Experience the Enchantments of Sapa Vietnam
Experience the Enchantments of Sapa Vietnam
For those who want a culturally authentic travel experience that’s far away from chain restaurants, amusement parks, and throngs of tourists, Sapa is about as far away as you can get from all of them. Located in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain range of northwest Vietnam, the enchanting town of Sapa is encircled by captivating scenery and offers a uniquely immersive cultural experience. There you will be surrounded by mountainous terrain, deep valleys, and endless expanse of tiered green rice fields. It’s also where you will find fascinating hill tribes, beautiful waterfalls, authentic local cuisine, and majestic mountaintops. People of all ages come to experience the enchantment of Sapa. Whether its a family with children, couples, friends, or solo, there are a number of ways and opportunities to explore this hidden gem of a destination.
An Astounding Cultural Landscape
The inhabitants of Sapa are comprised of four distinctly different hill tribes, each with its own language, customs and traditions. The H’mong, Tai, Red Dao, and Giay tribes coexist in this remarkably fascinating town. As different as these tribes are, they all share a code of warm and welcoming hospitality toward travelers. These tribes are what give character to the town of Sapa and the charming villages that are sprinkled throughout the valleys. Due to its remote location, Sapa has been able to retain its cultural authenticity. Many of tribal religious and spiritual beliefs have been preserved, which is why you are likely to cross paths with a shaman.
The best place to experience Sapa culture in general is at Love Market. While it is as a place to buy and sell, it’s more of a social place where people from different tribes can interact with each other. It’s why you’ll see a rainbow of color, and different cultural dress. The deep cultural and spiritual life of highland tribes are reflected in their clothing, crafts, and handicrafts through patterns, colors, symbols and designs. For example, tribal village blankets often are a beautiful depiction of cultural or personal stories.
Explore the Sights
There are so many sights to explore you may end up wishing you had more time to stay. From mountains and waterfalls, to terraced rice fields and villages, there’s plenty of options to choose from.
Fansipan Mountain is the highest peak in all of Southeast Asia is in Sapa. Often referred to as “The Roof of Indochina”, Fansipan mountain rises to a majestic height of 3,143 meters (10,312 feet). While the sheer height of this mountain sounds daunting, it’s actually quite hikeable and the view from the summit is unimaginably spectacular. The summit can also be reached by cable car, which is much faster and easier. Plus, the cable car ride floats high over the land below for an amazing bird’s eye view of the beautiful terrain.
Love Waterfalls and Heaven’s Gate
The names couldn’t be more perfect. Tumbling waters that cascade over the boulders impart a magical fairy-like quality to Love’s Waterfalls. Local folklore has it that, a long time ago fairies used to come down from heaven to bath in the waterfalls. Just above the waterfalls is Heaven’s Gate where the earth seems to fall away and open up to a breathtaking view of the magnificent mountains and valleys below.
Ham Rong Mountain
Ham Rong Mountain has so many unique features that you could easily spend half a day there. “Ham Rong” means Dragon Head and the mountain was given the name because its shaped like a dragon head looking up at the sky. In addition to its unusual shape, Ham Rong Mountain is surrounded by folklore and legends. The mountain is also densely populated with orchids, hydrangeas, Lily of the Nile and wild flowers.
Y Ty Rice Fields
Considered to be one of the best terraced rice fields to see, the Y Ty rice fields are enormous and contain hundreds of tiers. These rice fields are located high up in the mountains close to the Chinese boarder, but are well worth seeing and you’ll pass through some wonderful scenery on your way there.
A Treasure Trove of Trekking Opportunities
Known as a premiere trekking destination, Sapa is a treasure trove of trekking opportunities. You can go on a short afternoon outing, or for serious trekkers, a multi-day journey into the mountains. One of the allures of trekking is the secluded trails that take you to visit the rural hill tribe villages that are sprinkled across the mountainous terrain. You’ll be sure to pass through rice fields, villages, and cross paths with local villagers along the way. For those who want a to do one of the shorter treks, you can opt to either go on your own or with a tour guide.
Muong Hoa Valley
This 15 kilometer hike will surprise you with its unusual, unexpected features. Muong Hoa Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Sapa and is primarily known for its multitude of unbelievable rice terraces. It’s the largest terraced rice field in Sapa and its beauty is indescribable. You’ll encounter the Flower Stream, a wonderful small stream that winds around the rice fields and the many little springs that feed it. The cloud bridge built by villagers and used to cross the stream is a delightful surprise. Then there’s the Ancient Rock Field with 200 stones carved with symbols, motifs and drawings that date back thousands of years.
Silver Waterfall, Love Waterfall, and Heaven’s Gate Trek
This is about a 2 to 4-hour hike depending on how long you want to stop for the scenery. These waterfalls look like something straight out of a fantasy movie. From there you’ll go continue upwards through a bamboo forest before reaching Heaven’s Gate so named for the heavenly view of Fansipan mountain. It’s advisable to be moderately fit because of the uphill climb and a fair number of steps.
