The dramatic scenery of the northern provinces of Vietnam has been alluring travelers for several years now. Spectacular mountain views and the strong ethnic minority presence here makes it a can’t miss on your Vietnam holiday.
The two regions that travelers consider when going to North Vietnam are Sapa or Ha Giang. So which area should you visit? What is the difference between the two? Read on for the complete guide to the tourism hot spots of northern Vietnam.
Sapa is a town located in Lao Cai province. In the surrounding region of Sapa, you will find five different ethnic minority tribes, The Black Hmong, The Red Dao, Tay, Xa Pho, and the Giay.
- Learn about all of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam here
The French initially settled the town of Sapa in 1920, and their presence can still be seen here, most notably by the Sapa Catholic Church (constructed 1930).
The town has seen increased development in recent years due to a spike in tourist interest. Hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops make up most of the city today.
Beside’s having a cup of coffee or beer in one of the many bars and restaurants overlooking the spectacular natural scenery, the town of Sapa is limited in things to do and see. The Museum of Sapa, however, offers an excellent insight into the unique ethnology of the region and should be visited.
Nine kilometers outside of the town of Sapa, you will find Fansipan Mountain, the highest peak in Vietnam. In the center of Sapa, there is a cable car station that will take you directly to the summit. The ride is one hour long to the top, making it the longest cable car in the world.
You can book guided trekking tours that will bring you to the summit if you are up for the hike. A moderate level of fitness is required for those who want to reach the summit.
- Book a guided trekking tour to the summit of Fansipan Mountain here
Guided Trekking Through Villages
For those who prefer to have a more leisurely stroll through the relaxing countryside of Sapa, a trek through the nearby villages of Sapa is the recommended way to go.
Although you can do this independently, the cheapest and most hassle-free option is to book a tour with a home stay included. Your guide will be a member of one of the local tribes and educate you about the cultures and customs of each tribe.
- Book a three day two night tour to Sapa with a homestay included here
A classic three day itinerary will be departing from Hanoi early morning on the first day and arriving in the town of Sapa around 1 pm.
You can choose to either spend the day in Sapa town or take the cable car to the summit of Fansipan mountain on this day.
- Book an 8 day tour of the highlights of North Vietnam here
The next day you will meet your local guide in your hotel and set off for a hike through the spectacular countryside. The walk will take you through stunning rice fields, mountains, and local villages. At around 4 pm, you will arrive at your local home stay, where you will eat dinner and spend the evening.
After enjoying homemade breakfast the next morning, you will set off on a roughly 8 km hike towards the town of Sapa. Expect to arrive back in Sapa around noon, giving you three hours to take a shower and relax before you head back to Hanoi at 3 pm.
When is the best time to go to Sapa?
The best time of year to go is in the summer months of June to August. The temperature is warm but comfortable 20-25 degrees. It does get cold in Sapa around December and can even snow on rare occasions. If so, make sure you bring adequate clothing. There are plenty of hiking accessories shops in the town if the weather suddenly turns on you.
Located slightly to the east of Sapa, the landscapes in Ha Giang are even more grandiose than in Sapa. Due to poor road conditions, tourism has not flourished here as much in comparison. That however, is exactly why Ha Giang is the hottest trending place to go in Vietnam.
Ha Giang Loop
When going to Ha Giang, you will want to drive the “Ha Giang Loop,” a stunning mountainous road that will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery in Vietnam. It takes three or four days to complete the drive, which is considered by many the most spectacular route in Asia.
- Book a three day trekking adventure in Ha Giang here
Although the Ha Giang Loop has gained some mild popularity with backpackers, it is still virtually untouched by the rampant tourism found elsewhere in Southeast Asia. As such, it makes an excellent, far-less-touristy alternative to Sapa, the region of Vietnam famous for its rice terraces and gorgeous mountain views.
Highlights of Ha Giang
Mai Pi Leng Pass
The Mai Pi Leng is a mountain pass that stretches around 20 km connecting the towns of Dong Van and Meo Vac. The drop along the route is certainly not for the fainthearted, so be careful when going for that perfect Instagram shot. Many consider this the most scenic spot in all of Vietnam, so be sure not to skip out on this spot.
Quan Ba Heaven Gate
Located about 50 km north of Ha Giang town, this is a gateway to the Dong Van Geological park. Heaven gate is on top of the pass from Ha Giang to Quan Ba district and used to be a gateway to the kingdom of the Hmong people. To visit, you must climb some steps to the highest peak where you will get a stunning view of the Dong Van plateau where you will feel like you are in a sea of clouds.
Lung Cu Flag Tower
Located in the lung cu commune of the Dong Van district, the monument consists of a 30-meter tall flag tower on top of the Lung Cu peak. The memorial was built to mark the northernmost point in Vietnam.
When is the best time to visit Ha Giang?
Expect quite cold temperatures during peak winter months. It can hover around 0 degrees during January and December and occasionally will even snow. During the peak summer months in Hanoi from July to September, these areas will be a welcome escape from the sometimes blistering temperatures of Hanoi.
Also read the complete guide to traveling in Vietnam in January
How long should you spend in Ha Giang?
The recommended time is a four-day trip departing from Hanoi. Anything less and you are spending way too much time driving or will have to miss out on some beautiful locations.