The beautiful hill town Sapa is the best place in Vietnam to see the rice terraces, the hill tribe villages and to hike the highest mountain of Indochina. There are a lot of tours that offer trekkings and packaged tours in Hanoi & Sapa. Even though they can make the interaction with the locals easier, we think you can do everything perfectly by yourself! By not having a tour or guide, you are free to go wherever you want, and it will save you a lot of money! Keep reading if you want to discover all the great things that Sapa and its surroundings have to offer with this Sapa 3-day itinerary!
3-DAY ITINERARY TO DISCOVER SAPA AND SURROUNDINGS
To follow this itinerary, we suggest you rent a motorbike in Sapa for $5-$7. Just ask your hotel or homestay, and they will help you with renting a good, reliable bike. During these three days, you’ll see everything Sapa has to offer, and our route will even take you to places that most tourists never saw.
We did everything with the app Maps.Me. We recommend downloading this too so you can look every village up and pin them on your map!
Day 1: Sapa – Cat Cat – Silver Waterfall – Love Waterfall – Tram Ton Pass
Get used to the bike and discover Sapa’s center. However, you’ve been around Sapa pretty quickly. You can go to Sapa’s market to get something for breakfast or lunch. When you’re ready to go and explore more, head down South from the market to Cat Cat, a small Hmong village a few km’s down from Sapa. To enter Cat Cat Village, you’ll need an entry permit BEFORE arriving at the toll booth. You can get this permit for 40.000 Dong at Sapa’s tourist center.
From Chapi Homestay in Cat Cat, continue your journey north on the mountain road towards the national road 4D. When you’re on the main road, go left and enjoy the beautiful views. The Silver Waterfall is 5km further on your right side. Entrance price is 20.000 Dong. There’s an even more beautiful waterfall a little bit further. This waterfall is the Love Waterfall and is a short hike from the main road through the lush green forest. Entrance fee is a little bit higher at 70.000 Dong. Walk all the way down to the waterfall, at the waterfall you can cross the stream and hike back from the other side of the river.
Travel Tip: You can also skip Cat Cat and just head straight to the national road 4D from the center of Sapa.
After visiting the waterfall, drive 2 minutes further until you reach Vietnam’s highest pass, the Tram Ton Pass. This is probably the most beautiful mountain pass of Vietnam with its 1500m above sea level. If you’re lucky and the sky is clear, you have a magnificent view over the valley. When we did it, the sky just cleared up, and the fog stayed in the valley. Just beautiful! Drive as far as you want and enjoy the view.
This is a short day just do discover Sapa’s surroundings and to get used to the mountain roads.
Day 2: Sapa – Lao Chai – Ta Van – Si Phan – Su Pan (Muong Hoa Valley)
Today it’s time to see the famous rice terraces, which is most likely the reason for your time in Sapa. The most known rice terraces are in the Muong Hoa Valley and easily accessible from Sapa. Just follow its main street Cầu Mây south until you pass a toll booth. We don’t know if you have to pay for a permit here but when we were there, it was always open and we could go further without a permit. Follow this road down until you can see the town Lao Chai in the valley. There are a lot of beautiful trails to explore in the whole valley! Just drive a bit around, get off sometimes, walk around the minority villages, and enjoy the views. A full day can easily be spent here when you take your time. Some other villages you can drive to are Ta Van, Si Phan & Su Pan.
Travel Tip: Do you want to see how the locals live? Go to the Topas Ecolodge in Su Pan around noon. Multiple Hmong women are sitting together, making traditional clothes. One of them will be happy to invite you into their home to make lunch for you.
Day 3: Sapa – Ma Cha – Ta Phin – Hau Thao – Lao Chai – Cat Cat
This route takes you to the places where not a lot of tourists go. The first part is easy and paved, but between Ta Phin and Hau Thao Village, some parts can be muddy. So be prepared for this. We don’t recommend this part when it rains a lot or when you’re not used to the bike.
Get out of Sapa and follow the road that leads to Lao Cai. After 2km, take the left turn that goes to Ma Cha. A couple of minutes later, you’ll arrive at a toll booth where you need to pay 40.000 Dong for the entry permit. You don’t need the permit beforehand. The road between Ma Cha and Ta Phin goes in a U-turn, you can do the whole area by just following the winding road. Of course, it’s possible to take other smaller roads in between but check you GPS regularly so that you won’t get lost. There’s a small cave you can visit at the end of the path close to the Ta Phin Stone Garden. Bring a flashlight!
From Ta Phin, go back to QL-4D, the national road that goes to Lao Cai. From here, go left and take the first road to the right. This road goes up the hill until you get a beautiful view over the valley and its rice terraces. After this, the road gets a little bit worse with unpaved parts. But we loved every part of it! We haven’t seen other tourists for more than 3 hours. Some parts of the trail were challenging but are a lot of fun to drive on. Check your GPS at intersections because the villages aren’t well marked. Eventually, you should get in Hau Thao village after 2 hours on this road.
After Hau Thao, you arrive back again in the Muong Hoa Valley. Head back towards Sapa but take the first road to your left that leads to Ta Van. Cross the river and take this road to Lao Chai. Just before Sapa Volunteer Homestay (before the bridge), take the path that goes straight ahead instead of making the turn towards the bridge. Follow this road along the hillside. Here are more rice terraces in a beautiful setting. Not a lot of tourists take this path. From here, you can go to Cat Cat according to the GPS. We searched and got lost (that’s part of the fun right?). We crossed the long suspension bridge and followed a long, unpaved mountain road that eventually came out on the road that connects Sapa and Muong Hoa Valley.
Just take your motorbike and follow your instinct. Go off the main road and discover new places. We’re sure you’ll love your time in Sapa and get the most beautiful, honest encounters while doing this. Just travel with an open mind and remember that getting lost and finding your way back is fun. Unless when it’s getting dark…
Let us know in the comments how your time in Sapa was!