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Sapa

If you want a place of cultural authenticity and natural tranquility, you have found the right place. Sapa is a mountainous town in Northern Vietnam where you write poem, have your cameras on for most of your time, cheer over a community wine pot, and learn to appreciate indigenous culture or just to escape Hanoi heat and city noise. Being one of the most attractive tourism destinations of the country, Sapa is a precious gift that Mother Nature dedicates to Vietnam.

350km far north-west from Hanoi, Sapa, the capital of Sapa District in Lao Cai Province, lies at the altitude of 1600m. With the temperature ranging from the lowest of -1oC to the highest of 29oC, Sapa’s climate is moderate and drizzly in summer while chill and foggy in winter.

Sapa (or Chapa- the “sandy place”) first appeared in Vietnam national map in the late 1880s when the French disembarked in highland Tonkin. The first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sapa in 1909, and by 1920, there were a number of villas being built in this area by prosperous professionals. Going through many ups and downs, nowadays, Sapa is the prominent holiday destination, favored by both locals and foreign tourists.

Cat Cat Village

Nestled in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, Cat Cat- the old village of ethnic groups- attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive customs and practices which have been lost in almost ethnic villages. The village is within easy walking distance from any hotel in downtown Sapa.

Cat Cat cultural village was formed in 19th century by the gathering of some families belonging to some ethnic groups living in mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, especially Black H’Mong .They lived next to each other along the mountain side and cultivated surrounding their home. Rice and corn were grown in terraced fields, while traditional handicrafts such as twisting flax and weaving fabric have been well-kept. Through times, Cat Cat Village has transferred to one appealing feature of Sapa’s tourism.

Visiting Cat Cat, tourists will be impressed by the peacefully picturesque sceneries. People can easily catch sight of women sitting in front of the loom with colorful pieces of brocade, while children playing around with pets or even livestock. From the plain brocade, then women can carefully dye them with special leaves and embroider beautiful patterns of flower and animal on them. Moreover, many residents of Cat Cat Village are also skillful at manipulating sophisticated gold and silver jewelry.

The original architect of H’Mong people is interesting as well. Their house typically contains three rooms with three doors and po mu wood roof, while the walls’ material is sawn timber. There are other indispensable parts of the house such as altar, kitchen, places for keeping food and sleeping, etc.

Cat Cat Village gives tourists a chance to have a glimpse into the daily life of local ethnic people, as well as take part in traditional activities such as weaving fabric. It is also a good opportunity to purchase some traditional souvenirs and handicrafts right from the craftsmen. People can also try some local food selling the way upcoming to the hill.

In addition, the road leading to Cat Cat Village is an easy and interesting route for trekking. The spot is only within 20-30m minutes walking from Sapa center; and the hike through mountains will offer tourists the wonderful picture of rice paddies, water fall, or even water buffaloes grazing leisurely.

Ta Phin Village

Though Sapa has long been familiar with tourists, Ta Phin Village is still a new name to almost everybody. Located about 17km in the west of Sapa, Ta Phin is a village of Red Dao’s people possessing a rich culture that has not been damaged by the modern life.

Ta Phin is the nearest village of Red Dao’s ethnic group within the area of Sapa district. From Sapa, it will take about 30 minutes to reach here by motorbike. The mountainous road can make it difficult for cars to move, so the best solution is to hire a “xe om”, or motorbike taxi, and the experienced driver will take you to right place at a very reasonable price with many useful advices and tips.

Coming to Ta Phin, you will immediately catch sight of groups of Red Dao’s women gathering together, keeping inside their hands colorful reels of thread and cloths. They sew continuously, even when offering the goods to the customers. Amazingly, most of them can speak quite well, some use Vietnamese less than English. Since 1998, Ta Phin has officially become the “brocade village”, where tourists can find the distinctively hand-made brocades made by ethnic people. All of the products are eye-catching with numerous bright colors and patterns, ranging from bag, scarf, purse, to skirt, and even backpack and coat. Ta Phin is also the main supply of brocades for shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the products are exported to foreign countries as well.

