Sapa is another one of those 'must do' in your Vietnam itinerary as it is truly magnificent. Located in the northwestern mountains of the country, Sapa is a modest town nestled within the Hoang Lien Son mountain range in Lao Cai Province.
We arrived at the train station in the city of Lao Cai and boarded a mini van to Sapa. An hour later, the landscape changed from flat to mountainous and the views became dramatic, with terraced rice paddies trickling water from one to another and colorful hill tribe people on the side of the road, carrying baskets of leaves on their backs or selling veggies and fruit from roadside stalls.
Few tourists will miss an opportunity to trek to mountain villages and majestic waterfalls.
The mountain slopes are lovely: Steep slopes with light green terraced ridges and darker green trees cluster in the crevasses; shallow valleys are covered in even more terraces that follow the shape of the land so they look like topography markings.
Ideal place for chilling out
They make use of the natural resources around them
Sapa is the central town for a multitude of smaller ethnic-minority farming villages in the region. Different ethnic groups have a tacit agreement between themselves; Saturdays, the Red Dao dominate the Sapa market, but on Sundays, they return to their villages and the Black H'Mong villagers stream in to hawk their handicrafts and trade goods.
For the entire time you are inside the square, youll hear constant chirping of You buy from me, You buy from me You buy from me... And when you finally do buy something, youll hear you bought from her, you buy from me
One can tell the difference by the style of clothing and embroidery work each wears and sells. The women of the red dao wear large red head wraps and seem to think large foreheads are beautiful; they pluck their hair so that their hairlines recede under the head wraps. The rest of their outfits are layered skirts and long vests with intricate embroidery work on central panels and along the edges of the clothes. The Black H'Mong, in contrast, either wear no head wraps or a simple black on almost looking like a pill box hat without the top, and they almost all wear big aluminum hoop earrings. Their clothing is primarily dyed in shades of indigo: deep purple, blue, green colors. Their sleeves are decorated in stripes of embroidery and patterned fabric; a long sleeveless vest with a large embroidered upright collar is worn overtop (underneath they wear very simple cullottes to the knees and wrap their shins with strips of cloth. Like leg warmers!)
Hill tribes live here. What an amazing view
Cat Cat Village sits atop unspoiled landscapes and is a desirable destination for trekkers seeking to spend full days walking in a world of natural charm and tranquility.
Visiting the village, tourists will discover various traditional trades of the local people such as weaving, jewelry manipulation, metal work and stone carvings.
Pigs and hens sharing a meal in peace
More farm animals
Its recommended for tourists to catch a local xe om (motorbike taxi) to get around. Another option is to rent a motorbike for VND100,000 ($5.50) a day, which provides a convenient and interesting way to discover the landscape and villages.
Being quite lazy we all took a motor bike taxi back up the mountain, flying by all the trekking nerds was the best part, the scenery was pretty amazing too, it has to be said.
Pretty Hmong lady
Pretty Hmong girl
We enquired into what a married Black Hmong wife has to do. It turns out that they have to wake at 4am to prepare hot water and breakfast for the husband, children and pigs (yes, they too are fed cooked meals ). After that they will wash clothes, tend to the house, cook lunch and dinner. After dinner, the Black Hmong men will gather at a house to drink, we were told that the wife must stay awake should they become hungry so she can cook a meal. This means that if the men stay up until 2am the wife will only get 2hrs sleep. Most of the women work day jobs too, such as tour guides or market stall sellers. Its a tough life. And a life that would be hard to escape should one want to.
Hmong girls enjoying their lunch at the Sapa market
Another must-see village is Ta Phin, a remote village located 12km from the centre of Sapa, which still retains traditional customs and lifestyles of the Dao, Tay and Mong ethnic groups.
Red Dzao lady in Taphin Village
Ta Phin Village is able to win tourists hearts thanks to the beautiful sights that surround it. Lavie waterfall is a common destination for trekkers. After trekking through forests, maize fields and mountains, tourists often enjoy soaking in Lavie stream and sunbathing on flat boulders.
Hardworking locals at Taphin Village
Homestay at Taphin Village
Little Vietnamese boy passing time catching butterflies
Boys catching frogs
The villagers seeks to capitalize from tourism and thus causes local children and adults to constantly follow visitors, in an effort to persuade them to buy wallets, hats, bags or fabric. However, these sellers tend to be friendly and hospitable.
Waterfalls a good place to do your laundry
Tavan village is a home to two different ethnic minorities, the Black Hmong and the Red Dzai
Bridge at Tavan village
Villagers House very basic facilities
If you are in Sapa on a Sunday, i highly recommend that you visit Bac Ha market. 80km from Sapa, Bac Ha Market is not only the place for buying and selling, but also a place for cultural and sentiment exchanging.
It is the largest and most colourful market in the area and attracts throngs of villagers from the surrounding hill tribes. Some walk several hours for the weekly opportunity to trade and barter food, animals, clothes and household goods
The pungent fumes of alcohol from corn whiskey, a Bac Ha specialty, accost your sense of smell,. The potent moonshine is decantered by vendors from large white plastic jugs to used bottled water containers. If you doubt the ability of a vendor's hooch to peel paint or light your senses on fire, you can try a shot for free.
Many different ethnic groups such as Flower H'mong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung minorities gather to buy and sell local products that cannot be found elsewhere.
At the fair, adventurous gastronomes can try thang co blood porridge, a popular dish of the HMong and other local people.
Though tourists were not in short supply, they were not the focus. Most locals paid little attention to them, rather choosing to focus on their business and the short Sunday-sized window of opportunity
Flower Hmong ladies with their babies
After eating our fill at the BacHa market, our tour guide took us to a nearby village
Baby Pig reminds me of Babe
Bull hard at work
Tourists helping out a bus driver in need
Heavy loads on backs
Kind hearted European girl helping to lighten the load
There is always work to be done in BacHa village
Poverty. Cannot afford new trousers
Stay tuned for Part 2 of LiLs Avenures in Sapa and Hanoi
( Please note that some of the text has been lifted off other articles on the Internet but the photos are all original. The opinions expressed here are based on my personal experience )