Sapa is a town in northwestern Vietnam’s Hoang Liên Son Mountains. There are few places in the world that can rival Sapa, the tourist hub of Vietnam’s mountainous north, as it is perched perilously on the western edge of a high plateau overlooking Fan Si Pan‘s hazy blue peak.

This hill station’s cool climate and almost alpine landscape appealed to early twentieth-century European visitors, and by 1930 a bustling hill station had developed complete with a tennis court, church, and more than 200 villas. Only a few of the original structures remain today, the rest having been destroyed by the passage of time, the 1979 Chinese invasion, and those involved in the current hotel development boom.

New building height restrictions are finally being enforced, but Sapa’s days of being an idyllic hilltop hideaway have already been concreted over. In spite of its lack of character, the modern town’s breathtaking scenery makes it an ideal starting point for tours of the region’s diverse collection of minority villages.

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