The first thing travelers should know about Sapa is that it is one of highlands in Vietnam - 1,600m above sea level. That means a leisurely stroll to the nearest tribe village is more like an hour-long trek up and down some steep slopes. It is not a destination that travelers should tackle without some mental and physical preparation.
Having said that, Sapa is a sight to behold. The Hoang Son Lien range of mountains, which dominates it and includes Fansipan - Vietnam's highest peak at 3,143m - is the eastern extremity of the Himalayas.
Even on wet days, the landscape is not a total washout: Rolling mists blanket the valleys and lowlands, giving it a veil of mystery.
When travelers were there in October, the temperature hovered between a cool 16°C and 19°C but travelers were told it could dip to zero in winter and push the mercury to 29°C in summer.
The best time to visit this quaint town is from March to June, when it's warmer and drier - making the mountains easier to scale - or from September to December, if travelers want to escape the heat.
When it's wet, escape into the many cafes about Sapa town where a piping hot coffee or rich hot chocolate will return the color to traveler’s faces. Once a French colony, Sapa's pastries and breads are the softest and fluffiest travelers’ve ever had, with toasty crusts to thaw traveler’s frigid fingers.
Myriad cuisines, from Indian to Italian, can be found in Sapa town. The adventure of tourism has ensured that different palates from all over the world are catered to. Although, personally, nothing warms the tummy like slurping up a hot bowl of pho.
Take a short walk from Sapa town to the bus station and travelers find themselves surrounded by eateries proffering steamboat, grilled meats and pho.
The clean air and water give the mountain greens an added crunch and a delicious natural taste, that even non-vegetable lovers will leave their plate bare.
A local guide from the hill tribes can be hired for expeditions into the villages. English-speaking guides can be found easily at the hotels or tour offices around town. The level of spoken English is pretty good, with many of the guides sporting British, Australian and even American accents.
A fee must be paid at guardhouses located at the entrance of the tribes before entering the village. These go towards development of the villages, with a budget set aside for schools which kids attend for free. A guide we met at a tour office warned us against going into the villages alone as authorities have been known to penalize unaccompanied travelers. Besides, having a guide offers some insights into tribe culture.
A trek through the Black H'mong village took travelers four hours, at a leisurely pace. The cool weather and the friendly Black H'mong villagers made the experience a very enjoyable one.
Travelers learnt the hard way that travelers should ask before travelers take pictures as some of the tribes’ people may not be receptive. But the locals are more than happy to pose for travelers if travelers ask nicely.
To get to Sapa, Vietnam travelers need to take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. From there travelers will take a mini bus up in to the town of Sapa. Transportation from Hanoi to Sapa can be arranged for a reasonable price. Travelers might also be able to take a bus but it takes much longer. Railway tickets can be bought locally, via travel agents or at train stations.
Local hotels and travel agents offer daily bus and private car between tourist attractions in two ways.
Active Travel Asia (844 3573 8569; www.activetravelvietnam.com) offers package trips in Sapa, Vietnam with some activities like trekking & hiking include accommodation, meals, guide, activities and return ticket from Hanoi to Lao Cai and vice versa and transfers.