This is the continuation of my Vietnam experience. I don’t know how I will start this blog but need to as it’s long overdue. One thing is for sure, this mountainous region is one of a kind and is a must-see for travelers if you go to Vietnam. It resembles Sagada or the Mountain Province of the Philippines. Local tour agents around Hanoi offer a quick tour in Sapa together with other tours like the Ha Long Bay tour. 

Let me give you first some fun facts about this magnificent gem. Sapa, located in the mountainous region – northwest of Vietnam, is not too far from the border of China. It is approximately 320 km from Hanoi: a 6-hour drive by car or 9-10-hour train ride. There are also buses traveling to the area. SaPa has the highest peak of Indochina – Fansipan Peak – with a height of 3,143 meters above sea level. 

Perfect view from my room

Apart from the spectacular landscape and cooler weather, the cultural authenticity of numerous ethnic minorities in Sapa is truly a striking feature – attracting tourists to this mountainous district every year. This kind of tourism is not a new concept for those who are keen on exploring the customs of exotic local people. When it comes to Sapa, it is the most typical ethnic destination in Vietnam; sensible travelers may be interested in some basic information about the lifestyle of indigenous communities here and how they live. Hmong and Dao people dominate the area, and each ethnic group here has a rich culture and long history. Together they have created a colorful cultural picture providing a unique attraction for all tourists. 

As per tradition, each minority group usually lives nearby too but separately from each other. But through time and the continuous progression of the place, there is a lot of overlap. They usually dress up in colorful clothing depending on their own group. Marriage is really odd as they say, early marriage is very common at the age of 14, and parents are always responsible for the set-up. It also varies from group to group. They also believe in spirits and ancestor worship.

These locals are waiting for tourists to come. Some of them offering tours and selling goods.

Weather

Generally, Sapa has wonderful weather compared to Hanoi, with a four-season in a day; cool spring in the morning, sunny summer at the noontime, cloudy autumn in the afternoon and cold winter at night. Before my visit, my tour agent informed me beforehand about the weather in Sapa and the need to bring extra clothes because it is going to be colder. I was surprised because that was not my expectation. I was really cold during the night at 8-10 degrees. It was actually colder than I thought during the day itself. The first day in Sapa has a well-lit sun above but after that in my remaining days, it was foggy and chilly. Weather can drastically change quickly. Maybe it’s because of the elevation of the place also. Just check the weather first if you are planning to visit, better to be prepared. 

Layering is the key!

Food

I can consider their food as same as what we have in the Philippines. They can serve you with plenty of different tastes in front of you. It can be vegetables, with chicken and beef, sometimes with desserts too. A typical feast as they say it. Rice wine can be also included during meals like what I tried in the local home in the area.  


Things to do:

Trek to the rich cultural village and meet the ethnic groups

Trekking is fun here as the tour guides from different local minorities – providing them with additional income. It’s quiet, very easy and undemanding to visit. I was actually overwhelmed by its well-preserved culture and traditions, and the rice fields in the area are well kept and very accessible for tourists. 

During my visit, all right field terraces were empty since it was not rice season yet. I actually enjoyed it and had so much fun. Typically, your local guide will bring you to local villages, see what it feels like and how they live for every day. Trek can be demanding sometime since you need to walk for an hour or two. Just enjoy the scenery and all the people you will meet here. As you walk along, the deeper you will understand them and see their culture. Mostly, ethnic tribes live in the mountain and dot the whole mountain range with their houses. They wear color-coded traditional clothing, which makes them unique to each other. Everyone also has their own dialects which some locals can’t understand.

It’s very common for minority groups to carry their younger siblings at their back.

Another way to go in-depth when you visit Sapa is to join a local family in their house. There are tons of homestays available that you can choose from and they can welcome you anytime you want. One experience that meant so much to me was joining a family with my tour guide on their farm where they farmed chicken, fish and freshly grown vegetables in the backyard. The life they have can be simple and easy. 


Marvel around the Sapa town and enjoy the hustle

You will not enjoy a certain area unless you see the whole town, right? As I visited Sapa, I was amused by how people from this mountainous region meet in the town. Selling hand-crafted souvenirs and clothing is one of the things you will see in the market. You will see a lot of ethnic minority people approaching tourists to buy their hand-made crafts. I was also approached but I usually ignored them.

It’s okay to say no, just don’t be rude.

A huge selection of restaurants, bars, and cafes is also present here. I am a coffee lover so cafes will definitely appeal to me. Especially in that cool kind of weather, a must try I could say. The lake in the middle of the town is the bomb. A nice place for a good walk after eating a heavy meal. Plus it overlooks the mountains as your backdrop for a nice good photo. French colonial presence can be seen here as well. It has a bunch of good architecture all around the area. 


Ride the funicular and cable car to Fansipan Peak

You never visit SaPa unless you also try to reach the peak of Fansipan. The very famous attraction is really interesting to see. It lies has a height of 3,143 meters above sea level – making it the highest of Indochina.

The cable car is the longest 3-rope cable car. Definitely a must-see because the place itself is amazing. The day I went, the weather in SaPa was not cooperating and the fog was everywhere. Though it wasn’t the best good time to go, I didn’t have a choice as it was my last day. I readied myself with layered clothes because I’m really sure it can be so cold up there, and I was right. Tourists were still flocking on top even though the weather was not good. The travel time is only less than an hour and be ready to fall in line because it’s really a blockbuster. When you reach the top, you can say that it’s really breathtaking. 

Foggy all over the place.

Tourists versus Locals – How tourism impact the local community?

Sapa, in general, is a thriving part of Vietnam. Most ethnic groups still choose to stay and live in a simple life and houses. Tourism is starting to flourish more and more, and infrastructures are also starting to be seen. As you go along and drive around the area, you will see construction here and there. Roads are also widening up to accommodate the increased traffic. 

What I am not sure is that if the government has a law protecting the area. I thought it could be more ideal to preserve the area more. I also saw some parts of the mountain being destroyed for the sake of the hotel business. My own guide told me that 10 years ago, the town is quiet as the mountain landscape but through the years, it evolves into a busy city because of all the construction of hotels and restaurants in the area. 

Local people in the market.

Tourism means income. Aside from this, it also triggers different effects in the whole community. Some villages area can be trashy as well, and groups can be bothering too. 

What really strikes me the most are the children around a very touristy spot in town where you’ll see them selling souvenirs as well. Youngsters can be as 4-5 years old, staying in one spot for hours under the cold weather waiting for tourists to approach them for photos or sell something. Cold can be tolerable to them as they used to it, but I think it’s also too much to maybe be forced by your parents to sell souvenirs and make a living. 

The scene from the market.

Final thoughts!

I will always recommend Sapa to everyone who wants to visit. It’s better to choose a local guide from minority groups when you plan to do the trekking tour. Most of them can speak decent English and can be your local translator as well. Most homestay available can be decent as well but expect to live like a local. Wi-fi is available in most restaurants and cafes around the town for you to stay connected which I really liked. Sapa can be cheap also in terms of accommodation, restaurants, and tours. If ever you know how to ride a motorcycle, it’s also very common, so why not give a try. Expect some roads can be hard to pass and steep. I will go back to this town if ever I have a chance. 

Hotels and restaurants nearby.

Any plans of going to Vietnam anytime soon? What are your thoughts? Let me know!


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