In our original One Month Vietnam Family Travel plan, we totally skipped Northern Vietnam as we only planned for one month. But since we are now stuck here until things start moving again, we decided to start exploring the beautiful North. Plus we needed a break from the heat. We stayed in Sapa for two and a half weeks. Here I share our Sapa Town family holiday recommendations.
There are two sides to Sapa. The town and the villages. I've split this into two parts so you can check out both and choose what suits you most.
If you're travelling to Vietnam, you might also like to read What Do I Need to Know About Travelling to Vietnam? Click here to read.
Sapa Town Recommendations
Sapa town is where most people arrive. Many people stay here and book their trek from this town. Our entry to the place wasn't that grand. I hummed and haa'd between staying in or out of town. I liked the idea of the conveniences the town would provide, I worried we'd be too isolated out in the hills of Sapa.
As it turns out, we were meant to experience both. We'd booked for ten days at place on the outskirts of town. I naively thought that we would be far out enough and maybe we could walk to see some of those famous Sapa Views.
I was wrong. We ended up in a not so great spot on the main incoming road. It was loud and also had bedbugs. After pointing out the bedbugs and the fact there was no way we could stay ten days in that place, our host kindly moved us out to the country where we quickly fell in love with the mountains.
We did return to the town again after our two weeks in the countryside. On our return we picked something recommended by some of our friends and explored more of the town and surrounding sites.
The town itself
Sapa has become a tourist destination, and in a way this kind of soured the experience by the end of our time there. I guess for most people who only visit for the weekend it's not so bad. We spent a total of five nights in the main town and by the end, the women chasing us down the street ended up taking away some of the beauty that was Sapa.
The Women around town
Maybe it's just because of Covid, I don't know. But these women were relentless. They followed us into shops and waited while we had coffee, then followed us down the street. It was very hard to get them to realise we couldn't buy something from everyone. Especially when the goods were bracelets and bags and we have to fit everything we own into our bags that hold everything we own.
They also want to sell you treks. I had a funny feeling about this. I read up on it and it seems you are probably best to book a tour from someone you trust. Some of the people who say they are guides potentially are not. The risk you take is a police check in which case you might be up for a fine. How much? Anyones guess because it's Vietnam. We have become used to the funny ways here. I find it quite amusing. But you might not if you have to pay a fine because you got picked up on the street by a trekking guide.
The dressed up children
The mothers have their children carrying the babies, this breaks my heart. I don't know what's right or wrong, but in some things I've read, it's better to not give the children money as it keeps this practice going. If you want to give them something, a bag of lollies or a treat of some sort might actually be better. I really don't know. I wish I had a solution for this. It's their way of life (for now).
Mama's be warned, it could make you sad, angry or furious. But it is what it is and I can only hope that the next generation who are more literate, might make the change and choose not to put their children on the streets of Sapa. It might seem cute to people who don't have kids (what do I know, perhaps it's cute for some people with kids?), but I'm pretty confident that most parents in our developed world would agree we'd do anything to keep our kids off the streets, and certainly not put four year olds out on the street. I have to be gentle with this though. Most of us haven't experienced the same kinds of hardships and ongoing turmoil in our countries for so many years. I'm talking wars that seemed to never end. I don't know or understand their struggle. I'm cautious not to judge because of my lack of understanding.
However our experiences definitely contributed to our feelings about the town. This is why we preferred the villages which only had a few older ladies chasing us down and they weren't as relentless as the ones back in the town.
Sites around Sapa town
We visited a few different sites. There is a lot to see in this beautiful part of Northern Vietnam. Hopefully you're as excited as we were to get out and about to see the sites! Here are some of the sites in Sapa town that we recommend.
Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina. It is 3,143m high and you can trek up it. Most people do it over three days. We have three kids, and we didn't go prepared for a three day trek, so we opted for the cable car route. It is run by Sunworld, and it is another impressive ride. The cars hold up to 35 people, we were pretty lucky to go at a time when we weren't packed in like sardines.
At the top it's cold. Don't be like me. I checked the weather for the summit. It told me 25℃ and I believed it. We went up with light jackets and shorts. Then froze our asses off.
Fortunately for us, the pain was not too long. At the top of the cable car you have a couple of options. One is to walk up 600 steps to the summit. This is something we wanted to do, but Elijah wasn't feeling 100% and we were not wearing the right kinds of clothing. We were saved by the funicular which is only about 50 or so steps up from the top of the cable car.
If and when you go, be prepared for rain and wind. We didn't get rain because we hung around at the top and waited for it to clear. But the weather up there is often (and usually) cloudy and cool.
Over the two and a half weeks we were in Sapa, we only saw the peak once. It's not something you are going to be able to plan, but maybe you'll get lucky and see the top on a clear day.
A lot of the hotels will try to sell you the Fansipan trek. They will tell you there's an 'easy' route. It's not easy. It's a mountain. Please be aware, trust your instincts and go prepared. Some hoteliers have tried to sell people on a one day up and down trek. This does happen. They want you to spend your money with them. But there are many different treks available. Shop around, or I can put you in touch with Su (a local we met - see our Sapa Village Guide), she'd be happy to take you.