The longer treks range are from 3 to 7 days and take you through the more remote and secluded territory, and give you a deeper level of experiencing rural life. Unlike the shorter treks, you’ll need a guide unless you know the territory.
The Ha Giang Trail
This 3 to 4 day trek is a favorite among photographers, which tells you something about the scenery. It’s a trek that takes you through the remote mountain regions, the Mo Pi Leng Pass, and the magnificent Don Van Karst Plateau Geopark
Fansipan Mountain Trek
Definitely a trek that requires good fitness. It’s three days of roughly 7 hours of trekking for the first two day and 4 hours for the third. The difficulty level is of course due to steep uphill climbs but you also have to factor in altitude. The first day is a comfortable hike through Hmong villages and bamboo forests. It’s the second and third day where you’ll be tackling the mountain at a high altitude when this trek gets arduous. The grand finale of the Fansipan trek is a mind blowing view across to the mountains.
A Journey into Traditional Highland Cuisine
Chances are, the most unusual dishes you’ll ever have will be in Sapa. The local dishes of Sapa have a distinct characteristic flavor and incorporate everything edible from forests, fields, mountains, and gardens.
A popular traditional Hmong dish, Thang Co is a delicious meat stew made with a blend of freshly picked herbs, homemade spices, and corn wine.
Salmon Hot Pot
One of Sapa’s local specialty favorites is Salmon Hot Pot. It a delightful combination of salmon, tomato, pineapple and forest mushrooms served with wild vegetables such as watercress.
Another one of Sapa’s favorite specialty dishes is Black Chicken. It’s named for its black crunchy skin, grilled, and often combined with wild honey from the forest.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to discover all kinds of new and unfamiliar local dishes at one of Sapa many wonderful little restaurants.
Culturally Colorful Markets
The hill tribe markets are a festival of vibrant colors, beautiful hand-made blankets and clothing, fresh produce, and local foods. Your afternoon will be well spent amongst the friendly local hill tribe people while exploring all the wonders of these delightful marketplaces. You’ll be awestruck at the high level of skillful craftwork used to make fabric, garments, bags, baskets. What’s most enjoyable is the vibrant life that fills the marketplace.
Located in the heart of downtown, the Sapa market is in the main square and comes to life every Sunday. Starting early morning, hundreds of H’mong and Red Dao people dressed in colorful hill tribe attire begin to fill the square. Sapa market has two floors with indoor and outdoor spaces for vendors to set up their stalls to sell mountain fruits and vegetables, jewelry, local products, and flowers. The second floor bursts with vibrant color from the all the hand dyed fabrics. You’ll also find blankets, tablecloths and pillows with exquisite patterns made by highland tribe women.
Coc Ly Market
This market is situated on the rural land between majestic mountains and the Chay river. Here, the Nung, Tay, Black Zao, and H’mong hill tribes gather to buy, sell, and of course engage in social activities. Like other markets, the Coc Ly market has fruits, vegetables, fabrics, and local products, but also horses, goats, cows and buffalos because of its rural location.
Cao Son Market
This wonderful little market in Muong Khuong district is located amidst glorious mountains, terraced rice fields, and the beautiful Chay river. The colorful swaths of fabric that hang over the walkway adds a special charm to the marketplace.
Every Saturday evening people from all areas of Sapa come to Love Market. The result is, in addition to the colorful market place, an air of romance and excitement as all the different hill tribes come together in the cool evening air. If you only have time to visit one market, the Love Market is the one to choose for a full dose of Sapa’s unique cultural diversity.
Mountain Biking and Cycling
Mountain biking is a popular thing to do because you can cover more ground and experience a variety of landscapes in a single day. There are places that rent bikes, and a number of good tour operators that will provide bicycles and transfer services for short and long trail mountain biking trips.
If you’d like to take a leisure bike ride on you own, Sapa has some lovely roads and trails to enjoy by yourself. However, if you’d like to really get out and explore it’s best to use a tour operator to provide bikes and transfer services. A touring service is also a good option in case you have any bicycle problems like a flat tire.
Sapa mountain bike trips range from a half day to 4 days. The longer trips cover a fair amount of ground and are the ultimate way to experience the more secluded areas of Sapa. For example, there are 4-day Sapa 250 km mountain bike trips on fire roads will take you through mountains, forests, valleys, and rural terrain. Or, if you have a something specific in mind, there are also tour operators that will create a customized trek through your desired destinations.
Sapa’s weather is as diverse as its culture. It’s been said a single day can contain all four seasons. While a bit of an exaggeration, the weather can quickly go from cold and rainy to hot and humid. So, be sure to pack range of clothing. T-shirts and shorts, sweatshirts and sweaters, and everything in between. Clothes that you can layer are best. And, don’t forget your water resistant jacket!
Time spent surrounded by Sapa’s pristine beauty and wonderful hill tribes will leave you with a rich feeling of being somewhere truly special. Whether traveling solo, with others, or with your family, Sapa will be a truly remarkable travel experience.