If you’re travelling to Northern Vietnam for the first time, Sapa is a place I would strongly recommend. In this blog, I will share a detailed 3D2N Sapa travel guide to help you prepare for your first visit to this beautiful town.

Sapa is a small, mountainous town 350km northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam. It lies amidst beautiful mighty mountains and is surrounded by brilliant green rice terraces. What’s more, the country’s highest peak, Fan Si Pan, can also be found here, among the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. Definitely a worthwhile visit if you’re keen to treat yourself to some verdant landscapes of Vietnam!

Further, this town is inhabited by at least five groups of indigenous local minorities. It is a great place to interact with the various ethnic groups and immerse yourself in the local culture of Vietnam!

3D2N Itinerary in Sapa, Vietnam

Day 1: Overnight Train from Hanoi-Lao Cai – Full Day Hike in the Mountains – Vietnamese Rice Roll Making with your Local Homestay

  • Board the overnight train from Hanoi at around 9pm
  • Arrive at Lao Cai train station at 4.30am
  • Survive the bumpy bus ride towards Sapa
  • Enjoy a warm shower followed by breakfast at the Sapa Sisters headquarters
  • Pack your bags for the 3D2N Hiking trip
  • Saddle up and there you go on your 12km hike for the day in the mountains
  • Have a home-cooked local lunch amidst the beautiful sceneries
  • Arrive at your homestay location before the sun sets
  • Experience making your own Vietnamese rice rolls with your local homestay family
  • Have a good rest to prepare for a full-day hike the next day

Day 2: Getting awed by the Beautiful rice terraces – Batik Painting with Hmong – Enjoy Vietnamese Rice Wine with your Local Homestay

  • Wake up to fresh mountainous air
  • Be amazed by the taste of Vietnamese drip coffee and banana crepes for breakfast
  • Pack up and bid your goodbyes to the homestay family
  • Embark on your next 10km full-day hike
  • Be welcomed by the picturesque views of lush green rice terraces
  • Experience a local lunch in a small town and stock up on mineral water
  • Have a go at Batik painting mid-town with one of the local shops with the H’mong villagers
  • Arrive at your next homestay family before the sun sets and wash up
  • Appreciate some Vietnamese rice wine with the local family into the night

Day 3: Dipping in the Refreshing Waterfall – Souvenirs/ Local Snacks Shopping – Overnight train back to Hanoi

  • Enjoy a cold dip in the nearby waterfall to rest your aching body
  • Feast on a local lunch and savour the last of the plump Vietnamese rice
  • Get on the taxi for a comfortable car ride back to the Sapa Sisters headquarters
  • Shop for some local gifts or snacks at a local supermarket
  • Get ready for the bumpy bus ride back to Lao Cai train station
  • Board the overnight train back to Hanoi

Iconic Highlights of Sapa, Vietnam

1. Rice Terraces of Sapa, Vietnam

rice terraces sapa vietnam
Hiking through the green rice terraces in September

Sapa, Vietnam is well known for their rice terraces. The never-ending sight fills up the entire landscape when you’re trekking through the mountains. However, do note to pick the right time to visit if you want to catch the terraces at their brilliant green shade. The best time to visit would be sometime from June to September. Although there may be showers of rain, you’ll still get your fair share of dry days to complete the hike at ease. I trekked in Sapa sometime early September, and the weather was a good balance of sun and light showers. The overall view was still amazing nevertheless!

The next best season to visit the terraces would be some time from October to November. This is when the rice terraces change to a gorgeous wave of golden brown and that’s when you’ll know that it’s ready for harvesting. If you’re observant enough, you’ll see farmers harvesting their fields as you hike past the hills!

2. Homestay Experience with the Local Minority Tribes

Us and our guide from Sapa Sisters

Going on a Homestay experience at Sapa was probably one of our bestest decisions I’ve made there. I booked mine with Sapa Sisters, and they definitely made my experience memorable and hassle-free. All I needed to do was to pack my bag with my own necessities. Everything else was taken care of by the wonderful guides. Our accommodation, meals, the multi-day trek route, rest stops, transport around Sapa were all planned by them.

The most memorable part of the homestay was that we got to have fragrant home-cooked Vietnamese rice for nearly every meal. In addition, we even experienced making our own Vietnamese rice rolls and tried some home-made Vietnamese rice wine. The best part about this was knowing that our money spent actually directly benefit these guides from the local minority groups. That made my experience at Sapa even more meaningful!

3. Fansipan, the Highest Peak of Sapa, Vietnam

fansipan sapa vietnam
The peak of Fansipan

Fansipan, the country’s highest peak, is also found amidst Sapa, among the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. It towers to a magnificent height of 3,143 meters and is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. There are two options you can choose from to explore Fansipan.

Firstly, you can choose to challenge yourself to the hike up to the top for that picturesque view of the countryside. Otherwise, if you’re just looking for a relaxed way to get to the peak, you’re in for some luck since there’s a cable car that brings you all the way to the peak effortlessly! Only bane is that it may be so foggy that you may not be able to see the famous stunning mountain scenery.

4. Experience an Overnight Local Train from Hanoi – Lao Cai

sapa overnight train
On the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai

Have you tried taking an overnight local train in Vietnam? If not, this overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, en route to Sapa would be a great experience for any first-timers. It is really a hassle-free and affordable experience that I would not mind doing again! In addition, I do feel quite safe while taking the train, only that we did not get to pick who our bunk mates were. Hence, if you’re worried about safety, plan to travel in a group of four so as to secure a full cabin to yourselves.

