, Giay (pronounced Zai), Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Xa Pho (a denomination of the Phu La minority group). However, the last four groups comprise less than 500 people in total. The population of the district is estimated at 31,652 (1993) of which 52% are H'mong, 25% are Dao, 15% are Kinh, 5% are Tay and 2% are Giay. Around 3,300 people live in Sapa town, the remainder are peasant farmers distributed unevenly throughout the district.
Many older women in particular make items such as ethnic-style clothes and blankets, to sell to tourists. Striking up a conversation with them can be very rewarding and their spoken English is impressive. Sadly, however, doing this in Sapa town itself will sometimes lead to a scrum as a multitude of vendors taste a potential sale.
Children from these ethnic minorities often begin to support their families financially through selling trinkets to tourists. Do not encourage this by buying from children - Buy from adults. They peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and often walk for several hours from their surrounding villages to reach the town. At the end of the day, some take a motorbike ride back to their village, some walk home and some sleep in the market.
Children have poor or non-existent dental hygiene. As the signs around town say, do not give them candy or sweets - it hurts their teeth badly. If you want to give them something, safe toys from your home are highly regarded.
There're schools in Sapa's villages. Most of them lack essential learning tools like books, pens or pencils. Give those to the teachers - reducing your loading weight in return!
Girls and boys get married young (around 15-18) and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. Poverty has led to a great number of girls leaving their villages each day to go selling in Sapa town.
The Sapa map billboard states proudly of its weather : Four seasons in one day. Chilly winter in the early morning, spring time after sunrise, summer in afternoon and cold winter at night.
In winter (the 4 months between November and February), the weather in Sapa is invariably cold, wet and foggy (temperatures can drop to freezing and there was snow in 2011). Travellers have rolled into town on a glorious clear day and proceed to spend a week trapped in impenetrable fog. When it is like this there really isn't very much to do. Also the rice paddys are brown & empty (they are planted in spring), the paths very muddy & slippery & the glorious vistas of summer are completely hidden in the mist. If you choose to visit in winter, bring along warm clothes or prepare to be cold and miserable, as many hotels do not have efficient heating in their rooms. During that time, more upmarket hotels that do have heating fill up quickly, so make advance reservations if you can afford not to freeze. (Or don't go there in winter time).
It rains very often during the month of August, especially in the mornings - though this is also the time when scenery is at its greenest and most beautiful.
Bear in mind that some of the minorities do not wish to have photos taken of them - ask permission beforehand. Smile, lower your head down and raise your camera up to show them is the good mannered way for asking permission. After that, showing them their pictures is the very good manner too. If they allow, their allowance is free and they expect no money back at all.
Bring along a poncho, or you can also buy a cheap one in the many shops around. Rubber boots and trekking shoes can be rented from some shops or perhaps at the hotel you are staying in. However, do bear in mind that they have limited sizes. If you are going trekking these are highly recommended, particularly if it has been raining!
Do buy some hand made items direct from the ethnic minorities, especially if you have enjoyed a good conversation or received help from them. Though they do charge slightly more than the shops, bear in mind that the majority of them are very poor and depend on tourist money to survive.
If you want to support the ethnic minorities, try to hire a guide directly instead of doing it through your hotel. This way all your money goes directly to the minorities instead of the 50% they get if booked through a hotel or agency. Some hotel asks for $30/people for private trekking of group of 2-4, but pay $10 to a guide.
If you want to save money you can bargain with minorities a 4h hike to their village (including a lunch) for 600 000 VND (30$) for a 4 people group but keep in mind that this very cheap price does not includes return and you will have to come back by your own or ask a lift to a motorbike (around 50 000VND or 3$)
Vietnam Rail operates some of the cars, but other cars in the train are operated by private companies (Tulico, Ratraco, Fansipan, Orient Express, Friendly and Victoria Hotels, and many others). Some of these cars are significantly nicer than the standard cars. They cost approximately US$45 (July 2013) for a soft sleeper berth. You may need to arrange with a travel agency to get tickets on these tourist cars, but any traveller can purchase tickets for the VNR cars at the Hanoi train station. Warning: several of these cars are not significantly better than standard Vietnamese sleeping cars though, and still substantially more expensive. Pumpkin second class is actually a VNR car booked via this company. Even Pumpkin first class only has a squat toilet (although a sign above the toilet door says: "western style toilet"!).
