If you are planning to visit Sapa in December, you must read this guide with some tips and reasons to show you what to do during this month during your visit to this stunning town located on the spectacular valley of the Hoang Lien Son Mountains in the North West region of Vietnam.
The best time to visit Sapa is from March to May and from September to November. At these times, the weather is relatively stable with sunny days and cool nights. The view of Sapa’s terraces is at its best between September and October, during the fall. The weather is more cold and misty the whole time but still wonderful views and certainly still green, than in other seasons of the year. The weather in Sapa it’s really special and hard to predict, mornings and afternoons are specially foggy and temperatures are colder. But no so cold as Vietnamese people are going to tell you. So, probably, you can enjoy a sunny day in Sapa in december. As you can see in the following pictures.
The daily average temperature for Sapa in December is approximately 10 °C. However, it’s generally slightly warmer than the weather in some parts of Europe. As in November, it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoor activities that your are able to practice in the area like walking or cycling. Humidity for the town can reach 82% but due to the cooler temperatures, visitors shouldn’t expect any discomfort.
Trekking it’s the main activity, don’t forget to pack all your equipment to be comfortable during this activity. You have available different kinds of trekkings, so you have to be prepared to achieve your goal. There you have a few tips:
Don’t forget your rain jacket. Weather changes a lot, so it would be required if you preffer to come back to your homestay dry. Also, if a rain jack it’s too hot to wear during your way, you can carry a cheap plastic raincoast (the cheapest option) or an umbrella. In adition, waterproof jackets are a good option to avoid the cold because it’s a way to stop the humidity.
Pack at least a fleece Jacket or/and a light sweater. Night time in sapa begins to get colder than normal, and it’s the best way to avoid a cold. If you are very sensitive to cold wear a warm sweater could be a good option.
Shoes with very good tread are a must, because trails can get very slick with mud after it rains.
During the day you could have a warm temperature, so wear T-shirts or shorts under long clothes it’s a good recommendation. Specially, if you choose a intensive trek.
Tips to visit Sapa in December
Most of the people come to visit to admire the views of the rice fields, but after the haverst and with the new plant the views are also stunning. In December, they already had finished the haversting, and you can see the curvy terraces filled with water and that looks pretty amazing. All the rice are collected and waiting for the new season.
Probably you think that it’s not the best moment to hike to the top of the “Rooftop of Indochina”, but probably you are not right. In December, the weather it’s colder but that’s good when you are hiking. The views are going to continue being amazing, because you are above the clouds… A really amazing sensation! You are not going to feel warm and the same sensation of fatigue than in a warm day. If you have the choice, don’t hesitate to go to the top!
Views from Fansipan in December
Visit Sapa Market
Located in the center of Sapa, Sapa Market is the convergence of goods exchanging among ethnic minorities in the region. Sapa is seemly situated in the center of villages in whole region at the foothills of Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range. This is also the junction of the roads from villages located in valleys to the north, namely Ta Giang Phinh, Ban Khoang to southern village such as Ban Ho, Suoi Thau, Ta Van, Lao Chai. In a large area, Sapa is an ideal convergence for trading activities and exchange of goods among ethnic minorities; simultaneously, it is also the perfect rendezvous in the unique cultural feature of the upland people. Sapa Market is usually held on every Sunday. Those who live in the remote region often have to start their journey from the previous day to catch up with the fair. On Saturday night, many people early come to the market gather and cheer together with the folk songs of boys and girls in Hmong and Dao villages along with the sounds of lip lute, flute, panpipe… All seems much closer to each other though they have not ever seen before. They chat together under the flickering firelight. And, of course, you can try the most famous local food. You know that you are near the market when you begin to smell the barbeque food. In conclusion, Sapa Market is an opportunity to immerse in the idyllic life with this unique culture.
Bac Ha traditional Market
If you enjoy walking around markets you should visit Bac Ha Market, one of the biggest and most well know in all of North Vietnam. Bac Ha Town is a three hour drive from Sapa and the market occurs every Sunday. Is not really the best place for shopping, but is a great location to visit if you are happy to people watch and take in the energy and vibrancy of the occasion. There, you could find many different ethnic groups such as Flower Hmong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung minorities gather to buy and sell local products that cannot be found elsewhere. The best way to enjoy the market in all its glory is to arrive early and leave before the crowds of tourists arrive on the buses between 10am and 11am.
When you visit Visit, without any doubt, Hanoi it’s a must-to-visit City. Furthermore, if you come by plane probably this it’s your first destination. When you are in this take you time, try to discover every hidden place, every secret and try not to turn with the traffic jam and the quantity of people that is living there. You need to speed around two days to visit the War Museum, Old Citadela, Ho Chi Minh Mausolum, Pagoda Tran Quoc or Temple of Literature. In adition, Hoan Kien and Old Quaters are really good places to visit at weekends.
From Hanoi you can decide where to go without any problem: you will find transportation to almost every point of the Vietnamese geography. It can be the starting point for a long trip to the south (and try to know most of it) or you can continue discovering the wonders of northern Vietnam. The wonderful adjective about this place is not only a subjective opinion. You can find Ha Long Bay, which is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world according to UNESCO. You also have the choice to discover Cat Ba, or the one that we recommend today: Sapa.
Sapa is located about 230 km north of Hanoi, one of the points you have to visit if you want to get to see the border with China. Over the years, Sapa has become one of the most touristic points of Vietnam due to the beauty of its landscapes: mountains, rice terraces and good routes for trekking. It is one of those places that you enjoy from the first moment in which you take the first steps there.
How to go from Hanoi to Sapa
As we told you before, this it is one of the routes most demanded by tourists. Because of that you have a variety of options to go and that is really easy for us. You can go by train or bus.
