Sapa is oriented to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; it overlooks a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even when it's cloudy, local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.
If you were expecting a quaint alpine town, recalibrate your expectations. Modern tourism development has mushroomed haphazardly. Thanks to rarely enforced building-height restrictions, Sapa's skyline is continually thrusting upwards.
But you're not here to hang out in town. This is northern Vietnam's premier trekking base, from where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seem a world apart. Once you've stepped out into the lush fields, you'll understand the Sapa area's real charm.