Through times, Ta Phin Village, however, still can remain its special traditions. If you are lucky enough, you can have a chance to participate in a Red Dao’s wedding, seeing how carefully they prepare and many complicated customs for this occasion. There are also several local festivals such as “dancing festival”, “greeting for the new house”, “oath-taking ceremony” that will help you understand more about the simple but happy and amiable life of ethnic people.

Ham Rong Mountain

Being shaped like a dragon’s head dimly looming in the thin veil of the early morning, Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw) Mountain that is fine combination of man-made and natural landscape is an attractive tourist area in the center of Sapa town.

Ham Rong is home to numerous kinds of flowers and orchard gardens. Wandering stone paths leads tourists to wild peach forest, then orchid gardens with more than 6000 orchid plants belonging to 194 kinds. Besides, there are a lot of indigenous and exotic flowers grown along the paths like Lily of the Nile, hydrangea, geraniums, ox-eyed daisy and cheery blossom. Mountain fruits like peach, plum, and pear are also found here. The scenery hidden in the fog and echo sound from bamboo flutes of Mong minority boy change this place into a heaven on the earth.

Another interesting activity is conquering San May (Cloud Yard), the peak of Ham Rong Mountain at the altitude of 1800m to enjoy the imposing panorama of Sapa town. In sunny days, from here tourists can even see the peak of Fansipan under clear sky with white cloud floating around. Along the way to San May, tourists may drop by Cong Troi 1, Cong Troi 2 (Heaven Gate1 and 2) for resting and photo taking. These places also offer visitors a great view to French villas and terraced fields below. The best time to visit Ham Rong is spring, when all flowers in the mountain blossom, boast their beauty and perfume.

The foot of Ham Rong Mountain is only a short walk from Sapa church. It just takes tourists staying in Sapa town very few minutes to walk from their hotel to Ham Rong Mountain

Fansipan Mountain

At the height of 3,143m, Fansipan has been widely known as the highest mountain in Vietnam and “the Roof of Indochina”. Conquest of Fansipan is dream of many professional climbers as well as adventurous travelers when they come to Vietnam. (Read more about Climbing the Fansipan). September to the next March is good time for mountain climbing here. However, it would be great if one can make the conquest at the end of February, when flowers on the mountain blossom.

The Mount Fasipan is located in Lao Cai province, about 9km southwest of Sapa town. It belongs to the mountain range Hoang Lien Son, located in the northwest of Vietnam and lying in the border of two provinces: Lao Cai and Lai Chau. The flora in Fansipan is so diverse with 1,680 species of plants, some in which are rare and able to be found only here. Hence, the mountain is an appealing natural attraction for any tourists, especially the ones who are interested in botany.

Types of plants vary depending on altitude: the foot of the mountain is home to jackfruit tree, cotton tree (bombax ceiba), pterocarya; while the area lower than700m are covered by vast rainforest with tangled vines; from 700m to more than 2000m is the land of gymnosperms (seed-bearing plants) like fokienia, pine tree; and from 2,800m to the peak is home to short phyllostachy (25-30cm high), and some species of the genus rose, chrysanthemums and so on. Besides, climbers can see beautiful orchids, drodohendrons and wild flowers along the way to the peak, especially in spring.

There are a number of waterfalls lying around the foot of the Mount Fansipan like Cat Cat, Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall), Thac Lanh (Cold Waterfall), Thac Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw Waterfall) or on the way to conquer the peak like Thac Tinh Yeu (Love Waterfall). These waterfalls are ideal resting places for climbers after a long journey as well as nice places for photo taking.

Sapa Market

In the early morning, streets in Sapa downtown are filled with hundreds of Hmong and Red Dao people in colorful ethnic attire heading to Sapa market. The traditional Sunday market, which is bustling until late afternoon, is not only for trading, but also for socializing and unwinding after hard working days.

