• Photo: Salajean | Dreamstime.com

Sapa

Ringed by the majestic Tonkinese Alps, Sapa is an enchanting hill town that has become the undisputed tourist capital of the Northwest. Make the journey here and you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of some of Vietnam’s most breathtaking mountain scenery and the opportunity to discover its mosaic of ethnic-minority cultures. Overlooking a verdant valley of rice terraces, the town enjoys an outstanding location and a cool, fresh climate. It was this, and the surrounding beauty, that prompted the French to establish a hill station here in 1922.

Today, Sapa attracts an even more international crowd, who come for its selection of restaurants, hotels, and pampering options, complemented by bustling markets that strike a mostly pleasant balance between unashamed tourism and earthier local character. The mountains and hill-tribe villages outside the town are magnets for well-equipped hikers.

Sapa's popularity has created increasing demand for accommodations, and the hotel building boom that continues unchecked has resulted in parts of the town transforming into a mess of ill-conceived concrete architecture. It has also attracted the persistent presence of H’mong and Dao traders, looking to offload handicrafts and trinkets, which can prove extremely tiresome after a few hours. For the moment, though, these are minor quibbles that are easy to overlook when you're tucking into a gourmet meal or gazing in wonder as the mist rises to reveal the timeless, beguiling landscapes.

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