SAPA - fascinating place in northern Vietnam with Hmong and Dao ethnic minorities

On the way to the Hau Thao village — Sapa

Sapa - ethnic minorities, mountains, nature and fascinating surrounding.

In this area live approximately 140 000 inhabitants. For the first time, the city was inhabited by people about which there is not any records. In the whole valley they left hundreds of petroglyphs, mostly formed from the circles. The experts believe that they comes from the 15th century. People of ethnic minority Hmong and Dao then came to the mountains. You can meet them in Sapa and neighborhood, but also when you will be hiking through the stunning mountain ranges and valleys, and the god-forgotten villages.

Several ethnic minority groups - mostly Hmong, Dao, Giay, Xa Pho, Tay.

One of the most popular treks is trek to the highest peak of Vietnam - Fansipan (3,143 m, Hoang Lien National Park), or trek through the valley of Muong Hoa to the Tavan and Ban Ho villages. I recommend to rent a motorcycle and visit villages around Sapa. For example Ta Phin, Sin Chai, Hau Thao, Thanh Kim villages. To the Tavan, Cat Cat, Lai Chau, I Lin Ho villages you can go through the beautiful valley of Muong Hoa. It is also important to buy a ticket, but it is not expensive, it costs 2 USD and a visit is definitely worth it. To the Tavan village you need to have a ticket.

Tavan village

The women from ethnic minority groups are very good local guides.

Lots of women from ethnic group Hmong and Dao offers guiding services and homestay accommodation in the villages. In Sapa town you can talk to them and go. This is the best way to explore the area and try homestay accommodation and identify cultural habits. Women from these ethnic groups can speak English quite well, so there is no problem to agree on anything. And it is also important that they know the neighborhood very well. Check out the video when you want to see a homestay in Sapa might look like.

Red Dao women — Sapa — Ta Phin village

Several ethnic minority groups - mostly Hmong, Dao, Giay, Xa Pho, Tay.

One of the most popular treks is trek to the highest peak of Vietnam - Fansipan (3,143 m, Hoang Lien National Park), or trek through the valley of Muong Hoa to the Tavan and Ban Ho villages. I recommend to rent a motorcycle and visit villages around Sapa. For example Ta Phin, Sin Chai, Hau Thao, Thanh Kim villages. To the Tavan, Cat Cat, Lai Chau, I Lin Ho villages you can go through the beautiful valley of Muong Hoa. It is also important to buy a ticket, but it is not expensive, it costs 2 USD and a visit is definitely worth it. To the Tavan village you need to have a ticket.

The women from ethnic minority groups are very good local guides.

Lots of women from ethnic group Hmong and Dao offers guiding services and homestay accommodation in the villages. In Sapa town you can talk to them and go. This is the best way to explore the area and try homestay accommodation and identify cultural habits. Women from these ethnic groups can speak English quite well, so there is no problem to agree on anything. And it is also important that they know the neighborhood very well. Check out the video when you want to see a homestay in Sapa might look like.

On the way to the Hau Thao village — Sapa

Buy the tourist trips to nearby villages in the agencies does not make sense.

For example, it was ordered when you want to go to Tavan village, it is necessary to go with a certified guide. But you can get there also with a local guides. There are a lot of possibilities homestay accomodation in these villages with local ethnic people and it is the greatest experience that you must try. These homestaye are created here for the tourists and travellers, but a real homestay of local people is also possible there.

Accommodation in Sapa - AGODA.com

Trekking in Sapa is amazing - there is a fantastic surrounding.

I highly recommend to try a homestay with the locals, you can spend with them all the day and night. You will be watching their everyday life and they will be preparing very good meals for you. These people can also go to a trek into the surroundings with you. At these locations you can create really nice photos. Rice terraces, valleys and mountains sometimes shrouded in mist and friendly ethnic minority people. Lots of homestay accommodations are in the Tavan village, but there is a lot of tourists, and some accomodations are common tourist cottages. Sapa is ideal place for trekking in Vietnam.

Muong Hoa valley and women from Black Hmong ethnic group — Sapa

Experience authentic homestay and watch the life of ethnic people.

The price for a homestay accomodation is different - it can be for 10–30 USD / per person. The average price is about 10–15 USD / per person and includes a light trek, food, and 1 night in a village with local people. Tourist Center in the city also offers homestay in price of about 25 USD / person, including the trek and 1 night + food, but it is not authentic homestay accommodation.

Homestay in Sapa / Hau Thao village

The sunday market of Flower Hmong people in Bac Ha town.

At this market you will meet the people from ethnic group Flower Hmong, Phu La, Dao Tuyen, La Chi and Tay. They are coming here to buy or sell their products or food and animals. It is necessary here to take a bus or a car by tour operator, Bac Ha is about 80 km from Sapa. There you can visit other local markets, for example Coc Ly or Can Cau.

North of the town of Sapa in Muong Hum village held every sunday market (6.00–13.00h), less frequented by tourists but very big. Here you will meet people of Giay, Dao, White Hmong, Ha Nhi ethnic minorities. Taste good local beer. Be careful with taking pictures, some ethnic residents are not used to it. It is better to ask them and then show the photo.

Sapa town and the view from the Dragon mountain

Black Hmong are the largest ethnic group in Sapa and Lao Cai.

Black Hmong - the largest ethnic group in Sapa, which you can meet every day in the town. In the vicinity and in the province of Lao Cai, however, there are more ethnic minorities of Vietnam, but this is the largest group of this region. Black Hmong came in northern Vietnam about 300 years ago from China. They are easily identifiable - clothes are also made from hemp and indigo dye used color, in shades of dark blue to black. Some Hmong people do not longer wear their original clothes, but modern clothes.

A great experience to see the Hmong community are their festivals.