From Hanoi to Sapa by train
For this you will have to travel the Hanoi – Lao Cai route and from there go by bus to the nearby Sapa. To make this route by train we can use different railway companies. It is a good option, because in all of them you can find staterooms with bunk beds to be able to travel at night in a comfortable way. The price difference between all of them is based on the quality of the compartment and the privacy of the cabins. The companies that operate the route would are the following:
Important information: Tulico is not operating anymore. Don’t book Tulico with any Hotel, Agency or Booking Office if you don’t want to be cheated.
The Victoria Express Train
Is one of the most deluxe trains on this route. This train can accommodate 40 passengers with the deluxe cabins, bar and restaurant. This train has 2 seat types including 2 berths and 4 berths. These cabins is designed with individual reading lights, baggage storage, air condition system, wooden-panelled and other comforts. The Victoria Express Train is exclusively reserved for Victoria Sapa Resort’s in-house guests only.
Hara Express train
It’s a train that have fully decorated carriages with high standard soft sleepers with air conditioning wooden cabins. Has 2 soft berths and 4 soft berths cabin. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage. The train provides also water and cold tower.
King Express train
Carriages reflect the charm of colonial travelling style in the North of Vietnam. The King Express train was named after the firm aim at ” Serving you as serving the King & the Queen on board”.
King Express train has 26 berths with superior and deluxe cabins, accompanied by the hospitality of King express train staffs. All berths are wooden-panelled, air-conditioned with individual reading lights, baggage storage. Passengers are served with a drink in the morning upon the arrival to Lao Cai or Hanoi.
Superior cabins provide a cozy atmosphere with 4 berths in one compartment, relaxing to read or enjoy an intimate conversation. If you want something better, Deluxe cabins make an intimate space with 2 berths. These cabins are lovingly designed to for those who desire to have the privacy with remarkable interior decor.
Fully decorated carriages with high standard soft sleepers with air conditioning wooden cabins. TSC Express has 2 soft berths and 4 soft berths cabin. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage. The train provide also water and cold tower.
Orient Express Train
This is a train with good reputation as a brand, that provides travel train tickets with more experience in railway system in Vietnam. This train will ensure the most convenient trip for visitors to Sapa. Is designed according to modern style, the air-conditioned, the comfort facilities of the wood-panelling cabins will make visitor feel very close and cozy. It is called Deluxe cabin, 4 berth or 6 berth. Passengers have the opportunity to relax.
Orient Express train is wooden carriage, with 2 soft berths called VIP. Each berth is equipped with individual reading lights, baggage storage and spacious trunk for suite case and hand luggage. These cabins are designed to for those who desire to have the privacy with remarkable interior decor.
Livitrans Express train
It’s also called “It’s is the cleanest train in Vietnam”. Livitrans is a newly built train connecting Hanoi and Sapa, Hanoi, Hue and Danang. It is considered as one of the most luxurious trains in Vietnam with its equipment equivalent to a high-class hotel.
Livitrans consists of VIP and Tourist cabins. There are 6 VIP cabins designed with luxury and courteouswooden. Each VIP cabin includes 2 soft berths Passengers always have travel magazines, newspaper, drink, snack on desk enough for the trip. VIP cabin has fully common light, reading light, air condition system to ensure that you will feel cool, airy and comfortable on train. Tourist ones has 7 cabins, each cabin has 4 soft berths with fully comfort luxe creating a sensation of cozy, convenient in you when you travel with your family of group of friends.
This train also has a mini bar on the head of each carriage offering Vietnamese, snack, coffee, tea and drinks.
Hoa Phuong train
Is a new tourist train without VIP Cabin. It has 2 coaches with 28 soft sleeper included air conditional, designed high quality wood in cabin. This train ensure that all passengers experience the comfortable and cozy sleep.
Chapa Express Train
Is one of the newest train in Vietnam, foundation by National Petrol Corporation and People’s Committee of Lao Cai province on April, 2013. But till June, 2014, Chapa Train just began to run Hanoi – Sapa – Hanoi route officially with the new coaches, luxury furniture and all conveniences. Chapa Train has one coaches (each way) with 7 wood-paneling cabins, air-conditional, reading lights, specially is mattress will be remove after each journey. Futhermore, WC is separate in end of coach. They will serve for free a first-aid box and hot-water. Each passenger has drink, snack, cold towel and toothpaste for free.
Sapaly Express train
A train with fully decorated carriages with high standard soft sleepers with air conditioning wooden cabins. Sapaly has two cabins consist of two berth (called VIP) and four berth cabins. Each cabin is equipped with reading lights, baggage storage, flower, mineral water and napkin for free. Sapaly train has a tool and table providing cold, hot water and snack on the carriage.
Fansipan Express train
Carriages with high standard soft sleepers with air conditioning wooden cabins. This has two VIP cabins consist of two berth and four berth cabins. The equipment it’s the same than in Sapaly Express.
Also has a mini bar on the conner of each carriage offering Vietnamese, snack and drinks. Fansipan Train serve breakfast with cake, cafe and tea with free before the stop in Lao Cai station only.
Sapa train codes
Sapa trains use a code nomenclature to indicate the type of train, class and compartment. These are the codes used by trains to Sapa:
SP1, SP2: express trains with journeys without stops or with very few stops. They have wagons with soft beds in compartments with air conditioning (so-called tourist wagons). This trains also have private compartments for 2 people.
SP3, SP4: express trains that make very few stops. They have compartments with air conditioning with soft beds and hard beds.
SP7, SP8: express trains with compartments with air conditioning with soft beds and hard beds.
LC3, LC4: day trains. Economic class wagons without a bed, only soft seats in wagons with air conditioning and wooden seats in wagons that do not have air conditioning. They do not have a restaurant wagon but as a rule they usually offer coffee, tea and a small snack.
