The population of Sapa is estimated at 52.889 (2009) separated into 9 different ethnic group. The majority is H’mong (pronounced Mong) people: 51.65%, followed by Dao (pronounced Yao): 23.04%, Kinh (pronounced King): 17.91%, Tay 4.74%, Giay (pronounced Zai) 1.36%and Xa Pho 1.06%. Other minor ethnics include Muong, Thai and Hoa.
Most people live in Sapa town provides travel services to make a living, many of whom speak English more fluently than the official Vietnamese. The rest are peasant farmers distributed unevenly across the district.
With so many ethnic groups living there, Sapa is the ideal place for tourists who want to discover about the diversified culture of Vietnam.
Note: Kinh is the main ethnic across Vietnam, make up around 86% of the population. Most of the places you go you most likely only meet Kinh people (like me). So it’s not a very common thing to get to know the culture of so many different ethnics.
There’s no flight to Sapa (unless you can rent a chopper like Mark Zuckerberg did). The best option is to take a 9 hour night train to Lao Cai station then hop on another 1 hour bus ride to Sapa. Most tourists take the train from Hanoi with the following timing:
From Hanoi: SP1 (21:10 – 5:25), SP3 (21:50 – 6:16), SP7 (20:35 – 4:55) From Sapa: SP2 (20:05 – 4:35), SP4 (20:45 – 5:10), SP8 (19:30 – 4:05)
Remember to buy return ticket because you may get overcharged if bought at Sapa. For some odd reasons, you can’t buy the tickets directly at the train stations (even for local), so most people would just get it from travel agency. To save you some trouble, just ask the hotel’s reception where you stay in Hanoi to get the tickets for you. The below are the suggested prices per person for all available tickets (as of 25th Nov 2012):
- Normal Seats: VND 235.000 – 250.000 or USD 11- 12
- 6 single bed compartment with AC grade 2: VND 420.000 or USD 20
- 6 single bed compartment with AC grade 1: VND 480.000 or USD 23
- 4 single bed compartment with AC grade 2: VND 540.000 or USD 26
- 4 single bed compartment with AC grade 1: VND 580.000 or USD 28
- 4 single bed compartment with AC – Deluxe: VND 700.000 or USD 34
- Private Cabin: VND 2.700.000 or USD 130
- VIP Cabin 2 single bed: VND 2.900.000 or USD 140
*Note: Prices may vary depending on the time of the year.
I’ve been to Sapa 4 times in total and every time I just take normal seat. First, you save some money. Second, it’s super fun to spend the whole night on the train chitchatting or playing cards with your friends. If you are traveling with kids then it may be a better idea to take the compartment.
- From Hanoi, LC1 and LC3 are day train and they stop at all passing stations. From Lao cai, LC2 and LC4 are slow train and also stop at all passing stations. You don’t want to get on those trains. Please check with your ticketing agent carefully before purchasing the tickets to ensure that you have the Express night train.
- There’s a 1 hour bus ride from Lao Cai Station to the hotel. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scam artists waiting for you at the station (sorry), so don’t just hop on any bus. You can pre-arrange this with your hotel when booking. They will most likely offer a reasonable price and you are guaranteed not getting cheated. Furthermore, there will be a person waiting for you at the station, so remember to look out for your name when existing.
- There’s a direct bus to Sapa from Hanoi, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Well, unless you want to experience firsthand how scary it is to travel 350km on pumpy road in an over-speeding bus. Vietnam traffic is chaotic!