Trains between Hanoi and Lao Cai are designated by SE-single-digit-suffix. SE-1 and SE-3 are from Hanoi to Lao Cai while SE-2 and SE-4 are back. Each car belongs to each company, joined by single dragging engine head. So whether you book Tulico or OE or else, you depart and arrive at the same time as the other.
Orient Express Soft Sleeper
Cheaper tickets, especially in hard sleeper class, can be hard to come by at times, as tour companies and travel agents will snap up these to first on their own customers (too frequently a promised soft sleeper berth will turn into a hard sleeper when it comes time to board). To avoid rip offs better go to the train station by yourself and get the ticket from the ticket office. This is the only way to make sure that you will get what you have paid for. Travel Agencies in Vietnam are known for their bad business practice. Although one cannot be assured of finding a place, it is often possible to arrive at the station a short while before boarding time, as there are usually young men hanging around trying to hawk unfilled berths at the last minute. The price of these tickets will fall dramatically as departure time draws near.
Prices vary according to both the type of seat purchased and the season during which you are travelling. The times around Vietnamese holidays are particularly expensive and tickets cannot be assumed available for same day travel, so book ahead if possible. Travellers are highly recommended to purchase a berth in a soft or hard sleeper car, though the trip in soft seat class is not intolerable. For a bed, expect to pay in the area of 430,000-525,000 dong (one-way). For a soft seat, expect to pay 220,000 dong for one-way (May 2012). There is usually a dining car serving good, surprisingly affordable noodles (10,000 dong) and rice porridge (10,000 dong), but it's always wise to bring your own snacks and drinks as well.
If you are backpacker, bring an instant noodle cup ($1) with you. There's free hot (boiling!) and cold water at the entrance gate of each car. The left tap is usually hot and the right cold. "BEWARE" if you are a first time user - on the hot value, the cold water will come for 20-30 seconds before the boiling flows out and cooks your hand!
If you have very rigid travel dates, are travelling on a public holiday, or can't be bothered to head down to the train station before your train you can book tickets online before you come to Vietnam. Tickets to LaoCai/Sapa can be booked at the fansipan website. booking tickets online usually costs up to 25% extra, but they will pick you up from your hotel in Hanoi for free.
NOTE: If you have a prebooked ticket from Lao Cai to Hanoi with Fansipan, you have to pick up your ticket from the small and hard to find Fansipan travel office. To find the office stand directly in front of the Lao Cai station, then head directly left. You should see a small sign just past the end of the station building.
The train ends at Lao Cai. From there, dozens of shuttle buses will be waiting outside the station to take you the remaining distance to Sapa, usually at a 'fixed' rate of 50-60,000 dong or US$2.50-$3 (July 2013) or US$25 for a private case. It's often possible to bargain down to a lower price, depending on demand. The ride is about an hour of beautiful views (if the weather is good, it may be an hour of fog at other times) more than 1000 meters up into the mountains.
Note (Sept 2012) this road is prone to landslides, one of which recently caused a delay of a few hours.
Note (Dec 2013) Problem gone.
You may want to book a return ticket when you buy your outward journey, as picking up tickets in Lao Cai is harder than in Hanoi. Ticket counter at the train station is open 8 to 10 am and from 2 pm. The staff do not speak as much English, and they possibly only sell tickets for travel on the same day so sleepers may already be sold out unless you go first thing in the morning. Pay attention to the time of your return train. Trains leaving Lao Cai around 20h00 will arrive in Hanoi at around 5h00 early in the morning.
However, the train "always" late for 1-2 hours. So it's better to have some instant noodle cup in your personal sack.
If you go back to Hanoi by Sunday night, be prepared. The train is usally full. So, "some" company's operator who guard the entrance of it company's car may allow illegal people to board your car. They will sleep along the passage, in front of the restroom or else.
For lonely lady traveller : be warned. Each sleeping car has room (cabin) which accomodates 4 or 6 people per cabin. The cabin heavy door has a lock "from inside". When locked, the door reduces noise markedly. If you're not sure, better ask for upper bunk. Eventhough less comfort than the lower, it gives you more secure on top of your personal defensive gear. Plus, there's less smell from the feet of the your cabin's partner(s).