LC1, LC2: night trains. Compartments with air conditioning and hard beds (no soft beds). They also have wagons without air conditioning with soft and hard seats.
From Hanoi to Sapa by bus
Queen Cafe Vip Open Bus
Soft Berth – WC
FREE pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
FREE pick up – Hotels in Sapa Town
Hung Thanh Travel Bus
Soft Berth – WC
FREE pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
FREE pick up – Hotels in Sapa Town
$ 13 usd
Green Lion Bus
Limousine Vip 9 Seats
FREE pick up and drop Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
FREE pick up and Drop Hotels in Sapa
Inter Bus Lines
FREE pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
FREE pick up – Hotels in Sapa Town
$ 12 usd
Hason Hai Van Bus
FREE pick up – Hotels in Sapa
$ 15 usd
Eco Sapa Bus Limosines
Limousine Vip 9 Seats
FREE pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
FREE pick up – Hotels in Sapa
$ 20 usd
Good morning Sapa Bus
FREE Pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
$ 14 usd
Sapa Expess Bus
Soft Seat VIP and Beds
FREE pick up – Hotels in Hanoi old quarter
$ 13 ~ $ 16 usd
Khai Phat Limousine
Vip Soft Seat
FREE pick up and drop hotels in Hanoi
FREE pick up and Drop Hotels in Sapa
$ 20 usd
Without doubt, the best option for backpackers is to take a sleeping bus. You can spend the journey sleeping and it is quite cheaper than the train option. In addition, it offers you the possibility to depart at night from Hanoi and start your day in Sapa at 6 in the morning. If you choose for the train option, it would take a couple of hours to get to the center of Sapa.
As we have commented previously, the Hanoi-Sapa route is one of the busiest for tourists; both international and local. So when you approach busy dates one of the best options is online booking. You can do it using Baolau o 12go.
How long takes the way from Hanoi to Sapa?
The total time of the train journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa) is 8 hours. Once we arrive by train to Lao Cai, located 40 kilometers from Sapa, it is necessary to take a bus or a private transport to get to Sapa. If you choose the bus, the journey will take an extra hour. If you want to hire a private vehicle will cost you around €25 and takes practically the same time.
The best option, the journey is quite comfortable and faster since the buses go direct. The trip usually lasts about 5 hours and a half including several stops, especially those without a bathroom (which are the majority). In some you will see that they arrive between 2 and 4 in the morning, they stop at a town square and people can continue to rest until 6 – 6:30. You enjoy a little break for a few hours, quieter than when the bus is running.
Accomodation in Sapa
This is a very important decision, because it influences direckty in the kind of experience that you want to live in northern Vietnam. According to Tripvadisor, there are about 80 hotels and 125 restaurants in Sapa. So in the end, this city has been adapted to tourism, and you can live the purest “western” style experience.
Then stay in authentic 5 star hotels with heated pool and views of the mountains and rice terraces. Incredible and more exclusive because the price. In addition to these hotels, there are 156 hostels, which is always a very recurring option for cheap accommodation and to meet new people.
And, finally, there are 152 special accommodations. And, this is what we think is the best option to discover the Hmong culture at its best. Many of these families live off tourism, especially in small villages they have no other source of income. here was a time, which still persists, in which the Hmong are dedicated to trying to sell their handmade objects as a souvenir to tourists. Currently, what is being promoted, and they are aware of it, is that it works very well to open the doors of their home to tourists.
Accommodation in a Local homestay in Sapa
If you leave the town of Sapa, you will find numerous villages and communes throughout the surroundings. Many of these people are going to offer you sleep with them and, you must do it, if you are looking for a complete experience. This is the best way to discover what they do in their day to day, how they think, what problems they face, what they eat … And enjoy their courtesy and kindness! Because in addition to discovering a new culture, you have the possibility to make new friends.
But it is a privilege, to be able to scape from a more populated area, spend the night in a mountain town and be awakened by the sound of nature. Undoubtedly, an unforgettable experience that we strongly recommend. You can eat and / or dine with your family, sleep as they do, or move along the same routes as them (yes, not with the same ease).
In addition, it is a good option to ensure that they have a good source of income and that their children can go to school. In short, we recommend it because it is a way to live a different experience at the same time you help a Hmong family.
One on the most happiest and interesting celebrations in every culture it’s a wedding. For H’mong people it’s the same, but there a lot of similitudes and differences between a Black Hmong wedding and an occidental wedding. So if you are lucky (and you are staying in a local homestay) probably you can discover more about this celebration in the Hmong culture.
For example, they celebrate two ceremonies. First, the groom have to go to bride’s house and aks parents for permission. Once he had permission, they celebrate together at her village (he have to wear the traditional custome of her village). During this ceremony, they drink and eat until the groom it’s enough drunk. When this happens, the girlfriend leaves her village with the groom and their friends, to go to his village (where wed takes place). There are more things, if you want to discover everything… keep reading.
Most of the Hmong clan groups are exogamous: that means that they need to marry someone from other social group. As far as we know, Black Hmong are able to marry with people of their own clan group only if they have a different family name. So, if they fall in love, they don’t need to find a marriage partner from another clan. For example, a Thung Xiong may not marry Lee Xiong. However, they are allowed to marry blood relatives from their mother side (Neejtsa), for example the children of a brother and sister can marry because they would be from different clans.
After the wedding, the bride will join the groom family. Becoming one more of the groom’s village and family, leaving behind hers.
In adition to this information, every day there are more Hmong girls that marry common Vietnamese or foreign men. But it’s not usual, because usually they marry when they are so young: between thirteen and twenty years old.
Traditions before the wedding
Traditionally, when a boy wants to marry a girl, he will make his intentions clear, and will “zij” (“snatch”) her during day light or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. This is traditionally only a symbolic kidnapping. There are so many rules or steps to follow before to “zij” a Black Hmong girl.
Before “zij”, the boy must first give a gift to the girl whom he wants to marry. This is the way her that he is really interested in be more than friends. There are some villages where before the “zij”, the boy also have to make a gith to the parents of the girl to get their approval before. The gifts for the family usually are pork, chicken or sticky rice. After a couple of days, the boy can then “zij” the girl. If the boy has never given a gift to the girl, she is allowed to refuse and go back home with any family member who comes to save her. Usually, the parents are not notified at the time of the “zij”, but an envoy from the boy’s clan is sent to inform them about the location of their daughter and her safety (fi xov). This envoy tells the girl’s family the boy’s background and asks what the girl’s background is. For example, the envoy may tell the girl’s family that the groom is from a Stripe Hmong family from Cat Cat Village, Sapa; the bride’s parents reply that they are Moob Leej/Mong Leng from Nong Het, Lao Chai Village, Sapa. In this moment, the parents can’t refuse about the wedding. But if the boy follow all the steps, love will succed. Before the new couple enters the groom’s house, the father performs a blessing ritual, asking the ancestors to accept her into the household (Lwm qaib). The head of the household moves the chicken in a circular motion around the couple’s head. The girl is not allowed to visit anyone’s house for three days after this.
After three days or more, the parents of the groom prepare the first wedding feast for the newlywed couple (hu plig nyab tshiab thaum puv peb tag kis). The wedding is usually a two-day process. The couple returns to the house of the bride’s family at the end of the first wedding feast and spends the night in preparation for the next day. On the second day, the family of the bride prepares a second wedding feast at their home, where the couple will be married (Noj tshoob). Hmong marriage customs differ slightly based on cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community, but all require the exchange of a bride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.
Nowadays, this tradition it’s not celebrated commonly. Sometimes the couple know each other for a long time and they had already felt in love. So this step it’s usually avoided.
Before the bride and the groom visit the bride’s family, she must wear the groom’s traditional clan’s clothes. For example: a Hmong Leng girl married to a Stripe Hmong boy must wear the stripe clothes to visit his family. After the wedding, the bride will be given farewell presents and sets of new clothes by her parents. Also she will be wearing her birth family’s side traditional clothes. Example: the bride visits her parents by wearing stripe traditional clothes but when she is going back to the groom’s place she must wear her Hmong Leng outfits. She will also be given food for the journey. When departing, the bride’s family members would offer drinks (normally beer) to the groom until he can no longer drink. An example of this is, an older brother or uncle of the bride would offer the drink and before doing so, he would say a couple of words to his soon to be brother-in law/son-in law that since he now has their sister/daughter, he must promise to treat her well and never hit her, etc. Finishing the drink is proof of the groom keeping his promise. Most of the time, the groom would bring his brothers to come help him to drink. However, the groom would never leave without being drunk. When the couple leaves the bride’s house and return to the husband’s house, another party is held to thank the negotiator(s), the groomsman and bride’s maid (tiam mej koob).
On the second day, the family of the bride prepares a second wedding feast at their home, where the couple will be married (Noj tshoob). Hmong marriage customs differ slightly based on cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community, but all require the exchange of a bride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.
Lwm sub/Lwm qaib (Chicken Over The Head ceremony)
As we explained before, this is ritual required for bride and groom before entering the groom’s house. The “lwm qaib” or “lwm sub” takes place when the groom brings a girl to his house to celebrate the wedding and the ritual is done before they enter the house. They should stand next to each other right outside the main door (qhov rooj tag) facing inward.
An elder uses a live rooster to wave above the bride and groom over and around their heads three times then down toward the feet. If a rooster is not available, there are are acceptable alternatives as an a small burning log (hlav hluav taws) or a branch of green leaves.
While waving the rooster, say the following:
“Ov! kuv lwm tub ___(npe) thiab nyab ___(npe) no kuv tsis lwm plig tub plig kiv, plig niam plig txiv, plig nyiaj plig kub. Kuv lwm no kuv lwm nkawd kaum ob haiv mob kaum ob haiv nkeeg, kev lwj siab ntsim plawv. Kuv lwm kua muag iab kua muag daw, lwm luag ncauj luag nplaig, ntaub ntsoj ntawv ntsuag, ntaub ploj ntawv tuag. Yam twg yam tsis zoo kuv lwm ntawm hau poob ntawm tes, lwm ntawm tes poob ntawm taw poob lis nthav mus rau dej tshoob lawm zaj zeg zaj qho kom ntsej tsis hnov muag tsis pom. Kom tub thiab nyab no los ua neej mas kom ntshiab li dej huv li txhuv, qas txhiab tsis muaj mob qas pua tsis muaj nkeeg, los ua neej mas kom huaj txhaij tsav vam tu tub ki los puv vaj, ua qoob loo los puv tsev, nyiaj txiag los puv nas ov.”
All of these words are just to rid the couple of all evil things and spirits. Sometimes, more can be added and some can be left out as one desires.
By the end, the chicken should have gone at least three times around the head and the body down near the feet. The chicken is then let go alive. Then, the couple goes into the house silently. When they are inside and the door is closed everybody may welcome the bride with kind words as she is being sent off into the bedroom immediately.
To finish the ceremony, then the groom kneel to the parents, spirits and relatives accordingly.
Food and drink
The traditional Hmong wedding includes eating vast quantities of delicious local food, drinking non-stop, and hoisting uncounted toasts to the family of the bride and to the bride and groom. A wedding is one the best choices that you could have to enjoy the pleasures of the vietnamese cuisine, specially if you are in a small vilage.
As you can see there are a big variety of foods: from chicken to fruit. You have to take in mind that they are going to be eating five hours. And usually there a lot of people in this ceremonies. They are preparing everything before, so most of the food it’s included in plastic bags (it’s a way to put faster in every table). Every table have a big bowl of rice, the main food in Vietnam. And every table have the same food without distinctions.
At Black Hmong wedding, there are only one drink allowed: happy water (rice wine). It’s funny because they put the beverage into water bottles. You also can find differents varietys of soft drinks for the childs that assists to the ceremony. People it’s drinking and drinking until the lose the account of how many shots they had in their bodies. At the beginning you can drink at your own rhytm, but if someone offers you a toast both have to finish at the same time. In adition, if someone it’s to refill his/her shot you have to finish yours. They fill all the shots at the same time.
“Happy Water” bottle
Half “Happy Water” shot
Price of a Black Hmong wedding
The bride price is compensation for the new family taking the other family’s daughter, as the girl’s parents are now short one person to help with house taks. The price of the girl it’s set by the parents, based in her value for them (if the girl that you love in the only one or the last girl, probably your love is going to be more expensive). The elders of both families negotiate the amount prior to the engagement and is usually paid in bars of silver or livestock. Today, it is also often settled in monetary terms. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he lives in her house until he is able to marry her. The usual price of a Hmong bride today in a Hmong village prices osciles between 30.000.000 VND and 70.000.000 VND. In America, would just depend on the parents or the value of the bride up to $10,000 USD, but the maximum set by leading clan leaders is $5,000 USD.
Hmong wedding rules
During and after the wedding, there are many rules or superstitious beliefs that the couple must follow. Here are some of them:
When the groom’s wedding party is departing from the bride’s house, during that process, the bride must never look back for it is to be bad omen endured into her marriage.
During the wedding feast, there are to be no spicy dishes are hot sauces served for it will make the marriage bitter.
At some point during the wedding, an elder would come ask the bride if she has old gifts or mementos from past lovers. She need to desprend of these items.
The bride’s maid’s job is to make sure the bride does not run off with a man as, historically, many girls were forced to marry and would elope with their current or past lovers.
The price for a wife can be set at any price, it’s a decision of their parent.
Nowadays, some ritual such as “lwm qaib” and “hu plig” are no longer practiced. Some of them follow both traditional Hmong weddings and westernized weddings.
When Hmong husband dies
When a husband dies, it is his clan’s responsibility to look after the widow and children. The widow is permitted to remarry, in which case she would have two choices:
Marry one of her husband’s younger brothers/ younger cousins (never the older brothers).
Marry anyone from an outside clan (besides her own).
If she chooses to marry an extended member from her deceased husband’s clan, her children will continue to be a part of that clan. If she chooses to remarry outside of her deceased husband’s clan, her children are not required to stay with the clan unless a member of the clan (usually the deceased husband’s brother or a male cousin of the same last name) is willing to take care of the children. If no one from the deceased husband’s clan is willing to raise the children, they will follow their mother into her second marriage.
Once the children go with their mother to be a part of their stepfather’s family, a spiritual ceremony may take place. The children can choose to belong to their stepfather’s clan (by accepting his surname, his family spirits, and relatives) or they can choose to remain with their original clan (the family, spirits, and relatives of their deceased father). Often, regardless of the wishes of the mother or children, the clan would keep the son(s).
There are polygamy marriages in Hmong tribes?
Polygamy is a form of marriage among the Hmong, it has been documented. It is not rare among those Hmong who have migrated to Western nations. Many older Hmong people have had multiple spouses but some Hmong families around the world tell their children not to marry multiple spouses in the modern day because polygamy does not work out well.
There are divorces in Hmong tribes?
Divorce was rare in traditional Hmong society, however it is becoming more prevalent in westernized Hmong communities. If a husband and wife decide to divorce, the couple’s clans will permit a divorce but will evaluate the situation fairly. If just the wife wants to divorce her husband without any firm grounds, the bride price must be returned to the husband’s family, as the wife will be the one choosing to leave the household. If just the husband wants to divorce his wife without any firm grounds, the husband will have to come up with some money to send the wife back to her family with all the daughters and the sons will stay with the husband, as the husband will be the one choosing to leave the household. By tradition, the man and the woman do not have equal custody of all the children. If it is determined the wife had committed adultery, the husband will receive custody of the sons, the bride price and an additional fine. However, if it is determined the husband had committed adultery or married a second wife and the wife can not continue being part of the family, she will have the option to leaving her husband without paying back the dowry. If the husband allows it, she can take her children with her. If a divorced man dies, custody of any male children passes to his clan group.
Black Hmong people are a minoritary ethnics that live in small villages or communes in Sapa. Usually the live in the mountains, there are other ethnics that live nearest of thre rivers, etc. Located at north Vietnam mountains these are one of the pople that already mantains a lot of their old traditions. So that, if you have the opportunity to join them it’s one of the most interesting things that you can do in Sapa.
Everytime more this weddings have more similities with the western ceremonies. Brides use the white dress or Hmong people can marry foreign people. This is not already common, but looking information there are previous cases of this. This begins to be common because the Black Hmong people is coming out of their villages searching for tourist, to try sell their handmade products, convince them to take a trekking tour or stay with them at their homestays. But when love appears, frontiers dissappears.
Today, you are going to read about my real experience joining a Black Hmong wedding during my experience as a volunteer at Zizi Homestay. My name is David García Campos, I’m from and I’m 27 years old (at least at the moment that I’m writing this post). One day I decided to leave my country and work as a volunteer abroad, and now I’m a digital nomad discovering and writing about Hmong people and their traditions.
About this Black Hmong wedding
In this website, you are going to find more information about Black Hmong weddings. But this post is about what I had experienced yesterday. The wedding took place in Ban Pho Village, at Hai Thao commune. The protagonists were a young couple of 20 and 17 years old, who were being married because of their love and both pertains to the same Black Hmong tribe, but from different communes.
Black Hmong weddings takes place during two days. The first day the celebration it’s on the girl village, and it’s when the boy go to t ake her to his village. The groom comes around with some negotiators to try to achieve the marriage. Usually, in this ocassion, they are discussing about the price that the boy have to pay to the girl family. The parents of her are going to lose one member of their family, and this suppose more work for them. So that, to let her go new need money in exchange. That’s the tradition.
Black Hmong wedding preparations
This is the most important step in every wedding. In this case, both families need to aport things (food, stuff even furniture). I went with my Zizi, my hostess at hte homestay, and she apports a table, benchs and some stuff to allow the people eat: like sticks or bowls. She told me to help taking the table where the weddings were going to take place. But I was lucky and finally another guy did that. Although they were carried with a lof of things and stuff around that steep roads, and they are wearing slippers.
After the celeabration my luck was not the same, and I have to carry with the cube with stuff in one hand and a table in the other hand. That happened because all men drinked a lot of rice wine during the ceremony.
I’m not angry because if good for training, becuase the next weeks I’m not going to be near of any gym.Furthermore, I attracted the attention of all the woman and they wre saying how strong I am. That was really good for my self-esteem.
The way to the wedding
The ways in this villages are very different that the roads that we know. So that, you are not going to find a wedding car or people with high-heel shoes.
They homestay where I’m staying it’s just in the middle of the road. So, during the morning, we see a lot of people in their way to the celebration carrying with food, things for the celebration and wearing the Black Hmong costume for the wedding. The people were coming by walk or with motorbikes.
To arrive to the place there were two ways: a good road but a longer distance and a little hike to avoid many distance. Of course, we went doing hiking carrying with all the stuff. To come back we chose the good way, because the hike with the table was really complicated.
Black Hmong wedding customes
Most of the assistants were wearing the common and characteristic Black Hmong custome: black clothes. The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong wear Viet or western clothes.
But is not strange to find people wearing western clothes. At the wedding the looks that result more impresive to me were a girl wearing a Frozen dress and that a lot of men were wearing trouser and shirts, like we usually dress in every european city. Also, you can find men wearing a suit. Of course, that’s not a problem if it’s black: their colour.
Another curious thing it’s about the shoes that they wear for the ceremony. It’s really difficult to find someone that not wear slippers. But, as you can see on the previous photografy, I found a group of girls that were wearing nice shoes. And before the wedding, at the homestay, I had noticed that there were another girl who wear high-heel shoes.
It’s crazy but the day that you will take a trekking and see how they can hike better than you and their slippers or sandals don’t slip as your amazing trekking boots, you aren’t going to believe it.
When we had arrived to the place where took place, there were a lot of people already waiting. There were in a neighborhood of three houses. There were people waiting two of them, and all protagonists were at the home of the bride parents. Everyone it’s waiting because in this moment the groom and the parents to proceed with the wed.
People is waiting sitting in chairs. At this moment tables are not ready already. Personally, the waiting wasn’t too much for me. I was really enjoying seing this happy and lively Black Hmong village while I was enjoying the stunning views. I wasn’t able to speak with the people there because my Hmong language skills are null, but I was enjoying. During this time, the most curious thing that I noticed, were a big group of man sitting in the living room watching the TV together. This it’s really similar to a western waiting. But how crazy is that they can watch the TV in the middle of a lost commune in the North of Vietnam? For example there’s no TV at the homestay that I’m staying. It’s already a common thing in every Hmong house.
As I am a really curiose I continue my way to the bride house. Where everything was happening.
The first that I noticed, it’s that while most of the people are waiting a lot of people it’s working to preparate everything. There’s a lot of movement, speacially in the kitchen, where there’s a lot of people cooking all the food that the assistents are goig to enjoy later.
This was the first time where I found more man than woman working in something. But there were the womans the responsibles of put the food in every table.
Outside the bride’s home there is the focus where all the people it’s waiting for the couple and to begin the ceremony. There was a table where a lot of man were drinking and smoking with a big pipe, something really common around Vietnam.
In this case, the groom were together with his father and the father of his girlfriends to try to achieve the wedding approval and get her to his home. Yesterday, this wasn’t hard to achieve becuase when I arrived all were drinking rice wine together, the sign that the bargain it’s finished and he’s going to marry his bride. In this first part of the wedding, he have to wear the original custome of the village of his future wife. In this case they were a couple from a long time, and they don’t have to do “Zij”, this is like a “kidnapping” of the girl to try to convince to marry him. So, it seems that love will be going to succeed.
Meanwhile all this thing was happening, there’s another important thing happening at this time.
Near the principal door of the door there’s a table with you can see everything related with the wedding. In this case there was a picture of the couple together, this is one of the signs that showed me that the wedding was already approved. Under this picture there were two boxes, this is where all the assistants deposit a letter wishing to the couple best and include money for them. Usually, as they told me, the average ammount it’s between 50.000 VND – 100.000 VND. I’m not really and don’t know what’s the factor to pay more or less. They also told me, that if you pay more probably you can join them drinking rice wine. Do you want to know if this it’s true?
There are already more similitudes between Black Hmong weddings and western weddings. And one of them it’s the audiovisual content, all of us know that all the asiatic people loves to take pictures. As you can see in the picture above, the bride it’s wearing a white dress like in our traditional weddings. And, like most of the weddings here, they have a complete photographic report to show to their family and friends their love. The video it’s playing while the people it’s waiting. One of the differences, it’s that their photographic report it’s made before the wedding and not after. So if you are walking around Hanoi during the weekends, you are going to find a lot of couples taking photographies.
