Sapa – taking a motorbike around the mountain scenery and hilltop villages

The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
72 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
Primary Tags
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How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
104th/372 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb


There is so much about this trip that should place it high on anyone’s itinerary for Vietnam – the misty rice terraces around Sapa with stunning vistas of just about every shade of green imaginable; the hill tribes that are very distinct from the rest of Vietnam and even mountain to mountain; the train journey up through the mountains that gives a break from the usual tourist buses that form the backbone of any Vietnam trip; and the access to this pure mountainous jungle that surrounds you at all times


My biggest tip is to jump on a motorbike (if you can’t ride, it is super easy to arrange for someone to take you) and head off across the valleys to see all of this.  Having the rice terraces and mountains zip by amongst the small hill villages on a motorbike is the most “Vietnam” experience I felt in all of my trips there and is not to be missed


Smaller tips:

  • I went in July time, which was still fun but be aware that it is likely to be hammering it down at this time of year which restricts the views and the hikes you can do
  • Sapa is nice enough and it’s lovely to see the various hill tribe outfits and the pride that the local people have in them, but the real highlight is heading into the valleys and mountains to see the villages and natural scenery
  • Renting a motorbike or a driver to go with you should be super cheap – USD5 a day
  • To get to Sapa its a no-brainer to take the overnight train, rather than the bus which takes up to 10 hours.  Just make sure to book the best cabins – the basic cabins / seats in trains in Vietnam may not meet your expectations of comfort (or cleanliness)
  • And for ideas on how a trip to Sapa can fit into an itinerary for experiencing the highlights of Vietnam, see this entry A 3 week itinerary for the highlights of Vietnam


#1 Making your way by the gorgeous rice terraces carved into the valleys all around Sapa

#2 Catching the views of the nearby mountains when you get a break in the clouds as you zip by on your motorbike

#3 Meeting some of the local hilltribes who show real pride in their local dress patterns that differentiate them from the other tribes in the mountains

#4 The luscious greens of the rice terraces - green, green, green!

#5 Seeing the latest extreme of "What a Vietnamese can get on a motorbike"

#6 Feeling pretty happy with yourself under an umbrella as it thunders down with rain

#7 Watching as the tropical deluges come booming down the sides of the mountains and overflow the rivers

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone