Located in remote mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, Sapa is 1650 meters high above sea level. Sapa Vietnam is famous for its exquisiteness, rugged mountainous landscape and cultural diversity. Sapa is an incredibly beautiful town lying in Huanglianshan Mountains. Huanglianshan Mountains is in the northwest of Vietnam close to China border and is known as “the Tonkinese Alps”. There are many hill tribes, rice terraces and lush vegetation in Sapa and its surrounding areas. Sapa also has the highest mountain peak in Vietnam – Fansipan Peak. Now, Sapa Vietnam has rapidly become a hot tourist attraction.
Ethnic Minorities in Sapa Vietnam
There are many ethnic minorities reside in Sapa Vietnam and its surroundings. Besides the Kinh people, there are another eight different ethnic groups residing in Sapa, including H’mong (pronounced Mong), Dao (pronounced Yao), Tay, Giay (pronounced Zai), Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Xa Pho. Howeve, the whole population of the last four ethnic groups is less than 500. In 1933, the total population of the district is about 316452, among which H’mong accounts for 52%, Dao 25%, Kinh 15%, Tay 5% and Giay 2%. There are only more or less 3300 people living in Sapa down town. The rest are farmers that are distributed unevenly throughout the district.
Many of the elderly women are good at making handcrafts, such as ethnic costume, woolen blankets which are sold to tourists. It is interesting to chat with them. Their English is amazingly great. But, sadly, doing such things in Sapa down town may cause scrum sometimes.
In order to support household expenses, the kids of ethnic groups start to sell trinkets to tourists. Please do not buy stuff from the kids. They are supposed to study in schools but not to sell trinkets. They mainly sell metal and silver jewelry, embroidered pillowcases and friendship ribbons, spending several hours walking from surrounding villages to down town. At the end of a day, some of them ride a bike home, some walk home, while some just sleep in the down town market.
Girls and boys in Sapa get married early (about 15-18 years old) and usually have two kids at the age 20. Lots of girls leave their villages because of poverty. They spare no effort to sell things at the Sapa town. Sometimes they only have a meal for a day.
In winter (4 months, from November to the next February), the climate in Sapa is cold, moist and foggy. The temperature drops to frozen level. In 2011, it even snowed. Tourists enter Sapa down town on a sunny day and spend a week in the impenetrable fog. If the weather is like this, you can do nothing at Sapa. Even the paddy fields are empty. What you can see are only fields of brown soil. And the roads are muddy and slippery. If you choose to travel Sapa in winter, you have to take a coat to prevent the coldness. Most of the hotels have no heater. So, the hotels with heaters will be in short in winter. You have to reserve a room in advance. In August, it rains too much, especially in the morning.
Please notice that some ethnic minorities would not be willing to take pictures with you. You have to ask for their agreement first.
Prepare rainwear. It is sold at surrounding stores and the price is very cheap.
You can rent rubber boots or hiking boots at your hotel or the surrounding stores, but the sizes are limited.
If you think chatting with the ethnic minorities makes you happy or you have received their help, you can buy some their handcrafts. Although the price of their handcrafts will be a little bit higher than that of handcrafts sold in stores, they are so poor that they only live on the money earned by selling their handcrafts.
The ticket to Cat Cat village or Ban Ho & Lao Chai village is 40,000 VND. The ticket to Ta Phin village is 20,000 VND.
The tourists visiting village by riding a hackery through paddy fields have to prepare rubber boots, hiking boots, walking sticks and more waterproof clothes. The stairs in paddy fields will be muddy and slippery according to the weather. Tourists can buy walking sticks from the kids of ethnic minorities. A walking stick is only 5000VND. For tourists who do not like to take risks, they can go to those small villages, such as Lao Chai by Jeeps, motorcycles or vans. (All Sapa Village)
Sapa Vietnam is an attracting mountain town, surrounded by picturesque mountains and terraces fields. The best place to view the beautiful scenery is from the top of a nearby hill. One top of the hills has been established as an attraction. That is Ham Rong Resort which has various gardens (Orchid Garden, European Garden), a Dance performance area, a viewing platform and restaurants. Walk south for a while from the Centre Square, then climb a number of stairs, and you will arrive there. The entrance ticket is 80,000VND.