What’s more, I found the two biggest advantages of taking the overnight train and hence, would recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Sapa, Vietnam:

  • Saving money on a night’s accommodation as you spend it on the train travelling to your next location, and
  • Saving time you use sleeping overnight to get to your next destination especially if you’re tight on your schedule. It’s fun to wake up and know you’re in a new city!

5. Batik Painting with the Hmongs in Sapa, Vietnam

Hmong Batik painting

Batik Painting is actually a symbolic language used by the Hmong minority group as they do not have a written language historically. The Hmong created symbols from their surroundings to represent something. All these were used before a time when majority of people could read or write. These symbols are then used throughout their batiked cloth.

Going through this activity gave me a first-hand experience into the richness of Hmong culture. It was also a good excuse for me to rest my tired legs after nearly 2 full days of trekking! As the dye portion of the process also took time, we only spent enough time there seeing our Hmong batik artist dye our designs once before we left for our homestay. It was only at the next day before leaving Sapa for Hanoi, that we collected the completed Batik from our guides. They arranged for the Batik to be sent back to the Sapa Sisters headquarter so we did not have to worry about heading back to collect it. Love the great planning there!

How to get to Sapa, Vietnam?

The best way to get into Sapa would be from Hanoi. The great news is most airlines do fly directly to Hanoi, so that’s where you’ll want to land.

On the shuttle bus towards Sapa from Lao Cai

1. From Hanoi by Train

I personally would recommend to reach Sapa by train via the overnight train from Hanoi. It’s a nine-hour ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai, before another 45 minutes of road travel into Sapa. Tickets need to be booked in advance from the Hanoi Train Station and costs about US$35 one-way. I took the soft sleeper cabin option so I could rest up before the full day hike the next day. Read about my experience on the train here.

Once you arrive at Lao Cai, you can take the public bus to get to Sapa. That should cost you around 30,000 dong (US$1.50). I took the option of getting our guide to pre-arrange our transport for us at US$3.50 per ride. Although it was slightly more expensive, I thought it was good to give me that peace of mind of trying to find my own ride. Do take note that there are many touting going on at the train station too, so take care finding your transport!

2. From Hanoi by Bus

Another option is to take the bus to Sapa Vietnam from Hanoi.The bus takes around six hours from Hanoi and drops you off right at the center of Sapa town. This saves you the trouble from having to find your own shuttle bus into Sapa.

There are a few types of buses to pick from too, form luxurious limousine vans to sleeper buses. One thing that impresses me is that you even get complimentary Wi-Fi on the buses! Talk about staying connected even while in the rural areas. Buses depart at all times of day from Hanoi, so you can easily find one that suits your itinerary too. Prices range from US$10 for the more economical options and up to US$18 or more for the more luxurious ones.

Do take note that although buses are more affordable and time-efficient, the mountain roads can be quite bumpy and dangerous. That’s why I would still pick the train option if given a second go at this trip, but again, all for your own considerations!

Getting around Sapa, Vietnam

sapa rice fields hiking vietnam
With my guide, Mai trekking through the mountains

Sapa is a really small town on its own and you can navigate around Sapa either on foot or by motorcycle. Given that there are really narrow and steep streets, I chose to explore the little town via foot then. There are plenty of places for food, massages and even supermarkets for some souvenir shopping.

Our guide, Mai, even offered to bring us to her humble abode after we completed our multi-day trek. It was an eye-opener for me to see how the locals lived in Sapa and I greatly appreciate that kind gesture from Mai to fulfill my curiousity.

Best time to visit Sapa, Vietnam

I would choose June to September as the best time to visit Sapa, Vietnam. You will be able to see lush green rice terraces and enjoy the hike at comfortable temperatures. The amount of rain then is also bearable and does not affect the overall hike too.

6 Things you must pack for Sapa, Vietnam

That’s all I needed for my 3D2N trek!

Sapa is a place that actually experiences all four seasons. Temperature varies a lot in a span of a day and especially because it’s in the mountains. Here are 5 things you would want to pack for your trip:

  1. A Lightweight Down Jacket – Would be perfect if it is waterproof too, otherwise, bring along a light poncho
  2. A Sleeping Bag – To be used on the overnight train and as an additional cover for the nights that can get really cold
  3. Mosquito Repellent
  4. Wet Wipes or Hand Sanitisers – This was especially useful before meals in the midst of the day hike.
  5. Portable Charger – To charge your devices sufficiently so you don’t miss out on taking beautiful pictures of your surroundings
  6. Hiking Boots – The trek can get slippery with the erratic weather, so proper footwear with good grip would be preferable.

Budgeting for Sapa, Vietnam

I signed up for a package with Sapa Sisters for the ease and convenience of having to plan the details on my own. My budget was to keep things around SG$500 to SG$600, and I managed to do so with an additional day in Hanoi. So, do tweak things around to suit your budget!

Flights from Singapore to HanoiSG$189 (US$135)
Overnight Train from Hanoi – Lao Cai (two-way)SG$93 (US$66)
Local Bus Ride from Lao Cai to Sapa (two-way)SG$10 (US$7)
Accommodation/ Food/ Guide/ Transport around SapaSG$170 (US$122)
Batik Painting (Optional)SG$24 (US$17)
Cash (Optional)SG$50 (US$35)
TotalSG$536 (US$382)

Visa requirements

Vietnam offers visa exemptions to travelers from 24 countries, and e-Visas to travelers from 80 countries. You can easily apply for a visa on arrival online if you do need one. Singaporeans do not require a visa if the visit is within 30 days.

That’s it! Hope this travel guide to Sapa, Vietnam is useful in helping you plan for your trip there. Stay safe and have fun in your travels!

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