Sapa market is located right at the heart of Sapa town, just a short walk to Sapa stone church that is built by the French in the early 20th century. As a weekly market, Sapa market only opens on Sunday. Hence, tourists should wake up early on Sunday morning to visit the market and enjoy hearty breakfast with the locals. The market consists of both indoors and outdoors space. While stalls along the stone stairs outside sell flowers, fresh produce, groceries and food; little workshops on the second floor offer ethnic fabrics.

Once getting inside the market gate, tourists will see stalls full of mountain fruits like peach, apricot, pear and plum. Buying some fruits for the dinner dessert or enjoy during the trip is a good idea. Dropping by the right hand side stalls, tourists will find trinkets (ethnic silver jewelry), medical herbs and local products that are good for health like forest honey, notosingeng and ganoderma.

For the ones who are enchanted by colorful costume of H’Mong, Dao people in Sapa, and looking for authentic ethnic fabric, the second floor of Sapa market is a must-visit. Here, one can find a number of embroidered skirts, handbags, blankets, pillow shams and table covers with unique patterns, made by the indigenous. Ethnic women who sell brocades here can converse quite well in English.

Visiting Sapa market in the morning, travelers will see a lot of local people gather at food stalls to enjoy favorite breakfast of “mèn mén” (steamed corn wheat), “thắng cố” (horse soup) and corn wine. These are traditional food and beverage of local people in Sapa, and must-try for any tourists who come here.

Bac Ha Market

Located about 76 km from the train station, Bac Ha is a remote district of Lao Cai province. Bac Ha market which takes place every Sunday is famous for the originality and authenticity that the traders still preserve. One can reach Bac Ha market by booking a van or tour from Sapa, which is about 3 hours away.

It is not simply a place for buy and sell but also an opportunity for people from different ethnicities to come and meet, for relatives to reunite after a long time missing, for women to demonstrate their beautiful handmade traditional costumes and even for youngsters to find their dates. To reach the market, many ethnic vendors have to walk a long distance passing mountains and hills. Yet the distance has never discouraged them from joining the Sunday colorful market.

The main square where trading takes place is divided into smaller section, specializing in a particular product such as handicrafts, food, horse, poultry and blacksmith. Each has its own trait and worth joining. The town itself is rather dull for any country surfer but if you want a relaxing place to get away from the tourist crowd in Sapa, or simply fond of taking unique photos, Bac Ha can be your option. Most tourists get return tickets to Bac Ha by contacting the enormous number of tour companies in Sapa or Lao Cai. Tours to Sapa from Hanoi may or may not include the trip to Bac Ha market so check well in advance. Buses offered by these tours companies are of much better quality though with moderately higher price. It’s worth investing for the road is curvy and challenging, even after significant improvement. 

TRAVEL BROUCHURE 2013
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  • Phung and our guides responded perfectly to our needs. We were tired after the train journey and so the only part of the itinerary we would change would have been to just spend the afternoon by the pool at the resort rather than taking a tour of the Hoi An sites
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  • Mr Liem was a wonderful guide he was professional but still showed a good sense of humour. We would never have been able to cross the roads without his help. Your design and management of our trip were excellent. I just realised that I hadn’t given feedback on the meal in the Mekong on the first day – this was at the house on the Mekong river, this was very remiss of me as although all meals were excellent this one was exceptional and the best we had for the entire trip, I should also have mentioned that the guide (a lady) we had on the Mekong cruise was excellent.
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  • A very well designed tour. We were very thankful to have contacted you and felt that your arrangements for us made everything a lot easier. Mr. Trang He was a fabulous guide who was quite knowledgeable about everything. We really felt like he made our trip even more enjoyable. His English is also extremely good and he tries hard to accommodate. Our favorite was Phu Quoc but we also really enjoyed our tour of the Mekong Delta though didn’t need two nights in Can Tho because there isn’t much to do in the city. Maybe should have done one night on a boat in hindsight but wasn’t sure we would like that.
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