If you have more time, you can visit “Sapa Culture Museum”. You can learn about the history of Sapa, its ethnic clothing and tradition. This museum is located behind the tourist office. Another attraction that is worth visiting is the architecture left by French colonialists in colonial period, such as churches, the squares and Town Hall. When you are walking in the mountains, you can come across many hill tribes, such as the Red Dao tribe.
You can sit on a balcony of the hotel, overviewing the valleys and enjoying the sunset while drinking a beer. How pleasant it is.
Cat Cat village is only several kilometers away from Sapa down town. You almost never get lost there. As long as you walk along the main road which is marked on the map, you can find another road on the left. This road passes through the village and is towards to the road of another hill. Hiking provides an opportunity for visitors to observe the Vietnamese agricultural area and farm animals with a good view. The way back to Sapa down town is difficult (some places may be steep). If you decide to return to Sapa down town, the brave local people riding motors are willing to accompany you back to Sapa down town. The price is 40,000VND for a person. The price for entering the village is also 40,000VND. Old people are not supposed to hike in Cat Cat village.
During the hiking journey, you will see several cottage industries, such as fabrics, sculpture and art shops. At the halfway of the hiking, you will arrive at the rest place, next to which are a medium waterfall and a small village with brick house. You can go for a walk if you are free in the morning or afternoon.
If you take a hiking trip, you can stay over at a village. Living in a homestay will not be too uncomfortable. Maybe there will be no hot water, but you can require for it. Remember to take sweaters with you since it is very cold at night in the village. Except the fire lighted in the kitchen for cooking, there’s no other heat source. A thick blanket will be provided for you when you sleep. You can book the whole hiking trip or just a part of it in Hanoi, or you can require a private hiking for your team.
Heaven’s Gate. The lofty mountains will take your breath. You can join in a package tour or rent a motorcycle. The friendly girl working at the tour center located in center plaza will offer direction guide and map to you. You may spend half day touring the waterfall. The waterfall has its charm. It is free to visiting the lofty mountains, but it costs a little money to enter the waterfall. It is better to take a wide-angle camera.
You can exchange money, get traveler’s check and cash prepaid credit cards at those large hotels in Sapa Vietnam. In addition, there are a lot of ATMs on the main streets accepting all main cards, such as Visa, Mastercard and Maestro network.
Please notice that the foreign currency you take along should be new and clear. The local currency with shabby note will not be easily accepted. Some hostels will refuse to exchange money for you.
Tourist trinkets are sold almost everywhere. Sapa is known for its embroidery which is divided into two kinds: handmade products and machine made products. It is easy to distinguish them. It is better to buy handmade embroidery from the maker, but the price is not fixed. You can bargain according to the time the product costs. If you want to buy machine made embroidery, it is more convenient to buy one in a shop.
Every market sells clothes, blankets and other stuff. The traditional things of ethnic minorities in Sapa are with colorful design. Please notice that the dye on the stuff may leave a stain on your fingers (or not only on the fingers). That is why many hands of the women have black marks. When you wash the clothing, the color fades. (In order to avoid the color fading, you can wash the clothing with cold salty water. Make sure you pack the clothing carefully in your bag to take home.)
There are many restaurants along the main street, Muong Hoa Street. All the restaurants have almost the same menu, some of which offer ordinary food, odd food or Italian food with Vietnamese price. Please order food with caution.
Little Vietnam – A medium restaurant that is located in Muong Hoa Street which leads to Muong Hoa Valley. It specially offers local food and tasty typical western food, serving various customers. There are many specialties. Try the Salmon hotpot & H’Mong King Style chicken at number 33, Muong Hoa Street.
Baguettes & Chocolate – A café specializes in delicious French dessert. Besides, it also offers European and Asian food. Located in the northwest of the central plaza, it is run as a vocational school for disadvantage youth. Look forward to the service for disadvantage youths.
There is a nice store at the corner which is opposite to the lake in the center of the town. It offers partly-translated menu with reasonable price. (Between 20,000 to 50,000 VND)
At the market – The stalls sell delicious rice noodle, costing 20,000VND a bowl; fried rice, 35,000VND per serving; other dishes, about 30,000VND. It is a good opportunity to try the local food.
Hmong Sisters Bar – near Sapa Bamboo Hotel; with swimming pool; darts and free Wifi offered.
Sapa O’Chau Café – decorated like a school; tea and coffee, hemp milk, smoothies and pancakes and free Wifi are offered. The guests include students. It is suitable for volunteers and rational people. Address: Number 8, Thac Bac Street. Telephone.