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Sapa Vietnam


Each year, swarms of people visit Sapa to take in unbelievable sights, as well as to experience the cultural diversification of its villages. Sapa is an extraordinary landscape that makes you appreciate the awesomeness of nature. The bright, green mountains soar into the skies before falling over the opposite side. The rice paddy balconies form into mesmerizing shapes directly into the valleys. If nothing else, the tranquility and peace of mind you endure while breathing in the clean mountain air makes the trip worthwhile.

The Dao and H’mong ethnic communities originally inhabited the land’s troughs and peaks. Unfortunately, their lives were interrupted upon being attacked by the French during the late 1800s. In 1881, Lao Cai, who represented the French colonial military, started to develop the terrain. One of the military sanitarium’s most immense progressions was raised since the mountain’s fresh air was believed to be advantageous to one’s health. French villas were soon all over Sapa, and before long, a hillside station was born. These colossal villas and structures eventually came down, though, during the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Afterward, new settlers began to inhabit Sapa, coming in from neighboring regions.

In 1993, tourists began to visit Sapa, which has since evolved quite significantly. Sapa Town has been updated to meet the demand of the always-growing tourism industry. A large amount of locals generate income from local market sales, homestay visits, café patrons, and restaurant guests. The actual town has a wide variety of places to stay and eat, all of which accommodate various tastes and budgets. The best part of Sapa is a brief walk away from the central town as you venture into the rolling valleys and hills. You can interact with the natives who farm, work, and reside in these marvelous terrains. It’s not hard to see why Sapa is one of Vietnam’s most popular places to trek through. Each year, visitors venture through remote villages from the rolling countryside. Tourists can spend a night (or many) in local homestays in the area, getting an up-close-and-personal look at community traditions and history. Another attraction worth seeing is Fansipan Mountain, which has the moniker of “Roof of Indochina.” This mountain is quite astounding at 3413m high, the top of which usually penetrates clouds.

If you’re visiting Sapa to explore the breathtaking sights, the cool mountain air, or the cultural heritage, your experience will be one to remember forever.

View of Sapa Town from the top of Ham Rong Mountain
View of Sapa Town from the top of Ham Rong Mountain

See & Do

The Sapa Museum, which is situated in Sapa Town, is  great stopping place to learn about the regional history and diverse cultures residing in the vicinity. You will be enlightened about Sapa’s past – from the period of French colonization to the current era. You will see how the give-and-take of the environment, its traditions, and even the invasion, led to the creation of several individual communities. The unique ethnic minorities of Sapa can be explored at the town’s museum.

It’s hardly a surprise that trekking is a popular activity in Sapa. There are wide-raging mountain views, as well as rice paddies that allows sound to travel. There also batches of villages to visit that are spread out over the land, giving you an abundance of natural allurements to explore. The trekking adventures you can take in this region are endless, and there are both short and long hikes to take for every age group. Whether you walk up the mind-blowing Ham Rong mountain for sweeping views or hike through the zigzagging trails in Muong Hoa valley, you will no doubt discover a route to your liking. Consider trekking through Cat Cat Village, as you can interact with the H’mong ethnic community. A short distance away from there is Sin Chai’s peaceful Red Dao village.

Views to Sapa area from Fansipan cable car
Views to Sapa area from Fansipan cable car

Sapa places host to the popular Fansipan Mountain, which is Indochina’s highest peak. Referred to as the “Roof of Indochina,” this mountain soars high at 3143m, and will bring you into the gorgeous – albeit challenging – terrains of mountains. You will walk up steep inclines, through bamboo forests and jungles, and into rivers as you get closer to the top of the mountain, which is so tall that it touches clouds. Many people opt to spend the night at a nearby campsite, which is perched 2800m over the mountain. If you are not interested in hiking, you have the option to riding in the Fansipan cable car, which will bring you over the jungles and forests from Sapa to the Fansipan summit. It is the longest 3-rope cable car in the world, and the ride is about 20 minutes long – a percentage of the duration it would take you to get from point A to B on foot. The cable car is a stress-free approach to seeing the sights you came for as you ascend towards the clouds. 

Culture & Arts

In Sapa, art and culture are abundant in just about every village you’ll come across. There are five primary ethnic minority groups that encompass the Sapa area, including the Xa Pho, Giay, Tay, Dao, and H’mong, all of which have their own distinctive cultures. As you travel from one valley to another, you will encounter community residents and experience not just their customs, but their artistry, too.

The biggest collection of people are the H’mong inhabitants who came from China more than three centuries ago. You can engage with members of the H’mong communities in Y Linh Ho village, Lao Chai village, and several others. The craftsmanship villagers put into their textiles is readily apparent in their attire. Fabric is woven by women using cotton or hemp before being dyed with an intense, dark shade of blue dye. The fabric receives adulation when worn with luxurious, vibrant embroidery. One type of textile decor the H’mong is known for is batik. Wax is added to fabric with detailed, manually crafted stamps before ink is dyed. You will get to see this process in person via the native H’mong women. The H’mong create more than just textiles, though. They also specialize in silver and bronze jewelry. If you were to go there on a weekend, you will enjoy folk dancing and conventional music that give the town a sense of amusement and levity. The way music is played is quite unique: leaf-based instruments are played by girls, while the flute is played by boys. The festive spirit in the air is quite lively.

