Although you can catch a glimpse of the scenery from a comfortable chair in Sapa town, it's only when you explore further afield that you really get to experience and appreciate all that this region has to offer.
A trek through the surrounding rice fields, forest and ethnic minority villages can create memories that last a lifetime, not to mention an overworked camera.
Treks can be organised for anything from half a day up, depending on budget, how much time you have, where you want to go and how active you feel. One day treks tend to go out to Lao Chai, Ta Van, Giang Ta Chai, Ban Ho and the Silver Waterfall -- with popular two- and three-day treks combining some of these -- or trekking through the lowlands to any one of a number of minority villages.
Most hotels offer tours, usually run through a third party, and a handful of tour operators have a presence in town, but it can be difficult to nut out who's going to give you the best value and experience -- even a reputable agency can occasionally deal out a bum tour, and even a scammer can have their good days. But the region is beautiful in and of itself, and the ethnic minorities don't change from tour to tour, so as long as you're not paying more than you can afford, you're liable to have a memorable trip even if a hassle or two pops up along the way.
If you're booking through an operator you'll have the choice of a private or group tour. The operators we spoke to assured us that the group tours took no more than nine people, but we've heard of far larger groups, so be sure to check before booking. Group day treks are usually around the $12 to 15 mark with overnighters around $30.
Two recent additions to the tour sector are Sapa Sisters and Sapa O'Chau, both of which are run by Hmong women. Prices are higher than the standard tours offered by other agencies, but if you want to know more about where your money's going and can afford it, we'd recommend checking them out. The other option is to go with one of the many Hmong women you'll be accosted by on the streets. Just be sure to confirm exactly what you're getting and where you're going as well as agreeing on a total price.
If you prefer to go it alone, an easy walk takes you down to Cat Cat village, from where you can walk or bike ride back up, taking about a half day. Another popular DIY trip is out to Taphin village, which should take four to five hours one way.