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When French missionaries came upon this place, they thought they had stumbled upon Shangri-La. The green hills and the misty mornings are enough to make one weep for those who will never see them. Agents of the French empire quickly established a hill station, and the Gaullic bosses of Hanoi used it to escape the sweltering summers there. Several of their villas are still crumbling, while others have been restored. Even more new hostelries have been built in recent years. Sapa has become the destination in northern Vietnam. There is now even a special luxury train to take you there. And it's well worth the price of passage. On ...

When French missionaries came upon this place, they thought they had stumbled upon Shangri-La. The green hills and the misty mornings are enough to make one weep for those who will never see them. Agents of the French empire quickly established a hill station, and the Gaullic bosses of Hanoi used it to escape the sweltering summers there. Several of their villas are still crumbling, while others have been restored. Even more new hostelries have been built in recent years. Sapa has become the destination in northern Vietnam. There is now even a special luxury train to take you there. And it's well worth the price of passage. On arrival you can rub shoulders with the local hill tribes, such as the Hmong and the Dao dressed in their colorful Sunday best. See them at the weekly market and pose for a few pix with them. Buy one of them a drink of rice wine or a cup of tea and find a friend for life. Be aware, though, that while you are in a tropical zone you are also at high elevation. It's easy to get winded by a short hike. And temperatures in winter can drop to freezing. Dress in layers and carry an umbrella.

Richard Sterling
About the Expert

Richard Sterling is the author of Lonely Planet's World Food: Greece, Eyewitness Travel Guide Vietnam, and many other books.

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Richard Sterling for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Sa Pa District is located in the mountains of northwest Vietnam, close to the Chinese border
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Currency: Vietnam Dong
  • Research: Wikitravel | Wikipedia
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