Before the ceremony begins, all the women begun to put the tables, all the bowls and sticks in their site and to put the food in the tables. Without their work the ceremony can’t be ready to begin. For me was curious because I wasn’t to notice which was the moment to begin to preparate everything. I think my inexistent knowledge about Hmong language was the responsible of that.
Another thing that you have to take in mind it’s that you don’t have to expect any luxure. Thre are no professionals waiters or catering in these ceremonies. They serve the food in big bowls, to share with all the other people; plastic tuppers or even plastic bags. To put the food on the table women use sticks or their hands. But there’s something true, the food it’s still delicious.The only thing that affect their flavour it’s when it begins to be cold.
That’s the table where I had lunch in this special occasion for the Black Hmong of Ban Pho Village. We were eating at the same time that we were enjoying the stunning views, it’s a thing that I will allways remember.
Before the ceremony begun, I was lucky and I had found more tourists: a couple and a guy from Israel. They were staying in a homestay that was at the same place that the wedding was. So they dind’t know nothing about the wedding, so it was a great surprise for them. In fact, they had to leave very early the wedding because they have to take a train to continue their travel. But for was amazing, because Black Hmong people seat us together and I had the choice to speak in english with someone for a while. They were totally inmersed in the ceremony, they had to gave to the couple the letter with the money and the girl was wearing the Black Hmong custome. We had noticed that their sking was turning blue, that was because the custome was new and it’s usual with the indigo (at least until the 5th washing).
During the ceremony, it’s curious to see how the women and men sit separate of each other. There are no tables with couples or mixed. And it’s also incredible how they are making toast during all the ceremony. It’s incredible the quantity of rice wine that Black Hmong people can drink.
The food was really tasty and amazing. There was good variety. You can find a good bowl of rice, the most famous food in Vietnam, barbeque, roast meat, fish, chicken and things that I never saw or tasted before. And, of course, a bowl with chili sauce to dip all that you want. Here, people was diping also the vegetables.
If there’s a thing that have to be always that’s the rice wine or “Happy Water”. It’s really funny to see how the fill the water bottles with this. So take care if you want to drink water in a Hmong wedding. That’s why I think they chose really well the name of the drink. There are also soft drinks, but only children or people who drunk a lof of “Happy Water” are drinking that.
“Happy Water” bottle
Half “Happy Water” shot
Also if you don’t want to drink you have to drink. That’s what the tradition says and nobody can scape of this:
When you sit on a table you have to know that the only moment when you are able to drink slowly or at your rhytm it’s during the lunch. If you are far from the families or friends, it’s better to avoid a big number of toast in a really short period of time.
When everyone finish to eat, everyone it’s thirsty and it’s when the “Happy Water” begins to be empty. You have to take in mind that when anyone in your table finish his/her rice wine shot, they are going to begin a round to fullfill every shot in the table. If yours are not empty you have to drink it in one time, and when you finish you have another available. So, my advice it’s that you have to turn on the cruise speed and be drinking slowly without stop. Because too many “Happy Water” in one gulp it’s not good for anyone.
When the time pass it’s incredible to see how man are leaving because they can’t drink anymore and how women continue drinking. In the picture above you can see my drinking friends that resist to be the last people there. There is not any secret to survive, but if you eat after each rice wine probably you are going to be able to resist to the happiness. So, eat although you are not hungry.
There’s an international thing, but at the beginning I wasn’t feeling really integrated. But when they drunk they began to speak english and drink with me. And the woman begin to ask me to take pictures with them, that’s the same thing that happens to me in Hanoi. So I think that I’m water, and I can adapt to every situation. It’s good because Black Hmong people have a good english level, so I can learn a lot about them.
The ceremony really finish when the couple and friends leaves to go to the groom village. He took a nap becuase he can’t drink anymore and when he and his friends are better they leave. Another special moment, it’s also when the leader of the clan it’s too drunk and have to leave. I was there to see this moments, but we continue drinking.
If you follow my tips and advices you probably will survive to a Black Hmong wedding, and tell your story to the rest of the world. If you hear them and let the wice rine be in your body. You are not going to be when are you going to finish.
Black Hmong wedding it’s a ceremony that begin at 9.30am approximately and finish at 2.30pm. This is not accurate and depend of every ceremony. I left the place later, because my friends were drinking and speaking with me. But this is the story of my beset days working as a volunteer in Vietnam.
Can Cau is a busy market which is held every Saturday and is organized in business practices of Dao people. Located just 9 km south below the Chinese border, it is a colourful and vibrant market. You will find different minority peoples such as the Flower H’mong (Red H’mong), Nung, Phu La and even Chinese people from across the border. Their travel is often made by horseback as a way of carrying the heavy loads to and from market.
How to go to Can Cau Market
It’s hard to find foreigners in Can Cau, compared than other places or markets in Sapa, because you have to spend a large journey to come there. either with a small tour group with a private driver or, you can find more adventurous people, who make the path on the back of a motorbike.
From Lao Cai province, along the national road 4D, visitors will come to Bao Thang district, Lao Cai province. It is far about 100km from the market to Lao Cai city to the northeast, so it’s a 2 hour drive. Down the 4D Highway from Lao Cai City, tourists will reach Phong Nien commune, Bao Thang district, Lao Cai province. Keeping driving along 153 Provincial Highway through Bac Ha town, tourists will set foot in Can Cau Market. If you want to go with public transport, the buses only run at 08:00 or 09:00, that likely means an overnight stay. The bus back from Can Cau to Bac Ha is at 14:00.
From Sapa, you have to spent a 3 hours drive. So you really have to wake up early and spend a lot of time in the road, so this option it’s not the most recommended. One good option, could be travel this market, make an overnigth in Bac Ha and visit Bac Ha Market on Sunday.