During our time in the town, we took a car ride out to the Silver waterfall. Our plan was to visit this and the Love Waterfall and Heavens Gate in one trip.
When we arrived at the Silver waterfall, we learned there is a walk up to the top. There is a cute little bridge over to the other side where you walk down. It took a bit of leg effort to make it all the way up. The view was spectacular. My photos don't really do it justice.
We also ventured out to Heavens Gate. Another spot with beautiful views. And another waterfall. We opted to just climb to the top and see the views. This peak is 2,035, not as high as Fansipan, but perhaps a better view mosts days because it's not always completely hidden by clouds.
There is a Peach Garden and a temple. And some great opportunities for photos.
We didn't end up visiting the Love Waterfall. After climbing the Silver waterfall and the stairs to Heaven's Gate, the kids were tired and everyone had had enough.
From what I'm told, the Love Waterfall is actually the nicer of the falls. So if we could do it again, we would have done Heaven's Gate and Love Waterfall. If you're fit and your big kids are keen, you probably can do all three. I'm really unfit and my legs just wouldn't carry me another three or so kilometres.
Between Sapa town and Heavens Gate there are a couple of awesome spots to pull over and take photos. We took a few.
Swing Sapa Coffee
This place has MORE places to take photos with the mountains as your backdrop. It is very instagrammy. We were there during Covid and there were lots of Instagrammers. I don't know if it would be worthwhile if there were usual tourist crowds. It still deserves a menion in our Sapa Town Recommendations.
Good coffee in Sapa
We found perhaps the best Western style coffees here in Sapa. Check out any of the Le Geckos - there's a Petit Gecko and a couple of cafes around. They are all run by the same family. They also have really good brownies and apple pies. And New Zealand Natural Icecream. Let's just say being in the town we were blowing our Sapa budget.
Eating in Sapa
We were lucky to eat once at our favourite place we found (it was cheap and really yummy). This place came recommended by some friends we've met on the road who also spent a long time in Sapa.
Hoa Tam Vegetarian Restaurant
This place is called Hoa Tam Vegetarian Restaurant - Click here to see the map location. If you are coming off Cau May, you go down the stairs and look to your right. It is one of these. If you take a left around the corner, you've gone too far. I took a photo so you can see what you're looking for.
If you're coming from Fansipan, the map is a little misleading. You enter onto a square and there is a tiny alley to the left. Go down the alley, around the right turn and the restaurant will be on the left.
This had a lovely variety, we loved the tumeric cake things. Wow, they were fantastic. We were so sad that the place wasn't open after we returned from the village!
Hotel de la Coupole - Chill Restaurant
This one is a surprise in our Sapa town family holiday recommendations blog. Ordinarily we wouldn't eat at this place because of the price tag. It's more like a date night place to eat. But our friends told us about their 50% off deal between 11am and 4pm so we thought we'd give it a go. It's got a really instagram worthy outdoor seating area. We even got our tripod out for this shot (yes, we own a tripod - no we don't use it very often).
The menu prices are on the expensive end, but it was a really fantastic treat. The star of the show was Elijah's strawberry milkshake. Yes, it comes with a muffin on top and yes, it was delicious.
The kids were happy with their burgers from the kids menu. And us adults were extremely happy with our Sturgeon. It was delicious, and it kinda made us want to eat at these more expensive places again. Like we did when we travelled Europe without the kids. We will make it happen, but for now, we are happy to make these places nice treats after eating cheap for a bit.
Whoever started this place knew something that a lot of places don't know. That is, how to cook Western food. After living in Vietnam four months, we had become very hesitant to order pizza and burgers, even coffee because it's usually terrible. We have become very used to dining out on easy and yummy Vietnamese food.
Le Gecko is special because their pizza was some of the best we've experienced in Vietnam. We tried it at two out of three of their shops. It was great both times. Try the Gecko, it's a yummy pizza.
The coffee is also good (that's why it's mentioned twice in this blog) and so are their cakes and sweet stuff.
We didn't try the lasagne or the pastas, but with our pizza success, I'd be game enough to try it in this place!
We ate at 24 Restaurant on Fansipan the first night we arrived. Great service with a familiar Sapa menu. The lady here was lovely, the food was out in a good time frame and we all left full and happy.
On our final night in the town, we visited Yummy restaurant. This place was a great spot to eat. The food here was great, hubby was happy with his squid. The owner was lovely, he even offered to pay for a taxi for us to return before our trip back to Hanoi - but we didn't have time to squeeze in a second visit.
Good Morning Vietnam Restaurant
This place deserves a mention. It's not at the top of the list, but it has such a great vibe about it. The owner is really chatty and the reggae beats make it worth the visit. The kids were happy with their burgers reinvented with Bahn Mi's (eating during Covid has it's challenges - the restaurants don't have many Western customers so often their Western menu isn't fully operational). I quite enjoyed Elijah's burger after he was full. It was all good.