A lot of women in this ethnic group alive and earns extra money by manufacturing decorative accessories, blankets, bags or clothes in Sapa. And also they offer guide services and homestay in their home and villages. Men perform more demanding and difficult job. For example a construction of houses in the villages. Hmong maintain a series of celebrations and festivals throughout the year. The most important for Hmong is TET (New Year) is celebrated almost throughout the month. Boys and girls play musical instruments, sing, dance and the whole community meets frequently in one place.

Black Hmong women in Sapa. Muong Hoa valley.

WEATHER IN SAPA:

The coldest period in Sapa is from December to February, so choose carefully where is the accomodation with the heating, it is very cold here and sometimes snow falls in the winter. There is often too thick fog in the winter, but then can be a very nice sunny day and everything changes rapidly.
The main tourist season in Sapa is from September to April. If you like trekking it is recommended in months from September to November and March to May. In these months is very good weather and temperature from 15 to 28 °C and a night temperature from 10–18 °C. Read the article - the weather in northern Vietnam.

View from hotel to Hoang Lien Son mountains

FOOD IN SAPA:

The best option for eating in Sapa is by street vendors - the tastiest and cheapest variant of Vietnamese cuisine. There is sufficient variety of stalls where you can eat typical Vietnamese dishes (meat, rice, noodles, soups,…). Sapa is not such a big city so there’s a bit more limited menu. Foreign imitation of restaurants are overpriced and the food is not at such a level, to which we are accustomed. But in Sapa you can also buy pizza or steak with fries or another foreign food.

HOW TO GET TO SAPA FROM HANOI:

BUSES FROM HANOI TO SAPA:

The quickest way is to use day and night direct bus from Hanoi. Hanoi bus stations you will find in the map, see article about Hanoi. Buses depart from Hanoi to Sapa (Lao Cai) from the My Dinh bus station, some private bus companies depart from another places. Furthermore, you can also use several buses of private companies. Prices range from 12–18 USD per ride to Sapa. Times, prices and possible reservations of some companies- eg. Sapaexpress or Sapaethnic, Sapa Shuttlebus. Sapa Shuttlebus you can book and buy tickets online on Baolau.

TRAINS FROM HANOI TO SAPA (Lao Cai town):

Many travelers go to Sapa (Lao Cai train station) with a night train. Trains may be from Vietnam Railways with less comfort (ofic.viet.railways) or also from private tourist companies, also double cabs in train, but also more expensive (Orient Express, King Express, Fansipan, Sapaly). Use a search engine of transport links for Vietnam - Baolau or 12go.asia.

Vietnam Railways:
-
price from 155 000–190 000 dongs / 1 person- soft seat
-price of about 400 000 dongs-soft bed in 4-bed cabin

Private companies:
- price from 600 000–800 000 dongs / 1 person -soft bed
- better quality and service, some trains have two-bed cabins

BUSES FROM LAO CAI TO SAPA:

If you’re traveling from Hanoi, the train stops in Lao Cai town, it is 10 km from the Chinese border on the north of Vietnam. The train goes every day and many travellers and tourist go at night (20.30–22.00 pm), the train arrives in Lao Cai at 6.00–7.00 am. From Lao Cai you must take the bus or taxi, lots of tourist buses are waiting outside the train station. The public bus station is in the center of town, 300 meters from the station, see the map in this article. I recommend a public bus in Lao Cai town, tourist minibuses at the train station are overpriced. With exposure of the new highway to Lao Cai town at the end of 2014, it is possible that the number of train travelers reduced.

Every year the thousands of tourists come to Sapa, but this area retains its original natural and even partly cultural character.

My opinion about Sapa and recommendations:

As I wrote, Sapa is a very popular tourist destination, not only for foreign travellers but also for the Vietnamese people. I think if you go out of the town you will be satisfied. Some people wrote that there is heavy traffic in Sapa. Yes in the town center it is true, but where this is not in Vietnam? The traffic is without any problem outside the city. In my opinion, you will be frustrated with constant offering of goods and services by local ethnic population in Sapa town. Get ready for it! But you will see this also in some local villages.

  • do not stay only in the city or nearby within 5 km
  • if you do not buy products or services - ignore it
  • tell politely if you do not need anyone to follow in your path
  • Cat Cat and Tavan village are the most visited sites, try to go also to another places
  • buy the handcrafted products from local ethnic population (fakes in stores)

Let me also say that the Vietnamese government do not regulate tourism in this area. It is reflected on what a lot of people wrote. Several other hotels being built and I think that’s wrong. But I understand, the money and the mentality of the population are for someone the number one priority. For me personally, the area around the Sapa town was one of the most beautiful places I have visited.

PHOTOS from Tavan village
PHOTOS from Hau Thao village
PHOTOS from Thanh Kim village
PHOTOS from Sapa town + surrounding

Places of interest in Sapa:

• trekking or riding a motorcycle to villages in the area (Tavan, Cat Cat, Sin Chai, Ta Phin, Thanh Kim, Ban Ho, Hau Thao, Lao Chai)
• Silver waterfall and Love waterfall
• hike to the highest peak of Vietnam — Fansipan
(Hoang Lien National Park)
• Muong Hoa valley
• Tram Ton Pass
(fascinating sceneries)
• market in Sapa
• Ham Rong mountain
(Dragon mountain)
• cultural performances in the Cat Cat village
• homestay at the local ethnic minorities
• sunday market in Bac Ha
(take a bus or a tour operator, Bac Ha is approx. 80 km)
• sunday market in Muong Hun

Sapa — in the center of the town

How to obtain a cheapest visa for Vietnam?
Transportation in Vietnam
Flights to Vietnam
Trekking in Vietnam
Accommodation in Vietnam
Vaccines for Vietnam
Homestay in Vietnam
Map of northern Vietnam

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