If you don't make prior arrangements to return at an early hour, you may find yourself sitting outside of your hotel, waiting for the desk to open. If this happened, ask your taxi to bring you to Hoan Kiem Lake instead of your hotel and use the spare time to watch early morining activity. The south-west bank of the Lake will give you the stunning Sunrise view over the lake's Pagoda. BTW, the famous Den Ngoc Son temple is at North East bank.
The coffee shop will open around 06:00am. Have your breakfast there while looking and the warm and lovely sunrise.
If you don't like morning walk-around, ask your taxi to land at the north-west around City View cafe. Walk across the road to the north bank with your luggages. Then you can walk along Hang Dao road (west) or Hang Be road (east) until Hang Bac to see activities of vendors-on-bicycle.
The bus station in Sapa is in the centre of town, near the lake. While you are more likely to pay between 250,000 to 350,000 VNDs (December 2014) for a sleeper bus to Sapa from Hanoi,you can book sleeping buses to Hanoi for only 300,000 dong from SaPa (Dec 2013). Most buses you can book through travel agents for almost the same price. Minibuses to Lao Cai drive around looking for passengers, if you get on empty minibus it could take up to one hour. They drive very slowly, so it could take one hour for a 35 km journey. Price for locals seems to be around 50,000 dong. I agreed for lower price with them, but in the half way they started to collect money and asked for higher rate. I paid just agreed amount and they forced me out of the bus half-way. AgGood option to get between Lao Cai and Sapa is to go near the beginning of the road and hitchhike for private car. Many Vietnamese tourist travelling by their car in this route, and will take you for free or 30-40 thousands dong, it is faster even including time needed to walk to the road.
The Sapa Express Bus, Hanoi - Sapa - Hanoi departs daily at 7 AM via the newly built (September 2014) Hanoi - Lao Cai highway. It takes about 6 hours of driving from Hanoi to Sapa, depending on traffic and weather (they say 5 hours, but it averages 6 hours). You will enjoy the view of the Vietnamese countryside along the road and it is by far the quickest and easiest way to travel between Hanoi and Sapa. The buses are also brand new and very comfortable - they include a bottle of water and a small snack. Note that there is no toilet, and they only make one rest stop along the way (but can apparently stop for you if you give them a few minutes notice). Most travel agencies in Hanoi can arrange the ticket, costing about USD 16/person/way - or you can book through Sapa Express directly. If you book through your hotel it should cost the same but include a free pickup.
The road to Dien Bien Phu is in bad condition, bus costs around 200,000 dong (Dec 2012) It is small and crowded. Journey takes more than 10 hours. If you take night bus to Dien Bien Phu, there is connecting bus to OudomXay in Laos, which seems to wait for arrival of Sapa bus even if it is late.
Sapa can also be reached by motorcycle from Hanoi by a variety of routes. The most direct route takes at least ten hours for first time riders, though local expats often brag about making it in less. Bikes can be rented in Hanoi for unguided passage, or local guides can lead the way. Along the way be sure to top up with fuel regularly, as petrol stations sometimes prove few and far between. It's also useful to note that fuel vendors in small towns often mix the petrol with other liquids such as alcohol or bio-fuels, and such fuel should be bought and used only when there are no alternatives.
Anywhere in the main village of Sapa can be reached on foot, and the town is small enough that you're not likely to get lost. A basic map will be good enough for most travellers.
The way to CatCat is taxed at 40,000 dong,while the way to Ban Ho & Lao Chai villages are taxed 40,000 dong in one ticket. The way to Ta Phin village is taxed at 20,000 dong as well.
Tourists intending to trek to the various villages through the paddy fields should be prepared with good trekking shoes or rubber boots, a walking stick and extra clothing kept in a waterproof bag. These treks are best done in groups as the guides know where they are going and can help you if you get lost or fall over. Depending on the season, the rice fields, which are build in terraces, can be very muddy and slippery. If one does not wear shoes which enables a good grip in the mud, one is likely to keep slipping and falling or even sliding down the slopes! As the paths are also taken by water buffalos, excrement can be found everywhere. Walking sticks can be bought from children from the ethnic minority groups at about 5,000 dong. These enterprising children cut sturdy bamboo and sharpen one end to turn them into sturdy sticks. You'll also find local people offering to hold your hand throughout the trip, buy some souvenirs from them at the end for their help!