The owner told us he had recently renovated the place to make more space. He also told us his was the first Good Morning Vietnam Restaurant (because there is another one). I've got no idea which one is the first one... But according to this owner he was first.
Where to Stay in Sapa Town
We totally preferred the village over the town. I have an entire blog on visiting the Villages of Sapa.
Sapa is a hostel and trekking town, so lots of backpackers visit. This means you have to be on watch for bedbugs. Something I will write about another day, but something you need to check for. Seriously. We took this photo while emptying everything. All our belongings went through a dryer for an hour or more to kill anything we might've picked up. Permethrin is on the way to make sure we kill any nasties trying to follow us.
The best area to stay in the town is around the main square (near the Catholic Church with the bell-tower). After our experience with bedbugs, we walked throughout Sapa and investigated a bunch of different hotels to move into. We ended up going straight to the countryside, but when we returned, we moved into one that was recommended by friends (who also know to check for bedbugs).
On the whole, we felt like the Sapa town wasn't really good value for money. We have stayed in a lot of places across Vietnam now, and this place is competing with cities on the pricing. The quality isn't necessarily there either.
We visited more than one place that had bedbugs. There was even a really beautiful place we had our hearts set on staying. It was a stretch price wise for us, but the views were amazing. We almost checked in but found bugs crawling all over three beds. Even a room on another floor had more bedbugs. We didn't stay.
Sapa Elite Hotel
This probably doesn't need to be at the top of my list. But it was where we stayed. I'd recommend this on a budget stay. If you can manage to stretch and go somewhere a level up, I would recommend that you do it. The breakfast here was average, maybe even below average. I feel like we've been a little spoilt with hotel breakfasts though. I think outside of Covid it would be a lot better.
Mountain View Station Coffee & Homestay
This was one that I originally booked then cancelled because I worried it might've been a bit too much of a walk up a hill. It still might be if you have toddlers, but if you have older kids like us, it'd probably be just right. As a bonus, you'd be just outside the main square so you'd probably get hassled a bit less. The bedding configuration here is good and so are the reviews. Click here to have a look at this cute spot.
Sapa Elegance Hotel
We liked this place but opted for Elite because they were giving us two rooms with breakfast for the same price. It has a similar view and is in a good location. This would be a better option if you are travelling with younger kids that you want in your room. The layout on the family room is ideal. And no bedbugs (when we checked). Click here to have a look on Agoda.
This was a really nice place overlooking the lake. There didn't seem to be bedbugs and it was in a good spot near supermarkets and more of the local style food. It would be a good option if you want to be away from the main square. Click here to see this place on Agoda.
Bamboo Sapa Hotel
This is where we will stay when we go back. I'm not kidding. This place is gorgeous. Elijah needed a toilet on our walk home from Yummy and we happened to be right outside this place. So we went in for a look while he used the toilets and I wished we were staying longer.
Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa
And this one is another I'd love to stay. The view from Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa is looking back towards the mountains over the lake. It's another very beautiful place that I'd love to try out if we ever make it back to Sapa.
Getting to Sapa
There are a few main ways. We opted for a VIP van with Green Lion Tours because my daughter gets motion sickness. I can't imagine trying to do this trip on a bus. The roads are very winding and narrow. I'd recommend taking your motion sickness pills the night before if you don't travel well.
A train runs between Hanoi and Lao Cai (but it was reduced to one service per day while we were here and I was booking too last minute to get the train). From Lao Cai it is one hour by bus.
There are also sleeper buses that run from Sapa to Hanoi. My kids loved the look of the pink bus with Pikachu on the side.
We searched for and found our transport using the 12go.asia site. You can check for tickets below or click here to search for tickets on the 12go system.
Travel tip - hand over your ticket to get your meal!
If you are travelling by van or bus direct from Hanoi, most of these stop at a place for lunch on the way (and dinner on the return trip). The person serving us didn't speak English and no-one explained to us the process for correctly ordering a meal. We ordered and paid, then the lady pointed over to the big windows where I wrongly assumed I was to wait. I couldn't see anything happening, people seemed to be getting their orders and so we went to sit and wait. Nothing came. After waiting quite some time our new Vietnamese-French friend helped us understand the process. When we had ordered, we were given a ticket. What was lost in translation was the importance of that ticket. It needed to be handed to the ladies at the window where we were waiting.
Make sure you get fed. When you order, hand over that ticket to the lady at the window and you'll receive food. Make our mistake and you might just miss out!
I'm sure there is a bunch of stuff I'm missing about Sapa. I'll update this as I remember things to add.
I hope this makes you want to visit the wonderful town of Sapa. Even more, I hope this makes you want to check out the Sapa Village Guide!
What do you think about our Sapa Town Family Holiday Recommendations? Would you like to visit? Let me know if I've missed anything (or if there's something you'd like to know).