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The best way to reach Sapa is to take an overnight train – ideally the luxurious Victoria Express from Hanoi, whose wood-lined Pullman carriages and dining car recall the elegance of the colonial era. French colons originally founded the hill station, draped over the eastern slopes of the Hoang Lien Mountains (aka the ‘Tonkinese Alps’), as a summer retreat. It was badly roughed up by the Japanese in the 1940s, and again during the Vietnamese War of 1979, but is today enjoying a new lease of life as a bolthole for foreign travellers thanks to its relaxing climate and proximity to some glorious hill country, where minority communities such as the Black H’mong and Red Dao are famed for their traditional costumes.
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