For the less adventurous, some of the villages, such as Lao Chai Village, is accessible via jeep, motorcycle and van.
Renting a motorcycle in Sapa is a real challenge. The operators (18-20 year old boys) will want your passport as the guarantee, or a $250 deposit. However, be careful about handing out your passport. You can usually rent motorcycles from your accommodation aswell. The price of renting is around $4 - $7 depending on whether they are manual or automatic, engine size, new/old model, etc. One day rental time is from morning until evening of the same day. You must return the motorcycle around 6 pm, though 7pm can be agreed in advance.
Be very careful when you're driving - these are not the roads that you're used to. Mountain Dirt is not delicious. There are no doctors or emergency services. And if accident occurs while you're out of town, no one will know where you are. Drive slowly. Downhill at 15-20 km/hr is the safest bet - use your horn at every corner.
Sapa is a charming mountain town, surrounded by picturesque mountains and rice terraces. Great views of the area can be had (weather permitting) from the nearby hills. One of these has been built up into a tourist attraction ("Ham Rong Resort") with various gardens (orchid, European), ethnic minority dance performance areas, viewpoints, and restaurants. It's a short walk south from the central square and then up some stairs. Entrance is 70,000 dong.
If you got time then it's worth going to the "Sa Pa Culture Museum" (Open daily 7:30AM-11:30AM,1:30PM-5:00PM.~Admission free,but donations accepted~) where you can learn about the history of Sa Pa and the costumes & traditions of the Ethnic groups of Sa Pa.The museum is located behind the Tourist Office.
It's also worth to check some of the colonial buildings left by the French colonialists such as the church,the square and Town Hall building.
While walking in the mountains you will encounter many hill tribes such as the Red Dao tribe.
Sit and Drink. Sit on the balcony of a hotel overlooking the valleys drinking a beer at sunset - sublime!edit
Hmong Sewing Classes. Indigo Cat provide Hmong Sewing Classes but you also will find a huge selection of local products such as genuine handicrafts, different teas or cardamom. You can find it at 046 Fansipan Str.edit
Trekking, . Sign-up for a trekking trip that enables you to stay overnight at one of the villages. The homestay experience is not uncomfortable (some homestays have hot water showers, while some don't. Red Dao homestays may have herbal baths. Ask in advance if this is important to you) and an enriching one. Bring a sweater, as the villages can be very chilly at night and there are no heat sources of any kind except for the cooking fire in the kitchen. Thick blankets will be provided when you sleep. These treks can be purchased in Hanoi as part of a package, or you can ask for private treks for your party, at USD25-35 per day.. Be aware, however, that most treks organised by Vietnamese people do not really respect the guides (who will mostly be members of the ethnic minorities). Some local organisations guarantee a good income for the local people, not only for the Hanoi-based tour organisations. 150. edit
Homestay, . At the time of writing a typical "classic" tour will costs you around 35/40$ for one night including the trek to the village, including 4 cooked meals and as much rich wine as you can drink. Some of the more remote villages have very few foreign visitors and do not deal with the large volumes of tourists from the 'homestays' on the guided tours. (!)Just a little reminder : Sleeping in houses not officially recognised as homestays can lead to problems for both the host and you if you get caught. You have been warned.(!). If you want to go off the beaten track and still sleep in a comfortable bed check out the new accommodation www.namcangriversidehouse.com. We had a really amazing time here.edit
Heaven's Gate. The mountains will take your breath away. Join a tour or go by rented motorbike. Get directions and a map from the very friendly girls at the tourist centre right in the middle of the town's square. If you go on tour it will be a half day thing with a waterfall nearby thrown in. This waterfall has its own charm. Viewing the mountains is free, though there is a small charge to enter the waterfall. Make sure you bring along wide-angled cameras for the mountains.edit
Go Solo Biking, . Hire a motorbike and head for one of the villages outside of Sapa. When you pay at the pay stations, they give you a pretty good map or you can buy a great 'Tourist Map' for about 20k at the tourist information center. All of the trekking routes are marked (the one you get at the pay station even gives you distances and difficulty). Paths are generally easy to follow and there are a lot of people around to help if you are unsure. Great adventures!248. edit
Sapa Lake. A 5-minute walk from the church will bring you to Sa Pa lake where you can rent a pedal boat for 40,000 dond/30 min or 80,000 dong/hour. Note that the pedal boats are available only on weekends& good weather days.edit
Remote Sapa valley. Catch a free shuttle bus from the Topas Travel Office at 9:30 AM (21 Muong Hoa Street, Sapa) and drive 18 km to the Topas Ecolodge in the remote Muong Hoa valley. From here there is excellent access to various hikes to areas with no tourism (in contrast to busy Sapa). The ecolodge has an excellent restaurant with great views of the mountains.edit
It is possible to change money,and get cash advance on credit cards at the bigger Hotels in Sapa. Furthermore, there are ATMs on the main street that now accept all major cards such as Visa, Mastercard or the Maestro network. Travellers checks are difficult to change.