Another one of Sapa’s populated ethnic minority communities is the Red Dao, who reside in Ta Phin Village. They are often seen sporting a red turbans embedded with silver tassels and coins, which makes them quite distinctive from their neighboring communities. Adults and kids aren’t the only ones in colorful garb – babies are dressed up with intricately decorated hats. The women in this village are seen wearing elegant, manually woven brocades with detailed embroidery to mark the essence of Sapa. No matter where you are, you will see women crafting something or another with their hands, some thread, and a needle. This village has some fascinating rituals to discover. Family ancestors are worshiped, as is Ban Vuong, a spirit who is said to be the oldest ancestor of them all. You will learn about their interesting approach of selecting land when constructing a house, specifically, a ritual where a bowl of rice is left on the spot the home will be built on (when everyone is sleeping).

The Tay communities are situated along the rivers and at the end of the mountains. These villagers are renowned for their stilt houses. These communities are famed for their agriculture, specifically, their growth of tobacco, corn, and rice. You will find the locals in their basic and manually dyed indigo attire, working hard on their crops all day long. They make manually assembled tools comprised of bamboo and rattan, both of which are locally harvested. You will be in awe of their craftsmanship as you are educated about the village’s system of beliefs, which helps the villagers look out for one another. In addition to ancestor worship, this ethnic minority community worships the midwife, kitchen spirit, and house spirit as well.

On weekends, the cultures assemble into a colorful gathering at the market. Situated in Sapa Town’s core, the market takes place each Sunday. Early in the morning, you will notice the natives getting ready for the hectic day to come. These locals will come to the market adorned in their conventional outfits holding onto carefully prepared dishes. The market is where people can sell their goods and engage with one another. You’ll become one with the ambiance of the setting as you browse the piles of delicious fruit, conventional crafts, traditional health items, and even jewelry. At the market, you can socialize with the very people who make the souvenirs you buy, giving the items more character and history. 

|Read more: Bac Ha Sunday Market and Can Cau Saturday Market


Beautiful view in Cat Cat village - Sapa
Beautiful view in Cat Cat village - Sapa

Festivals & Events

Because of the region’s rich ethnic diversity, Sapa’s villages host an assortment of festivals all year long.

One traditional outing is called the Cau Tau festival, which is held to show thanks to the ancestors and gods. Patrons pray for happiness and wealth here. The festival is planned by various families who conduct rituals with the assistance of the village shaman. A celebration is hosted to welcome follow community members as they participate in activities, games, and various forms of entertainment. You will notice younger generations engaging in dance competitions and sporting events. It is the perfect setting for many of them to be introduced to potential marital partners. Sound echoes will carry through the villages as conventional music can be heard – patrons will be playing instruments and singing songs all night.

The Giay ethnic community of Ta Van Village started the Roong Boc Festival, but these days, attendees originate from all sorts of communities and tourists on their way to Sapa. This vibrant and festive event transpires on the first dragon day following the first full moon to show gratitude to the guardians, as well as to celebrate the upcoming farming season. Once a sacred sacrifice of drink and food is offered, people vicariously participate in conventional games involving divided-up groups of women and men (symbolizing the yin and yang, or the sun and the moon). These traditions, which are quite enjoyable, are believed to invite prosperity for the year to come.

Ethnic traditional costum in Ta Van village - Sapa
Ethnic traditional costum in Ta Van village – Sapa

The Long Tay Festival is a conventional event that celebrates agriculture, which takes place on the first lunar month. Prayers are held for the health of people and animals, as well as for flourishing crops. Once a ritual involving the prior year’s crops are unveiled and offerings are presented, the community will select a farmer to formally plough through the initial furrow. Con throwing, among other entertaining village games, happens afterward.

Food & Drink

Sapa has a vast array of choices with regards to consumables. There are conventional restaurants, some with a French feel, others with a Vietnamese flavor, and several western-inspired dishes, too. The cool weather and arable terrains are the perfect place to grow a wide variety of unique crops.

The influence of the French from long ago still lingers in several restaurants and cafes in Sapa. You will be able to find some fresh, steaming coffee, or a brittle baguette to eat for breakfast. You can also pick up some cake or tarts for a snack after an afternoon hike.

Additionally, Sapa has several culture-based dishes that will fulfill the hunger of any hiker. These dishes will warm your body up, adapting it to the mountain area’s cooler weather.

One frequently consumed piece of cookware is used regularly to warm up food for everyone: hot pots.  In Xuan Vien, you will see stalls of giant cauldrons. The steam of the food these pots cook up wafts into the cool air, keeping the distinctive smell of meat and vegetables airborne. One of the distinguishing features of Sapa is the salmon hot pot. Because of the colder weather, Sapa is the perfect place to fish for salmon, which is inserted into boiling broth before vegetables are integrated with it.

A traditional dish worth tasting is the Thang Co, which was created by the H’mong. This is a soup that utilizes numerous parts of a horse, at times combined with other vegetables and meats, before being flavored with a warming mix of spices. This spicy soup is cooked by natives who have mastered its gradual preparation.

The villagers of Sapa have a unique approach of getting rice ready to make a popular dish called Com Lam. Shoots of bamboo are meticulously prepped by skilled hands, with every individual piece sanitized and cut into portions. They are filled with rice that has been boiled using the mountain’s freshwater before salt is added to season it. The entire dish is grilled before being served.

While the conventional dishes consumed in Sapa usually contain meat, there are a variety of choices for vegetarians as well (thanks to the booming tourist industry). Conventional Vietnamese restaurants offer a vast array of delicious vegetable meals which tend to contain tofu. Some of the upmarket restaurants will have succulent meatless dishes to choose from, also.

Colorful Sticky Rice in Bac Ha market - Sapa

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