Above the clouds, at 1600m high, lies the tranquil and colorful village of Sapa. Lustfully rich in nature and culture, Sapa for the last 100 years has been many’s ideal, mystical refuge from everyday bustle and heat.
The village lies on the Hoang Lien Son Alps, known in English as the Tonkinese Alps. To the South West of Sapa, on this beautiful alp, is the 3143m high Fanxipan Mountain, known as the roof of Indochina – the tallest mountain not only in Vietnam but in all of Indochina. Between Fanxipan Mountain and Sapa town is Muong Hoa valley, which is terraced into wet staircase rice paddies.
The village of Sapa is rich in culture and ethnicity. Out of its 36,000 scattered population, the Kinh group (who are the ethnic majority in Vietnam) only make up 15%. Most inhabitants of Sa Pa are ethnic minorities: Hmong 52%, Dao 25%, Tay 5%, Giay 2% and a small number of Xa Pho, who up to this day still preserve very much of their traditional life style, culture and clothing.
The area was originally inhabited by the ethnic groups H’Mong, Dao, Tay and Giay. The spectacular site was first discovered by the French around the 1880s. In 1891, along with the whole of Lao Cai province, Sapa was officially incorporated into colonial Vietnam and acted as a major defense point in the North West.
Fascinated by the town’s lust nature, clear air and cool climate (which strongly contrasts with the humidity and heat of the rest of the country), the French colonizers quickly turned Sapa into a retreat center. A flux of missionaries, militaries and wealthy business men came here building sanitariums, villas and churches; turning parts of the town into pleasant European villages.
Nowadays, Sapa is once again open for tourists, waiting to share its secrets and surprises with everyone.