Make sure that the foreign currency notes you bring along to Sapa are as new and crisp as possible. It is very hard to obtain the local currency with tatty notes. Some hotels will reject the money exchange request. There have been reports of shops taking customer's new crisp notes, switching them with taped up cut ones, and insisting that were the ones the customers gave them.
The usual endless supply of nearly identical tourist trinkets is available at every turn. Although Sapa is famous for its embroidery. There are two types: handmade and machine made. It is easy to tell the difference. Buying direct from the maker is preferable, although prices are highly elastic. When bargaining, try to find out how long it took to make the piece. If you want machine made products, you are better off buying them in the shops - It pays to shop around for the right pair of reproduction Montagnard earrings or fake handicrafts.
The various markets sell clothes, blankets, etc. with colorful designs traditional to the various ethnic minorities in Sapa. Take note that the dye used to give a blue color stains the fingers (and not only the fingers) - which is why many of the women who make them have darkened fingertips. When you wash these clothes the colour will run. (To avoid this, soak them in cold salty water, and make sure you pack them carefully in your bag to take home.)
Be careful buying batteries as some people will sell them with no juice.
Knock-off North Face Gear. There is much imitation North Face gear for sale in Sapa. From Jackets to backpacks to hiking shoes, you can find it all. Be aware that some of the replicas are made in Vietnam and some are from China. Check the tags and barter hard. Remember it's not REAL North Face!
Volunteer activities: V4D (Volunteers 4 community development organisation www.v4d.asia) works to support highland development by cooperating with local communities to set up this, and other, volunteering programs. This program is designed for those who want to discover the natural and cultural wonders of the North of Vietnam, share experiences with the local community, and be face-to-face with these colorful cultures. This experience will provide participants a meaningful program combined with ecological tourism, and plays an incredibly important roll enabling hill tribe people to take full advantage of employment and training opportunities, whether they choose to stay in their communities or decide to earn income in urban areas. Consequently, hill tribe people could enhance their capacities to ensure sustainable rural development based on the skills they acquire from YOU!
The villages, activities, vulnerable groups, visiting place & homestay accommodation have been carefully chosen through a rigorous selection process, ensuring you have a great opportunity to share your talents, creativity, and compassion.
There are more restaurants than one could stomach along the main strip, Pho Cau May; they all have nearly the same menu, with many of them offering, oddly enough, Italian as well as Vietnamese fare. Tread with caution.
Delta restaurant - a top-end restaurant. The food is a sad attempt at Italian food. The pizzas were terrible (and sweet?) but the pasta was a bit better. Too expensive: from US$5 for a pizza. Same for pastas. Wine is very very expensive.
Rose Garden Sapa - a middle-ranged restaurant. The restaurant is located on Phan Xi Pang street, on the way to Cat Cat Village. They have freshly baked baguettes and hamburgers right off their own bakery. The desserts - ice cream, cakes and cookies are sweet delicacies yet at an affordable price.
Little Sapa - a popular, low-priced restaurant on the hill leading out of the main tourist hotel area. Serves outstanding local and decent western dishes to a mixed local/foreign clientele. Features some unique dishes in addition to the fixtures available at any other Sapa restaurant. Try the H'Mong King Style chicken. 18 cau may st.
Baguettes & Chocolate - a café specializing in delicious French pastries. They serve both European and Asian meals as well. Run as a vocational school for disadvantaged youths. Up the stairs northwest of the central plaza. Expect patchy service from the disadvantaged youth.
On the corner facing out onto the lake in the central part of town (up the hill from the tourist hotel area) is a pleasant shop selling local fare, they offer a partly-translated menu with fair prices (10,000-30,000 dong).
