Sapa is like a little German or Austrian Mountain town but without the class and paved roads. Yet, still very charming. It surpassed my expectations for sure.
There are endless activities and ways to spend your time in Sapa. But this post is about how to do Sapa like the Millers…lazy. We wouldn’t normally classify ourselves as lazy, but in Sapa we just wanted to see natural beauty, without working for it. Judge us if you may.
So, continue reading for a photo diary + guide to Sapa that doesn’t involve hiking, treking or working for views.
Sapa was larger than I expected. There is far more to do and see around town than I knew of. So we started our sunny day by renting a scooter and exploring the old town of Sapa. There are colorful buildings, a river that meanders through the town, an amphitheater, and shops galore.
Like I stated earlier, Sapa was much cuter than I had anticipated. Of course it still has the organized chaos with dirt roads, which I DID expect.
Before your road trip, stop at Fansipan Terrace Cafe for some mediocre breakfast. Why would you settle for a mediocre breakfast? Because that’s about all you’ll find in Sapa; but you’re not here for the breakfast. You’re here for the VIEW.
After breakfast, hit the road (which will be rough) to the “Gates of Heaven” in the O Quy Ho Pass. This was under construction when we arrived. But the drive is gorgeous and you’ll see plenty of waterfalls and attractions along the way.
We hit this up on the way back from the Gates of Heaven. But you could do it on the way as well. It’s a quick few hundred steps up to a bridge where you get a better view of the waterfall. Then right back down the other side, and you’re done. Worth a stop I think.
There is a big ol’ sign for this one. You can’t miss it. It’s a short jaunt to the waterfall. Which was not overly impressive, but still beautiful. When you arrive at the first waterfall (pictured below), you are not done. Well, we were. But you can go further up some stairs to see a larger one. Coming from the Pacific Northwest really skews our expectations for waterfalls. So we headed back to the scooter because we had more to see!
If I am being frank…I don’t know if this was actually the Gates of Heaven we were looking for. But we were pretty sure. There was a HUGE glass building under construction with steps up to a view point, housing this bad boy – your typical “Gates of Heaven” structure seen all over Southeast Asia.
It was good enough for us!
We bought our tickets in the mall center, via asking four humans where to go. If you plan ahead, you’ll likely be better off than us.
The cable car experience actually starts via a funicular ride up to the cable car boarding area. It’s a short ride, and does cost more. You can drive yourself to the Sun World Base Camp as well. We passed in on the way down from our road trip but didn’t realize it until we got back into town.
This is where you’ll actually board the cable car.
We had a car all to ourselves, which was UH-MAZING. They’re huge and VERY sturdy. Sun World is a company you see all over Southeast Asia and specifically in Vietnam. We had great experiences with them on all our cable car rides in various cities and countries.
I will warn you…when the wind blows, you feel it, AND HEAR IT. While it was a nice day, fact still remained that we were in the mountains. The valleys which the cable car run through pick up some serious wind. I feel I would have been less terrified if I knew what I was in for. Which is why I share my experience here. We were safe, all was well, but I’d be lying if I said the wind wasn’t nerve-racking.
All photos below are from inside the cable car. It’s a LONG cable car ride.
When you reach the top, you literally feel like you’re in clouds. Because, you are. You can see where the cable cars arrive in the first photo below. Once you get to the top, the walking, and stair cases begin. You do have to do some work to reach the top of Mt. Fansipan.
We explored every staircase and statue at the summit. The pathways are very intuitive and easy to follow. It’s hard to miss anything. I would suggest to anyone visiting Sapa, to make Mt. Fansipan a top priority. The views, temples and architecture are more than worth it. Take a look for yourself.
Remember that Mt. Fansipan is over 10,000 feet in elevation…your ears will pop on the way up, and it will be extremely windy at the top. I had to pull my hair back as you can see. We even took video of the clouds. I have never seen clouds move so quickly and drastically in all my life. And the experience is intensified by the fact that you’re IN the clouds. They were literally crawling around the mountain tops. It’s hard to put into words, but I certainly hope you experience it.
Seasons matter in Sapa. We weren’t looking to hike through the patty fields. In fact, we didn’t plan to enter the patty fields at all as it wasn’t the “photogenic” season. We were there during the rainy/foggy/misty season. But weather in Sapa is unpredictable. It’s in the mountains. And as you may know, mountains tend to create their own weather. That is certainly true for Sapa.
We were there for three full days. Two days were so foggy and wet, we could barely see the patty fields at all. And the mountains were non-existent. We lucked out with ONE 75 degree, clear sky day. And on that day, we did EVERYTHING you just read about in this blog post.
This means you really only need ONE day in Sapa. But it might be safer to book a few days in order to give yourself a better chance at good weather.
We stayed in the Diamond hotel and I would HIGHLY recommend it. We wanted a nicer hotel with a view of the rice patty fields because we weren’t there to hike or trek or spend a lot of time outside our accommodation. So we went with a double queen room + a view with a balcony. All photos you saw of the patty fields and city of Sapa facing the patty fields, were taken from our balcony.
I definitely suggest staying in a location that allows you to face the rice patties and mountains if you can. Even on the foggy, misty days (which is most of the time), it’s a mystical experience. You can’t go wrong with a view.
We booked through 12Go Asia. Our tour was from Hanoi to Sapa to Cat Ba. You can literally book any combination you like. It was A LOT of travel. But if you are just going from Hanoi to Sapa and back, that’s not bad. Our van was comfortable and everything went smoothly.
You need to go to Sapa if you like greenery, mountains or rice patty fields. It was a truly magical place, with so much history and natural beauty. The town was cuter than I expected with more food options and very kind people. Typical of Vietnam.
It might take a bit of work to get to Sapa, but it’s worth it. You can make it a lazy vacation like us, or go trekking through the patty fields. Shoot, you can even trek up to Mt. Fansipan if you really want to. You can find dirt cheap hostels, stay with locals or stay in a four star hotel with a view. As you can see, Sapa likely has what you need.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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