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Sapa City

Sapa has ample places to stay from budget options to enticing luxury choices. Most hotels overlook the valley, and feature views of Mt Fansipan and the Hoang Lien mountains. There are places further into town, up the hill, but with so many places lower down offering an affordable peek at the panorama, there's very little need to consider them — with a few exceptions. Your chief concern, arriving on a cold winter's day, should be heating — go for a room with a fireplace or decent heater. Hotels that don't offer tours, train tickets, visa arrangements and market trips are rare. Sapa can get extremely busy so if you've set your heart on somewhere or don't fancy trekking around trying to find an available room then book in advance. It's also worth noting that prices can go up at the weekend and hotels can be vague and inconsistent when providing hotel prices — so the prices here should be taken as a guide only.

Trekking


Most hotels offer trekking all throughout Sapa's surrounding hills and valleys. Overnight stays are usually spent drinking and eating with the locals — a great chance to brush up on the local lingo over gecko wine.

There are one-day trips out to Lao Chai, Ta Van and the Silver Waterfall — a less well-trodden tourist path — and two- or three-day trips to Muong Huong, Cao Son and Coc Ly or through the lowlands to any one of a number of minority villages.

Alternately you can make the trip on your own with a trip down to Cat Cat village and a walk or bike ride back up passing half a day. Another popular DIY trip is out to Taphin village, which should take four to five hours.

With so many agencies vying for your dollar, it's hard to know who will give you the best value. The truth is that even a reputable agency can occasionally deal out a bum tour, and even a scammer can have their good days. But the region is beautiful in and of itself, and the ethnic minorities don't change from tour to tour, so as long as you're not paying more than you can afford, you're liable to have a memorable trip no matter what hassles and complications arise along the way.

Two agencies we visited on our recent trip who were helpful, spoke good English and provided good value tours were Sapa TravelMate and Vietnam Nomad Trails Ltd.

Handspan is a popular option, but their tours are a bit pricier. However, they have offices in Hanoi and HCMC if you're keen to get something booked up in advance:

Markets


The local markets in the region are unlike anything you're likely to have seen elsewhere in Vietnam. These aren't town and city markets with meat and veggies for sale — these are genuine country markets, with livestock trading and, myriad handcrafte

Minorities living high in the hills walk hours on end to get here just to pick up a new plow-head or a wooden saddle. They are also social centres for clans living in disparate circumstances and the scenes on display are like something out of National Geographic.

The markets in the western part of the province, in and around Bac Ha, can be visited on daytrips from Sapa — expect to pay around $10 - 12 — but it's a long time on the bus, so we highly recommend visiting those out of Lao Cai, or better yet, Bac Ha. One worthwhile market that is more convenient from Sapa is the Sunday Muong Hum Market, 30km to the northwest. As yet un-reviewed by us, but we ran into some folks who raved about the trip.

Waterfalls


If you've already scheduled a trek elsewhere, there's no need to squeeze this into your itinerary. But if you've got an idle day on your hands, the weather is fair, and you're up for an excursion, this is an easy and very worthwhile option.

There's no real consensus on what to call the falls — some call them the Cat Cat Falls (Cat Cat is just the Vietnamese transliteration of the word cascade) while other call them the Sapa Falls.

To get here, just head down Fansipan Road and keep going. Shortly after Sapa Goldensea Hotel you'll reach the ticket booth where you'll be asked for 20,000 VND. The road creeps along the edge of the mountain with some beautiful views.

After a few downhill kilometres, you'll find the entrance to Cat Cat Village marked by a gate, easily spotted in a cluster of cafes and restaurants. Proceed down the steps, through the rice fields, to the village and falls. There are no shortage of cafes, stalls and dirty children on the way.

You can take a dip by crossing the bridge near the falls and sliding down the embankment on the other side. Not the most spectacular falls in the world, but it's a very pleasant way to spend half a day.

On the other side of the bridge, there is a Fairy Stream which can be visited if you've got the legs to add it in and it's possible to extend your walk further with a trip to Xin Chai village. Some agencies charge for this trip, but that is sort of unnecessary — it's just about impossible to get lost.

To finish up, continue past the falls to along the path to the entrance gate, about a kilometre further on. From there, you can walk back, or take up one of the motorcycle taxi drivers on their offer of a ride — usually about 50,000 VND per person. If you're on a motorbike and not keen on walking, blow past the Cat Cat gate and continue down to the entrance gate where you can park and walk to the falls, 1km each way.

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