Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa today is the tourism center of the northwest.
Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even when it's cloudy, local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.
If you were expecting a quaint alpine town, recalibrate your expectations. Sapa's French colonial villas fell into disrepair during successive wars with the French, Americans and Chinese, and modern tourism development has mushroomed haphazardly. Sapa today is undergoing a construction boom and, thanks to rarely enforced building height restrictions, the skyline is continually thrusting upwards.
But you're not here to hang out in town. This is northern Vietnam's premier trekking base from where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seems a world apart. Once you've stepped out into the lush fields you'll understand the Sapa area's real charm.