Sapa is the capital town of Sapa District which sits in Lao Cai Province. This area lies north-west of Hanoi and is characterised by rolling mountains and valleys, peppered with villages belonging to many different ethnic groups. It has grown in popularity with people wishing to discover the traditional lifestyles of the ethnic groups of Vietnam which remain, for the most part, unchanged by the modern world.
The history of human inhabitation of Sapa dates back much further than the traditional cultures found here today, possibly back to as early as the 15th century. The first documented inhabitants are the hill tribe communities of the Hmong and Dao (Yao) who were later joined by the Giay, Tay and Xa Pho.
Sapa was a significant area in terms of trading, as it had the potential to become a lucrative trade route with China. In order to obtain this route for themselves, in the late 1800s, the French military and groups of French missionaries began to arrive in Sapa. From 1891, the entire province of Lao Cai was put under the French command.
Starting with just a single inhabitant, the French population in Sapa began to increase. The French soon realised the benefits of the clean mountain air, and they began sending sick soldiers to Sapa to recover from their illnesses. A sanatorium and a military based were installed in the area, along with a number of private houses.
The hillside town also grew as a holiday destination for those looking to get away from the hot and heavy summers. More and more buildings sprang up around the town, complete with electricity supplied by Cat Cat Waterfall.
This however, did not last as the majority of the town and local villages were destroyed during the fierce battles of the fought during the Viet Minh's resistance to French Rule which started in the 1940s. After realising Sapa was no longer a viable option, the French left Sapa. After doing so, they ordered their airforce to bomb the town and destroy anything that was still left. The buildings flattened and the villages deserted, Sapa seemed to have fallen off the map.
It wasn't until the 1960s that the Vietnamese began to return and settle in Sapa and began rebuilding the fallen town. In 1993 Sapa opened it's borders to tourists and soon found itself to be one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Vietnam.
Now its cool mountain climate, ease of access and rich cultural diversity attracts more and more visitors from all over world each year. The main town now mainly caters for tourists with a plethora of hotels and international restaurants, but it doesn't take long to reach the traditional villages belonging to the ethnic minority groups of Vietnam who first settled here long ago. As well as being a mecca for cultural discovery, Sapa is one of the best hiking areas in Vietnam offering routes to suit all levels. It is also home to Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina, also often refered to as 'The Roof of Indochina."