15 Things to Do in Sapa — Vietnam’s Winter Wonderland

15 Things to Do in Sa Pa — Vietnam’s Winter Wonderland

The highlands of Vietnam are truly magical during winter!

Often, when we think of Vietnam, we think of colourful cultural heritage, beautiful historical sites, and a warm, tropical climate. After all, these are things we’ve come to be accustomed to at popular tourist destinations in the country like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Ha Long Bay. But what if I told you, contrary to popular belief, Vietnam also has its own winter wonderland? Located in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains of Northwest Vietnam, Sa Pa is an oft-overlooked travel gem that more than deserves a chance to shine. 

This is especially the case during the winter, when temperatures can drop to as low as single digits. Sometimes, during peak winter season (around late December), you may even see snow! Wondering what it’s like to visit Vietnam’s winter wonderland? Here are some of the things to do in Sa Pa during winter!

Also read: Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh: Which City in Vietnam is Perfect for You?

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Best things to do in Sapa (especially if it’s your first time!)

1. Hike up Mount Fansipan

things to do in sapa

Image credit: Minh Bách Trương

Obviously, the first location that you have to visit in Sa Pa is the unofficial “Vietnamese Alps.” With its summit towering at a height of 3,143m above sea level, Mount Fansipan is often referred to as the Roof of Indochina. Offering spectacular views for those who would brave the hike, it is easily one of the most impressive mountains in the region! 

Even though conventional wisdom says it’s best to go hiking during summer, the best time to trek to the peak of Fansipan is actually between November and March. That’s because the winter climate in Sa Pa brings with it dry air, less rain, and comfortable trekking weather. 

There are multiple routes that are suitable for hikers of all levels of fitness and experience. In fact, the easiest paths often take less than one day to complete! But even if you’re not embarking on an epic multi-day hike, you’ll still be able to treat yourself to some magnificent scenery, punctuated by whimsical forests, alluring valleys and a plethora of flora and fauna. 

2. Take a cable car up to Fansipan

things to do in sapa

Image credit: Vương Thuỷ MT

However, if you don’t wish to brave the elements but would still like to experience the beauty of Fansipan, you can simply hop aboard a cable car ride to the top! In fact, you could even say it’s one of the most fun things to do in Sapa. After all, the cable car, known as the Fansipan Legend, is the highest and longest cable car system in the world. So, if you’re not up for an adventurous hike, then opt for this magical ride! 

3. Admire iconic Buddhist structures at Sun World Fansipan Legend

sapa attractions

Image credit: Minh Bách Trương

Nestled in the mountains, Sun World Fansipan Legend is home to several attractions worthy of a visit. The same company behind the cable car service, it houses multiple iconic Buddhist buildings, like the Guanyin Statue, The Great Buddha Statue, The Grand Belfry, The Stupa, and the 9-Storey Waterfall. These buildings also make a great photo-taking spot as they look extra majestic amidst the air and the mountains.

The Grand Belfry is one of the most popular among these religious sites. This five-storey-tall building is mostly made out of rock. Each storey consists of a bronze bell modelled after the original one from the Tran Dynasty centuries ago. Besides, visitors also often pay respects to the massive Buddha and Guanyin statues located at the peak of the mountain. 

Other than that, you can also dine at the cafes and restaurants in Sun World Fansipan Legend. You won’t want to miss out on the astonishing mountain and valley views, as well as a plethora of cuisines from all over the world. Once done, shop for some souvenirs to bring home, too!

4. Admire the rice terraces of Muong Hoa Valley

Image credit: Christophe95

Apart from the majestic mountains, one of the popular Sapa attractions is the iconic rice terraces of Muong Hoa Valley. Even though the terraces are at their most stunning during the harvest season (late September), visiting during the winter season also offers plenty of picturesque views, especially after a snowstorm. 

The highland terraced rice fields that stretch as far as the eyes can see — coupled with forests blanketed in snow and lovely streams — provide a truly magnificent backdrop for awesome #POTDs! What’s more, when you visit, you’ll also be able to meet some of the ethnic tribes living in the area and learn about their traditional ways of cultivating rice.

