Staying in the far north, close to the Chinese border crossing at Lao Cai, and nestled in the misty mountains, lies the beautiful town of Sa Pa. This part of the country has become popular with trekkers, who make a bee line for the rugged, untouched natural beauty of the area’s mountain terrain. Buses run from Hanoi and take just under eight hours. If you are coming from Lao Cai, there is also a fairly regular bus which takes just over an hour to reach Sa Pa. Once you have arrived in the town, the best way to get around is on foot.
Sa Pa is a place in which the country’s ethnic minorities form a majority. Many of them have realized the allure that their culture and costumes hold for traveler, and you may be asked to buy trinkets and hand-made souvenirs from them. On the other hand, many travelers want to have their pictures taken with local people in costume. Most of the time, people will be happy to oblige for free, but it is important to always ask for permission before taking a photo of a local person.
Due to the popularity of the town, a number of backpacker hostels, restaurants and bars have sprung up to cater for the incoming crowds. It is possible to share a drink with travelers from around the world in the evening and then have an entire mountain panorama to yourself the following morning.
If you don’t fancy trekking alone, you can sign up for tours with local guides who will show you the most impressive sights of the area. Be sure to visit Heaven’s Gate – the most spectacular view in all Sa Pa. You might also be interested in a longer tour, in which case you can arrange a homestay with a local family on your route. Alternatively, take a poncho and a warm blanket with you, and rent a motorbike from the town to see as much as you can in one day.
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