Due to Sapa’s mountainous position, nothing is known about its earliest inhabitants. Experts think the petroglyphs belong to the 15th century.
Most of them have been worn down by the elements over the decades and aren’t very spectacular.
The Hmong and Dao are the most significant ethnic minorities in Sapa today. Around this period, the Giay and Tay moved into the mountains. The ethnic minority’ customs and cultures were protected since the Kinh didn’t conquer the region.
As Sapa’s valleys and hills were so remote, the town didn’t appear on maps until the French arrived in the late 1880s; even then, it was commonly called ‘Chapa’ owing to how the French spoke it. French influence grew, and soon military parties and missionaries arrived.
From 1891 on, the province was dominated by French conquerors who dispatched the troops into Sapa to quell any protest or opposition in a crucial territory near China. French citizens and a military garrison settled into Sapa, altering its appearance.
Almost all of Sapa’s colonial structures were destroyed in the fighting from 1945 to 1954. Vietnamese independence fighters targeted French structures and people, while the French bombed the town to quell the resistance.
Most of Sapa’s people fled the war. In the 1960s, when the new communist government encouraged lowland Vietnamese to move to the highlands, the town came back to life.
Sapa remained unaffected by the Vietnam War (or the American War) and battles against Cambodia and China, but it wasn’t until 1993 that visitors started visiting to admire its beautiful landscapes.
Sapa has gotten more touristic in recent years, yet the beauty alone is worth a visit.
What does the name Sapa refer to?
Research into the cultural history of the area reveals that the word “Sapa” originates from the H’Mong language. The H’Mong are an ethnic group that has lived in this region for a very long time. This area is referred to as Sa P, which literally translates to “sand beach.” Historically, this location featured a sizable stretch of sandy shoreline that served as a marketplace for individuals of a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds.
Chapa was the official name given to Sapa during the time that it was under French colonial administration. The word Sapa has been used in legally sanctioned capacities in Vietnam’s governmental papers ever since 1945. Both “Sa Pa” and “Sapa” are often used and understood to be correct spellings of the word.