5. Enjoy a stunning view from the top of Ham Rong Mountain

things to do in sa pa

Image credit: Hoang Giang Hai

Standing at 1,800m above sea level, Ham Rong Mountain is only a little over half as tall as Mount Fansipan. Despite lacking in height, those who are willing to hike to the very top of this dragon jaw-shaped mountain will be able to enjoy a truly mesmerising view: a panorama of the town of Sa Pa and the aforementioned Muong Hoa Valley. 

As you might expect, the hike to the top of Ham Rong Mountain is much easier and can be done in half the time. Along the way, you’ll also come across areas which have been converted into flower gardens that house plenty of orchids and other beautiful blooms. While they may not be as stunning in winter as they would be in spring, you’ll still be able to savour the cool winter air and treat your eyes to the stunning view at the top. It definitely guarantees an excellent Sapa sightseeing experience!

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6. Be awed by the beauty of the Silver Waterfall – Thac Bac

Image credit: Teseum

About 15km away from the town of Sa Pa and surrounded by pine forests is the ever-popular Silver Waterfall: known in the local language as Thac Bac Waterfall. It’s called the Silver Waterfall because of the way the water seems to shimmer like silver when it cascades down the jagged rocks. 

Of course, to get the best view of Thac Bac Waterfall, visitors will need to be prepared to work for it. Don’t worry, it’s not that arduous a journey. However, you will have to climb up a 30-metre flight of stone steps to reach the best viewing spot. It’s more than worth it if you ask me. After all, Thac Bac Waterfall is often considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam. What’s more, during the winter season, the area around Thac Bac Waterfall is known to regularly see snowfall! 

7. Explore the Central Town of Sapa

Image credit: Giau Tran

As much as we love exploring the wondrous natural beauty of Sa Pa, we mustn’t forget about the charming town centre either! While it isn’t as stunning as some of its whimsical natural sights, the ambient town of Sa Pa brings with it its own romantic atmosphere, especially in winter when it is covered by a thin layer of mist. 

The town is undoubtedly a nice place for some Instagrammable photos. There are also plenty of lovely locations and restaurants to visit in the town itself. However, a word of caution: Some of the food sold here is prepared using game meat. So, if you’re not comfortable with consuming meat like horses, you might want to do a double take before indulging. 

8. Shop at the local Sapa Market

Image credit: David McKelvey

The hustle and bustle of the Sapa Market is emblematic of the vibrant lives of the tribal people, making it one of the places to visit in Sapa. It is a mere 20-minute walk from Town Square, so if you’re in the area, then drop by to get a glimpse of the frenetic atmosphere and buy some clothing, utensils, or handcrafts. Some haggling skills are essential and be sure to stay firm as vendors may get a bit pushy! If you get too tired and hungry, a warm bowl of beef pho at a local stall is certainly consoling.

9. Plan a day trip to O Quy Ho Pass

Image credit: Khánh Hmoong

Even though O Quy Ho Pass is some ways away from the central town of Sa Pa (about 18km), it is, in my opinion, a destination that warrants a visit during the winter season. After all, much like Thac Bac Waterfall, this is also one of the areas in Sa Pa where it’s possible to catch some snow!

Located between the provinces of Lao Cai and Lai Chau, O Quy Ho Pass stretches and snakes around the hills in the area. The path is winding and perilous, but visitors who embark on this journey (usually by motorbike) often come home with nothing but praise for the scenic sights throughout the journey. In fact, many locals even say that during sunset, O Quy Ho Pass looks like an actual painting come to life!

10. Marvel at the beautiful and romantic Love Waterfall

Image credit: LC_24

Places are made of a thousand stories, and the legend behind the Love Waterfall is one that should not be missed. The ancient folktale tells a story of a forbidden love between a fairy and a boy who frequented the waterfall to play his flute. It is widely believed that the waterfall was a bathing place for fairies. In the aftermath of ferreting out the love affair, the fairy’s parents forbade her from visiting the waterfall. The story ends with the fairy metamorphosing into a bird to live with the boy. The symbolism of the waterfall as “Love” was born thereafter.

Visiting the Love Waterfall located in San Sa Ho Commune is another one of the things to do in Sapa – the beauty of the lustrous streams will captivate your senses. The ₫70,000 (~S$4) entrance fee is definitely a steal!

TripZilla Tip: Take a ride from Sapa Town, which will take approximately 30 minutes; rather than hiring a motorbike, which will take approximately an hour.