At the market - Foodstalls selling good noodlesoup for VND 10.000, fried rice for VND 15.000 and the other usual Vietnamese fare for around VND 30.000. Further more it's a great experience to dine with the locals!
Bombay Indian, 36 pho cau may. Very good North Indian food, with many options for vegetarians. Mains are 4-8USD. As on January, 2013, the restaurant is closed and now runs a Vietnamese buffet instead. edit
The Hill Station, 07 Muong Hoa, . Fine wine, cheese and cold cuts. Home made hams and pâté. Punto Italia coffee. One of the best hamburgers in Sapa.edit
Panorama Retaurant, 039 Fanxipang Sreet (On the top of Sapa Unique Hotel), ☎ +(84)872689. Great view from restaurant, opening kitchen, great local,Vietnamese as well as Western food. Cooking class is fantastic, going the market with the chef to choose the igredient, getting involved into cooking and finally enjoy what you have made. Highly recommended $5. edit
Duc Tu, 8 Pham Xuan Huan. A restaurant serving traditional Sapa food. They do not speak much English but have a menu with a English translation of the dishes and are very friendly. Hot Pot is a speciality. You dip slices of meat into a simmering broth until just cooked. You also add mushrooms and greens. At the end, the broth is very flavoursome and then you add noodles and have noodle soup.edit
Local Grocery Store. to the east of the lake, on the corner of Kim Dong and Ngu Chi Son there is a local grocery store where you can find reasonably priced goods. (i.e. Large Aquafina for 8K, ice tea for 7.5K, Soda for 6.5K)edit
Keep in mind that in Sapa, as in many other provinces of Vietnam, it is the law that you must turn over your passport to your hotel/guesthouse/hostel. However, a photocopy of the main page and your visa should suffice, and if they refuse, simply tell them your real copy is in Hanoi getting a visa extension.
A near-endless supply of cheap rooms are available in the touristy area down the hill from the town centre, and generally a flock of young men and women will leap on you the moment you arrive with offers from US$3 on up (price quoted for a double).
Sapa Graceful Hotel, 09 Fansipan St, ☎ (+84-203) 773 388, . checkin: 12; checkout: 10. A nice and relaxing hotel with boutique interiors.12. (12,10)edit
Ly Tam May Quang's Homestay, Doi 1 - Ta Phin village, ☎ 01666924727, . Altough not located in Sapa but rather 15 km from the town itself, in Ta Phin village. A nice and friendly little homestay run by english, french and vietnamese speaking owners. They can cook any food you like and propose REAL herbal baths at a decent price.US$5. edit
Fansipan View Hotel, Xuan Vien St, ☎ (+84-203) 873 579, . A nice and relaxing hotel with boutique interiors.edit
Hoang Ha Sapa Hotel, Thac Bac St, ☎ + 84 203 872 535, . Conveniently located in the center of Sapa Town in Lao Cai, Vietnam, overlooking the beautiful Muong Hoa Valley. All rooms are equipped with Large balcony with landscape view, Fireplace, Cable TV and Free Wi-Fi Internet access. Some of its facilities and services are Meeting room, Restaurant, Room service and Free high-speed Internet access.edit They offer a bus to the hotel but you have to pay and if you arrive on the early train you sit in the station car park until later trains arrive. The scare stories about overcharging by minibus drivers seemed wrong- it is 50,000 dong everywhere. They also don't want to check you in until 1-2pm. Western breakfast poor.
Green Bamboo Sapa - a hotel with an old wing located near the entrance of the town. It serves a cheap and good breakfast at US$2.50. A night's stay at the main hotel will cost US$25. A room in the old wing will cost about US$10. Rooms in the main and old wing of the hotel, as long as not on the ground floors, will offer a breathtaking view of the Fan Xi Pan mountains.
Khach San Hoang Ha, 10 Thac Bac, . checkout: 10:00am. stands like a haunted Chinese elementary school overlooking Baguette & Chocolate. free internet in the lobby. beds are a bit hard.US$15. edit
Little Sapa - basically a restaurant located near the market, it also serves as a hotel for long-stay travellers, costing US$60/month. Big rooms with balconies, TV, hot water.
