Photographing Vietnam – Sapa
October 7, 2018 | Landscape Photography, Travel | by Michael Breitung
After visiting Mu Cang Chai we continued our travels through Vietnam and went further North towards Sapa. Of all the areas in northern Vietnam, this one is maybe the most popular. That’s why Sapa town is very crowded and full of hotels and restaurants. But it’s not necessarily the best place to stay, if you are interested in landscape photography. To reach the interesting photo locations you need to drive quite a bit out of town on very bumpy roads. In my opinion it’s much better to find a hotel in the countryside, which has the photo spots at its doorstep – for example, the Topas Ecolodge.
We didn’t spent much time in Sapa town after arriving via Heaven’s Gate. After lunch our guide took us 20 kilometers South of Sapa to the Topas Ecolodge*. Ever since I had first seen photos of this place a few years ago I had wanted to stay there. Thus I had booked our room nearly one year in advance to ensure our stay during harvest season. It wasn’t cheap and the hotel is certainly one of the more expensive places to stay at in Vietnam. But considering it’s great location, the comfortable rooms and the delicious food it was totally worth it.
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS
Exif: f/9,5 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 15s
The hotel is located in a very unique place, far from the bustle of Sapa town. It’s another world. Surrounded by countless rice paddies, it’s the perfect place to stay, if you are interested in landscape photography. To give you an idea: the photo below, for example, was taken the first morning just a few meters from the entrance to the hotel grounds. And the photo above was taken from the terrace of the Topas Ecolodge just before dinner.
Waves | Prints Available
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS
Exif: f/9,5 | 106mm | ISO 100 | 1/45s
While staying at the hotel, I also created a little video, which shows a bit more of its amenities. I also give tips about what I feel are the best rooms to get to photograph the surrounding rice paddies directly from the balcony.
Sapa Landscape Photography
To explore the adjacent valley and the rice terraces I would simply take a bicycle from the hotel. It was an easy way to get around and with all the fantastic views close by, I never had the feeling that I might be missing out on some more spectacular locations in the Sapa area. It was all right there within a 10km radius of the hotel.
So each sunrise and sunset I was out to take photos and during the day I went on various hikes along the little trails through the rice fields in search of beautiful photo spots – and I found plenty. The area around the Topas Ecolodge provided some of the best landscape photography opportunities I’ve had in the last couple of years.
The photo below was taken at the opposite side of the valley from our hotel. It took me just 20 minutes with the bicycle to get there. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the sky began to glow I felt once more that I was in landscape photography heaven.
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Kase K8 Kit + Kase 0.6 Hard and Soft GND
Exif: f/9,5 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/45s – 0,3s bracketing and focus stacking
Sapa Harvest Time
What I noticed during the four days I spent in the area was, how fast the rice harvest proceeded. I had always read that mid September was the best time to visit Sapa. While this might be true for some areas, the fields near the Topas Ecolodge were already fully harvested when we left on September 8th. Had we visited around mid September, it would have been a huge disappointment for sure.
So, if you ever want to photograph Sapa at its best, which is just before or during harvest, make sure to plan your visit for the first week of September. This way you should be on the safe side. The worst thing that could happen is that you are a week too early and the fields don’t yet have that vibrant golden color they get just before harvest. But that’s still better than the empty, muddy terraces you would get after the harvest.
In the video below I talk more about this and I also take you along some of the hikes I did and show you the views I photographed.
Sapa was definitely the highlight of our travels through Vietnam – to a huge extent so, because of the location of our hotel. And not to forget the weather – so much sunshine during rainy season was quite unexpected and a welcome surprise after our time in Mu Cang Chai.
* This is a Booking.com Affiliate Link. If you use it to make a booking, I’ll get a little commission from Booking.com