11. Experience the culture of Sa Pa’s Hill Tribe Villages

things to do in sapa

Image credit: Krisztian Tabori

Speaking of ethnic tribes in Sa Pa, while you’re visiting the area during winter, do take some time for an excursion to some of these authentic tribal villages. Most of them are located in verdant hills outside the main town. They offer visitors not just a chance to discover what life is like for the indigenous tribes, but also a welcome escape into idyllic landscapes.

Cat Cat Village is arguably the most popular ethnic village that visitors often flock to. Belonging to the Hmong people, the village is where you can check out well-preserved traditional houses and yet more stunning terraced rice fields. Other ethnic tribal villages you can discover are Ta Van Village and Sin Chai Village.

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12. Savour the flavour of traditional Hmong-style cuisine

Image credit: Chi Chi

Ah, food! Time to replenish your energy! In the aforementioned Cat Cat Village, you can enjoy traditional Hmong-style cuisine at The Hill Station Signature Restaurant. This food haven is renowned for its spring rolls, tofu, traditional Hmong pork confit, smoked buffalo and black pudding. 

Unwind with some house wine and craft beer if you’d like! The price is extremely reasonable and excellent service is provided. This restaurant is also perfect for vegetarians.

13. Marvel at the architectural design of the Holy Rosary Church

things to do in sapa vietnam

Image credit: Khanh Hmoong

Tired of traipsing around nature hikes? A visit to the Holy Rosary Church of Sapa — also known as the Stone Church or the Notre Dome Cathedral — requires no physical exertion. Here, you get a chance to immerse in remnants of French colonial history after World War II destroyed nearly all the 200 colonial buildings in Sapa.

The church flaunts a rustic exterior and a colonial architectural design that takes you back to the French colonial period. It is open only on the weekends and while you may not get a glimpse of the church’s interior, the beautiful exterior is worth a snap! Furthermore, it is fascinating to observe the activities in town and people-watch at the nearby Quang Truong Square.

14. Try out the local coffee shops

Sa Pa is not all about mountains and natural attractions. Beyond all that, this winter wonderland is actually perfect for cafe hopping. What’s more, Vietnamese coffee is well-loved by a lot of people around the globe. Drop by the cafes or coffee shops and take a sip of this drink renowned for its bold and earthy flavours!

Lá Dao Spa – Home – Restaurant, Le Gecko Cafe, Cong Caphe, and Viettrekking Coffee & Restaurants are some of the cafes in Sa Pa with a pleasant ambience, delicious food, and decent coffee.

15. Reward yourself with a rejuvenating spa session

Enjoying the spa while overlooking the stunning mountain views of Sa Pa — doesn’t it sound great? Whether you’re on a solo trip, or travelling with friends and family, a spa session is definitely one of the best and most therapeutic things to do in Sa Pa. 

There are a few spas in town, such as Eden Massage & Spa and Halosa Spa Sapa. Both are ideal spots for you to free your mind and body and rejuvenate. The latter also combines a spa, lounge, cafe and restaurant in one place. It’s well-known for its restaurant’s rustic decor and the sophisticated spa area that boasts a gorgeous vista of the valleys.

Also read: 12 Fun Things to Do in Da Nang, Vietnam for First-Time Visitors

And there you have it, some of the must-try winter activities and things to do in Sa Pa, Vietnam. Before you start planning your trip though, take note that while snowfall isn’t something that’s completely unheard of in Sa Pa, it is still quite rare to experience a full-blown snowstorm. Regardless, the chilly winter air and the awesome scenery make up for that! The only thing left to do now is to start planning out your detailed itinerary!

About Authors

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.


Siti Nurfatin
Siti Nurfatin

Fatin is a Thai milk tea lover who yearns to try all the Thai milk teas she can get! With her wavy short hair and undercut, Fatin may look a tad bit unapproachable but she’s a big softie at heart. Greatly inspired by Ellen DeGeneres, “be kind to one another” is a motto she lives by. Fatin is also a proud mother of three endearing felines named Korra, Bubu and Mochi.


Cecelia Chang
Cecelia Chang

Born in a new village in Selangor, Malaysia, Cecelia loves three things in life: Good food, good views, and good deals. She also enjoys exploring new places and experiencing new things on her travels.