High in Vietnamâ€™s remote northwest mountains, the old French hill station of Sapa is today among the countryâ€™s most popular destinations, providing an unrivaled mix of adventure, climate, and culture. The town, sited around a small lake at an elevation of 1,600 meters, is surrounded by terraced rice fields and highland scenery, including the sharp-edged peak of Mount Fansipan, the tallest peak in Indochina. Trekkers here can also count on memorable encounters with the colorful ethnic minoritiesâ€”Hmong, Red Dao, Tay, Giayâ€”that inhabit these hills. But unless you want to contend with the fog (and occasional snow) of Sapaâ€™s winter, or the rain of the Juneâ€“September wet season, spring is the ideal time to visitâ€”dry, clear, and clement. And for diehard hikers, this may well be one of the last chances to enjoy the views from atop Mount Fansipan in near solitude: slated to open in September is a cable car that will cut the three-day trek to the summit to just 15 minutes, whisking as many as 2,000 people up the mountain every hour. â€”David Tse
Night trains from Hanoi cover the 300 kilometers to Lao Cai City, the provincial capital, in eight hours. (Guests of the Victoria Sapa Resort will want to avail themselves of the exclusive Victoria Express Train, which offers the most comfortable carriages on the tracks.) From there, itâ€™s an hourâ€™s drive by taxi or hotel shuttle along the scenic, sinuous road to Sapa.
Where to Stay
Sapa has accommodations to suit any budget. At the top end is the 77-room Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa (84-20/387-1522; doubles from US$150), with a chalet-style setting above the western end of the lake. A 45-minute drive from town, Topas Eco Lodge (84-20/387-1331; doubles from US$110) offers a hilltop escape overlooking the villages of Thanh Kim and Ban Ho.
There is no shortage of trekking companies in Sapa, most of which offer walks along the popular southerly route to Ta Van village. For something different, contact Sapa Sisters, an all-female, Hmong-owned outfit that takes guests off the usual tourist circuit.
This article originally appeared in theÂ April/MayÂ print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śSpringtime In Sapaâ€ť).