SAPA & BEYOND: AN ICONIC ACTIVE DESTINATION
For Topas, Sapa is where it all began. Back in the 1990s when we started exploring these mountains, it was love at first sight.
After getting to know the people, we became enchanted. And after seeing the cultural and economic benefits of small-scale tourism, especially to the backdrop of mass tourism, we were committed. Two and half decades later and our approach hasn’t changed.
The destination may have seen rapid advancement but Sapa is still the destination we cherish. Here’s why:
Sapa: A Mountain Town like No Other
There’s nowhere in the world quite like Sapa. A town founded by the French during colonial times (though close to a collection of existing hamlets and villages) this hill station has experienced a history of ups and downs. Principally a retreat for long escape holidays from Hanoi’s summer heat, it soon became a hotspot for European anthropologists keen to study Southeast Asia’s rich cultural history and diversity.
The town lay dormant through much of the war period and received minimal attention during the subsequent Communist years. It wasn’t until Vietnam opened up in the 90s that Sapa worked its way onto the domestic and international tourist circuits, and since then it’s never looked back.
The result of such an unusual history are a mismatch town: local cultures contrast with foreign nationalities, genuine colonial architecture sits beside kitsch modern copies, and ladies grilling corn crouch outside Italian pizza restaurants.
The town will continue to change, but experiences like warming your hands on a cup of coffee with a view of mountains or haggling over textiles in the bustling market will always remain a quintessential part of traveling through Vietnam.
Kaleidoscopic Ethnic Diversity in Sapa
After experiencing the rainbow of color represented by the peoples of Sapa and beyond, you’ll see that kaleidoscopicis no understatement. This is down to the ethnic diversity, with Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay, and many others represented in and around Sapa. Many of these groups can be segmented even further, which further enhances the differences.
The Black Hmong and Flower Hmong may both speak Hmong, but the colors they don themselves in couldn’t be more different. Less striking but just as enchanting is the architecture. Each group have a different way of constructing houses, from the Hmong that build bungalows on the ground to the Tay that live in towering stilt houses. Get to know the peoples of the northern mountains through meaningful activities, such as hiking and homestays. Or support the vibrant weaving and dying culture by purchasing textiles.
Mesmerizing Landscapes of Sapa
Picture a mountain. At the top there are dark green jungles that blanket the peak. About halfway down, waterfalls of rice terraces are carved into the slope like staircases for giants. And at the bottom, a flowing river trickles over rocks as it meanders down the valley. The forests are evergreen and the rivers rarely run dry, but the rice terraces shift dramatically throughout the year.
Sapa experiences the four calendar seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and each one is represented in the rice cycle. In winter the terraces fill with water that reflect the skies. In the summer the terraces bulge green with healthy rice plants. And in the spring and autumn, the farmers ascend to the terraces to plant and harvest respectively. You can explore these landscapes in a way that suits you, whether that’s by foot, bicycle, motorbike, or passively from your hotel balcony.
Unique Accommodation in Sapa
Perched on a mountaintop with commanding views of the surrounding highlands, Topas Ecolodge is one of Asia’s most incredible accommodations. A certified “Unique Lodge” by National Geographic, you’ll stay in stone cottages that coil around the peak, ensuring that each one offers a different view.
Topas Riverside Lodge on the other hand is nestled down the valley next to a gushing a river within a traditional Dao village. The lodges are the accommodation hubs for a network of homestays throughout the destination, including Hmong, Dao, and Tay family homes. Here you’ll tuck into a spread of homecooked dishes with your hosts before making your way to a comfy bed inside the family home.
Nam Cang: Sapa’s Newest Active Travel Hub
The Topas Riverside Lodge rests in Nam Cang, a village that remains untouched by tourism. The locals here still go about their lives much like they would anywhere else in the mountains, with days revolving around farming, fishing, foraging, and making artisanal crafts. It’s also surrounded by forested mountains and swirling rice terraces, perfect for getting out into the wilderness.
Strap on your hiking shoes and take on the mountains for a day of hiking before returning to the lodge for a welcome Dao foot bath. Or if you have the need for some speed, climb the hills on a mountain bike before an exhilarating descent as you pedal from village to village.
Sapa is featured in our Originals tours . If you’re looking for a more active experience in and around Sapa, take a look at our Active options. If you’re traveling with kids, both young and old, check out our Family tours.
We also tailor tours for our guests according to their specific requests. So let’s start a conversation to create a memorable experience for you and your family, or friends with our (Amazing) Trip Designers.