Sa Pa (Sapa) and North west Vietnam
Sa Pa is a small market town around 350km northwest of Hanoi and close to the Chinese border.
Sa Pa is close to Vietnam’s highest mountain, Phan Xi Păng (Fan Si Pan), and is within Hoang Lien National Park.
The area is popular with people looking to explore the national park, mountains, local tribes and traditional Vietnamese life.
The weather in Sa Pa and the rest of Hoang Lien National Park is very different to elsewhere in Vietnam. Weather can vary even within different areas of the national park.
Wet season runs from May (346mm/13.6in and 22.5 wet days) to September (313mm/12.3in and 18 wet days). The wettest month is July averaging 465mm/18.3in and around 26 wet days. This is also the hottest time of the year with average highs of around 23°C/73°F and lows of 17°C/63°C during June to August. Temperatures can still drop to 10°C/50°C or below at times.
Rainfall and temperatures decrease from October with December 64mm/2.5in and 12 wet days) and January (63mm/2.5in and 15 wet days) being the driest months. Average high temperatures in December and January are only around 6°C/43°F. Temperatures do drop below freezing and have fallen to -6°C/21°F in the past.
Snow falls on the mountain peaks in most years and last fell in Sa Pa town in 2016.
Vietnam Airlines are the only airline flying direct from the UK to Vietnam, with flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Most people will travel to Sa Pa by overnight train (9 hours) or road (at least 10 hours) from Hanoi.
Sa Pa itself is relatively small and easily explored on foot. Transport is required to visit most locations in the mountains and national park which can be arranged in town.
Where to Stay in Sa Pa
Despite its size there are a number of options for accommodation in the area including: Eco Palms House – Sapa Retreat (***), Eco Villas & Spa (****), La Dao Spa Homestay (**), Lacasa Sapa Hotel (****), Sapa 17 Hotel (***), Sapa Clay House – Mountain Retreat (***) and Topas Ecolodge (****).
Photo credit Giau Tran on Unsplash
What to do in Sa Pa
Most people head to Sa Pa to explore the National Park. Many of the treks are not for the faint-hearted however and even the relatively short 19km route from Sa Pa to Phan Xi Păng will test many due to the terrain and unpredictable weather.
The National Park is home to many rare animals and plant life and is a draw to many people looking to enjoy the unique attractions the mountains and forests have to offer.
Bac Ha (Sundays, 2.5 hours from Sa Pa) and Coc Ly (Tuesdays 1.5 hours from Sa Pa) markets are both excellent stops during your trip to Sa Pa if you want to witness, and take part, in a genuine Vietnamese tribal markets undiluted by tourism. Sa Pa town itself also has plenty of markets and stalls, don’t expect many tourist shops however.
Photo credit Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash
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