Lotus Hotel - located only a few meters from the Royal Hotel. Nice rooms, tea, tv, hot water, restaurant and for some rooms, a fireplace and a nice view. US$4-7. Week-ends are naturally more expensive. The staff is a little bit cold. Hotel closes at 11pm.
Pumpkin Hotel, 42 Cau May str, ☎ 020.872.350. Very friendly and helpful staff. Good sized rooms with desks and computers. Beware the hotel may attempt to charge extra for a space heater at a rate of 150.000vnd. (For the electricity, of course.) If you are staying here as a part of an ET Pumpkin tour make sure to get assurances that your space heater will be included in the price. Get it in writing if you can.$18. edit
Red Dragon Pub, Muong Hoa street (Close to the Holiday Hotel), . Now Unfortunately Closed.edit
The Royal Hotel - located at the bottom of the main street. The rooms provide a nice view over the valley and many open onto a small balcony. It has an attached café offering standard traveller fare (banana or chocolate pancakes, as always in Vietnam, feature) and can help you out with travel arrangements. Rooms with a view over the valley start at $15US (double) while rooms looking back over the town are $12US.
Sapa Global Hotel, No. 18 Pham Xuan Huan St., Sapa Town (across from church, near Central Park), ☎ 020 350 2242, . checkin: any time; checkout: 12pm. Located smack in the center of Sapa, this cozy hotel full of rustic, old world charm has 20 newly renovated rooms all with heating, hot water, satellite TV and wifi. Free internet access is available in the lobby. Breakfast included. Trekking and other tours can be arranged at reception.$15-40USD. edit
Thai Binh Sapa Hotel, Ham Rong Street, Sapa Town, Lao Cai Province, Vietnam (From market, walk straight up from the left of the church. Turn left at the end of the street.), ☎ +84 (020) 3871212, . checkout: 1200. Located at quiet part of Sapa and within 5mins walk from market and restaurant street. Free internet in lobby and Wi-Fi in rooms. Electric heater, electric mattress available in the room. The hotel boss (a local teacher / education officer), and a lady receptionist is very friendly and speak good english. They are able to provide local tour, buy train tickets (Lao Cai train station), and transport to and from Lao Cai train station.US$22 - US$25. edit
Topas Eco Lodge, (30 min drive south of Sapa), ☎ 0203871331, . Perched on beautiful grounds on a hill with stunning views of the surrounding valley. Spacious, detached bungalows, each with their own balcony, making a comfortable double, or can probably even accommodate a small family. The eco part of the title comes partly through the lodge hiring local staff and using solar power and hot water in all of their bungalows. See http://www.topasecolodge.com/. You can catch a free shuttlebus from the Topas Travel office in Sapa (21 Muong Hoa Str. Sapa), where you can also get more information about the lodge.About US$99 per night for a detached bungalow. edit
Mountain Bar & Pub, 02 Muong Hoa, Sapa, Lao Cai (Near Royal Hotel), ☎ 0983889798. Good Bar in Sapa with many flavour Shisha. Good place to drinkedit
Family Guesthouse, 028 Muong Hoa, Sapa, Lao Cai (Near edge of Sapa town), ☎ (+84 203) 872310, (+84)01662624308. Clean but very spartan rooms at the very edge of town. Rooms have no heat, so gets very chilly at night. There are 2 great things about this hotel: a very helpful, honest receptionist who speaks good English, and the rooms have great views of the Fansipan mountains.edit
Sapa Rooms, 18 Phan Xi Pang Street, Sapa, Lao Cai, ☎ +84 (020) 650 5228, . Great little boutique hotel with a ground floor restaurant that serves a wide range of good dishes and has free WiFi. They can arrange tours with local guides and optional home stays, with a percentage of the profits going directly to support local community projects and schools. Also rent motorbikes, offer cooking classes, opportunities to volunteer in local communities, accepts clothing donations, etc.edit
Homely Villa in Sapa (Villa for Best Experience in Sa Pa), . checkin: 2:00pm; checkout: 12:00pm. Located on a 6000sqm native plant garden, this villa has got an indoor fireplace to keep you warm and also Wi-Fi Internet. It also offers free transfer to and from their BnB to town which makes travelling convenient. More importantly, within walking distance to the villages of H'mong and Red Dao ethnic people, it is an excellent starting point to explore the charm of Sa Pa.USD$45. edit
SaPa Backpackers, 06 Ham Rong St. Sa Pa (From market, walk straight up from the left of the church. Turn left at the end of the street, next door from Thai Binh), ☎ +8401644225438, . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Sapa Backpackers hasv a lovely athmosphere and problably the cheapest rooms you can find in town. You can also make a lot of local friends that may take you for some tasty food around town =D$3 - $6. edit
Sapa Hostel, 01 Hoang Lien Street, Sapa (From the central square, walk uphill, turn left and then walk up the driveway of Cau May Hotel). Friendly hostel/hotel in a huge, mansion-like house. Staff is incredibly friendly and will help with tours, maps and questions. Rents out Motos $4//$5 for manual/automatic. dm from $5, privates from $10. edit
Trip Advisor Tours (information tour sapa free), Ham Rong street, Sapa Town, Vietnam, ☎ 84986926608, . is a major supplier to the travel information places in sapa in Vietnam and the region. General Department of Vietnam tourism grant, with any questions they have resolved for you, providing any information to the tourists are complimentaryedit
U Sapa, 8 Cau May, ☎ 020 3871 996, . U Sapa is located in the heart of city close to City Center Park that is best suited for domestic and international leisure travellers to experience the Sapa lifestyle and what’s happening in town. Architecture and interior are designed in beautiful French Colonial style with a indigenous twist combined with services that are delivered in a U’s unique concept whether be it free Wi-Fi, breakfast whenever/wherever and 24 hours use of room, ensuring guests a totally relaxed holiday experience to recharge and reconnect to the local environment and its nature, bringing back with them the most memorable moments of a life time.edit
Lao Cai. There is a public bus service to Lao Cai, leaving from near the church in the main square, for between 20,000d and 28,000d per person (large bags are an additional 15,000d). The buses are white, yellow and red. The first bus leaves at 7:00, and the last around 17:00. Note that this is an extremely bumpy ride, and many passengers tend to get sick - the staff offers plastic bags, water and moist towelettes to the passengers. edit
Cat Cat Village, . The ethnic Cat Cat is a few kilometers' walk from Sapa. You're not likely to get lost - just walk down the road out of Sapa, which should be marked on maps, and after a while you'll find a path which descends the hill to your left. This path runs through the village before climbing another hill back to the road. This walk provides a good chance to observe Vietnamese farming and farm animals, and there are excellent views. The walk back up can be difficult (it is steep in parts) but once you get back onto the road there are plenty of enterprising locals ready to take you back to Sapa on motorbikes (40,000VND per person per bike, but remember to try negotiate the price even lower). Entrance to the village is currently 40,000 VND. Elderly persons should skip this Cat Cat trek. Nothing much actually. Walking down you see a few home cottage industries like fabrics, carving , art shops. In the middle of the trek, you come to a restplace, with a so-so waterfall, and a supposedly minority village which is a block of dwelling, like compartmentalised units in one building, and no sign of any activity. Nice stroll if you have a morning or afternoon free.edit
Small step-through Honda motorcycles can be rented in the touristy parts of town, as well as near the petrol station on the road leading to Lao Cai, for US$3-6 depending on the amount of time rented and your bargaining skills (i.e. determination). Day trips into the surrounding countryside can be very rewarding, although a good up-to-date map and a healthy dose of caution is required as roads are winding and populated with all manner of conveyance, and markings can be misleading as the North undergoes some odd town-relocation schemes.
You may be able to hire a guide, or join a group, to visit the various ethnic villages in the area by jeep and/or boat. The various travel agencies in town, or the people at your hotel, should be able to give details. A long time and serious agency you could try to contact is Vietnam Nomad Trails (31 Fan Xi Pan street - on the way to Cat Cat village.)
For those looking to go farther afield, the road to Dien Bien Phu is simply stunning and makes for a fantastic 4-5 day return trip. Always give yourself plenty of daylight hours to return home, however, as highly changeable weather could strand you in dense fog without notice, especially during the winter months. There is also a bus to DBP which runs from the tourist office at 7.30am each day, and costs $11.
Try to arrive at the Lao Cai with a couple of hours to spare and you can zip to the border (5 minutes away) on taxis (cheaply). The locals do it regularly because it's like one big bazaar with carnival atmosphere overflowing with merchandise of everything under the sun.