With cascad ing rice terraces and lush vegetation, Sapa is perched at an elevation of 5,250 ft (1,600 m) on the eastern slopes of the Hoang Lien Mountains, also known as the Tonkinese Alps. Jesuit priests first arrived here in 1918 and sent word of the idyllic views and pleasant climate back to Hanoi. By 1922, Sapa was estab- lished as a hill station where the French built villas, hotels, and tennis courts, transforming the place into a summer retreat.
In this scenic setting, French colonists or colons would flirt, gossip, eat strawberries, and drink lots of wine. These idyllic conditions lasted until World War II and the Japanese inva sion of 1941. Many villas and hotels were destroyed or aban doned in the next four decades dur ing wars with the French and the US . Still more destructive was the SinoVietna mese War of 1979, when the town itself was damaged.
Fortunately, following the introduction of Vietnam’s economic reforms or doi moi in the 1990s and the subsequent gradual opening of the country to tourism, Sapa gained a fresh lease on life. Revived by local entre preneurs and rediscovered by foreign visitors, the town slowly regained the distinction it enjoyed in colonial times. Set on several levels joined by small sloping streets and steep flights of steps, Sapa is home to diverse hill peoples, as well as ethnic Kinh and a growing army of visi- tors who come for the stunning views and fresh mountain air. Trekking has become a popular activity, and walks to nearby villages are open to all. Visitors often time their stay to coin cide with the weekend market, though it is now open on weekdays too. A major section of hill people are the Black Hmong, who generally wear indigo, followed by the Red Dao. Young women turn up for this colorful bazaar wearing exquisitely embroi dered skirts and jackets, elaborate headdresses, and heavy silver jewelry. The small and simple Sapa church, which was built in 1930 and set in a square, forms the center of town where the locals collect on feast days.
Southeast of the town is Ham Rong or Dragon Jaw’s Hill. A gentle climb leads up through rockeries and grottos to a summit. From here, there are magnificent views of the tree- filled valleys below, dotted