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Resting close to the border between Vietnam and China, Sa Pa is a culturally rich gem tucked away in Northwest Vietnam nestled in the high mountains of Hoàng Liên Son. Vietnam itself has many "untouched by civilizations" gems like these, but Sa Pa holds a special place even in this circle. One of them is being the home for several minority groups such as the Hmong, the Giày, the Phù Là, the Tay and the Yao ethnicities. The lineage of these racial groups can be traced back to the 15th century where more than 200 carved stone boulders found around Sa Pa and nominated as an UNESCO world heritage site, tell the humble origins of these unique cultures. Experts believe the name of the area itself originated from the Hmong language, since the original hamlet discovered by the French in the late 1880s was called "Sa Pa" or "Chapa" by its inhabitants. Sa Pa grew to be a popular township among European colonists due to its attractive continental climate, eventually having a sanitorium and private villas built there. Today, Sa Pa is in a total economic boom, welcoming thousands of tourists yearly who either trek the paths between villages, admire the delicate terraced rice fields dug out on the side of hills like emerald steps, or explore the last primary rain forest in Vietnam right here in Sa Pa (due to the significantly pristine climate), Sa Pa is steeped deep in history and nature that leaves you with more after visiting it.
Sa Pa's weather is unique compared to other parts of Vietnam due to it being one of the few places that experiences heavy snowfall. Few tourists visit Sa Pa during this period of mid-December to February, as the rare winters with foggy cold weather can turn quite harsh instead of the light or moderate snowfall most tourists expect. However, if you prepare and stay safe, Sa Pa at this time can be quite a magical sight to behold. Temperatures can average from -6.1°C to 29.2°C, so be mindful of sudden weather changes.
March to May heralds the warm and dry season in Sa Pa, and this is where the area sees a huge slew of outdoor enthusiasts arriving at its shores. This is trekking and hiking season, so be prepared to deal with such crowds or be part of it when you arrive at Sa Pa during this time. Temperatures can range from 4.2°C to 29.8°C during this time period.
June to late September signals the cool and wet weather of the year for Sa Pa. This is where the highest frequency of local tourists hit up Sa Pa, while the cool dry weather peaks at late September to mid December, making it comfortable trekking and photo-taking weather. Temperatures can range from 8.7°C to 27.2°C during this time period.
With no native airport and few roads leading to and from the area, transportation options of getting to Sa Pa is extremely restricted. The most popular being by overnight train, or sleeper car. This means that you board a train from your starting point (most travellers bound for Sa Pa begin from Hanoi) and spend the night on it until you reach the following day. The train system runs both effeciently and punctually, having a full train schedule and prices for varying travelling groups. Whether you are moving with simply your significant other or more people, the sleeper cars will have the suitable accommodation for you. Visit the website hereto find a comprehensive train schedule from Sa Pa as well as booking links.
Prices vary between the different sleeper cars: but they can start from 155,000 VND and cost up to 2,350,000 VND depending on the size and the comfort level you desire your sleeper car to be.
With few asphalt roads and mostly narrow winding dirt paths, it is expected to see the omnipresent Vietnamese figure of the Xe Om filling the paths and roads of Sa Pa. They are mobile, cheap, quick and most drivers are part of the township itself. Some of these riders even speak English, so don't turn down this daunting-looking transport down when in Sa Pa, or indeed in any part of Vietnam.
Just like any other metered taxi cab, Xe Oms charge according to kilometres of the distance travelled to your destination. Prices can range from 10,000 to 15,000 VND.
Another versatile mode of transport to get around Sa Pa, it is no wonder that renting a bike in Sa Pa becomes nigh impossible, making it a more sensible and safer option to book yours prior arriving in Sa Pa. This is to not only avoid would-be hustlers and sandbaggers, the weekend and holiday peak periods also lessen your chances of successfully renting one.
Generally, rental rates in Sa Pa start from 80,000 VND to 240,000 VND per day, depending on the make and type of your rental bike.
Local Operators: Lao Cai Tourism Information Center – No. 02 Fansipan, Sapa District, Lao Cai province. Contact: 043 994 2811 or +84 935 999 886 Hoang Ha Hotel - No. 08B, Thac Bac Street, Sapa Town, Sapa District, Lao Cai Province. Tel: 0203 872 535 or 0918 324 535 Mr. Nghia - 21 Thach Son. Sapa District, Lao Cai province. Tel: 0983 644588 or 0973865292.