Through the town of Bac Ha, tourists will come to the Can Cau fair. From a distance, the fair of Can Cau is very beautiful and vivid. The fair has meeting along roadside 153-the only road connects the town with the town of Si Ma Cai. There have terraced fields around the market with the majestic mountains.
Schedule and what you can find in Can Cau Market
As you would expect, the market starts early, around 7:30 am, and closes in the early afternoon so you will want to make an early start to get the most out of the experience.
By 9 am, the market is crammed to capacity. It’s lively and surprisingly fun. The locals are mostly of the Flower Hmong minority group. You can’t miss them and their traditional costume of green checked headdress and multi-colored, meticiculosly stitched and layered garments are simply stunning.
All kinds of goods are traded here, from fabrics to various types of livestock to the powerful local corn wine.
The market is divided into separate areas for all kinds of items. Those goods such as: vegetables, herbs, spices, utensils and other products, which shows the talent of women. However, the most striking is the area where sell livestock because the H’Mong and Giay love livestock and want to select the best cattle. The atmosphere in this area is very vibrant; buyers, sellers have the deal.
Besides, the area for the traditional food of people is quite exciting. Having a multitude of different sounds, visitors will have chance to sit down and enjoy the ethnic cuisine of them. Of all the dishes in Can Cau market, “thang co” will be the most favorite cuisine of ethnic. This dish is combined all kinds of organs of some animals such as: pigs, cows, buffalo…
Hoàng A Tưởng Palace (Hoang A Tuong Palace for us) was built in 1914 and completed in 1921. Hoàng Yến Chao was from the ethnic Tày group, he was the father of Hoàng A Tưởng. He decided to build this Palace for himself. Is a bizarre palace constructed in a kind of ‘oriental baroque’ style on the northern edge of Bac Ha. After nearly 100 years of existence, it is still standing between the majestic land known as the “White Highland” and the Sun.
These Tay ethnic minority men were reportedly regarded as “kings” of the Bac Ha region and ruled a region where 70% of the population were H’Mong people before 1945.
During his reign from 1905 – 1953, with the protection of France, Hoàng Yến Chao owned much of the fertile land in this area, and had the full right to exploit the surrounding forests and native products. He established a tax regime that required all of the people to pay tax on the products that they grew or made. He also had a monopoly on the sale of salt, drugs, food and other consumer goods, considered essential necessities in the region. During his long reign, he accumulated a huge amount of assets. Based on economic strength, in 1914 he decided to build this Palace to represent his wealth and power.
Hoang Yen Tchao family history
Hoang Yen Tchao had three wives and total of seven children, including two sons and five daughters. His first wife was of the Tay ethnic. She met Mr. TChao when he was just a regular civilian and they were married out of love for one another. She bore him three children, two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was Hoang A Tien and the second one was Hoang A Tuong. His second wife was the most miserable because she married him for his wealth and riches. She was only his second wife for a short time and then she got sick and died. She did not have any assets and nobody knew that she existed. She bore him two daughters and died while she was still very young.
Mr.TChao and his first wife. Image from sapa-tourism.com
However, she didn’t die long before, Hoang yen TChao quickly took over as his third wife. She was of the Chinese descent. She went to Bac Ha to do business, with the sharp beauty of Chinese girls, her appearance caught the “eye” of the ” Hmong King”. She was a business woman and was very independent. She also had a successful business in which she was doing very well. She was married to Mr. Tchao for a short time and bore him two daughters. She did not like living in Mr. Tchao’s palace and so she moved to live outside of the palace. There she did business herself and did not rely on him for anything.
The third wife and her daughters. Image from sapa-tourism.com
Among Mr. Tchao’s children, Hoang A Tuong was revered as the most intelligent and was the dearest of Hoang Yen Tchao’s children. He was chosen as his father’s replacement to take over all the work. Mr Tchao was the “Hmong King ” but he didn’t name his palace after the eldest son, but his youngest son.
Leaving Bac Ha and the palace was short lived but the stories of their families still having lasting imprints on my mind. There is still so many mysteries around the palace.
Building Hoang A Tuong Palace
In order to prepare for the construction of this Palace, Hoàng Yến Chao had to plan very carefully. First he consulted with Chinese feng-shui experts to find the best location to build the Palace. The site was selected according to the Feng-shui theory of location. It was built on a large hill, facing south east, protected on both sides by mountains, the front has a spring and facing the mountain named “Mother is holding her baby”. Overall the topography in the area is beautiful, a charming “painting”, capturing the picturesque views and perfect Asian climate.
Hoang A Tuong had deliberately prepared materials for building the castle. Cement and steel were flown from the plains, while the bricks and tiles were manufactured on the spot with clay in the heart of the mountain range under the supervision of Chinese experts. The whole edifice was built of baked bricks and employed a binding agent with lime and beeswax. Workers were the best builders from prisons. Surrounding Hoang A Tuong Castle was the thick fence consisting of 3 gates (1 main gate and 2 auxiliary ones). Four side walls were crenellated fences and guarded by 2 platoons. In particular, behind the castle offered a solid and extremely secretive escaping tunnel.
The mansion was left uninhabited for many years as Hoang A Tuong had to live in exile in France after the region was liberated by revolutionary soldiers in the autumn of 1945. Nearly a century has gone by since its completion, the building remains intact and its Asian European-architecture still shines under sunshine.
The main two-storey mansion is surrounded by auxiliary houses on the left and the right, and has beautiful decorations on its façade and inside its rooms. Internal structure of the castle is fairly beautiful. Through the main entrance, a large yard inside is former home to organize main activities of the tribal mandarin’s family. Backcourt main building retains two floors with an area of 420m², which is often used for the meeting place of the family. Tourists setting foot in the castle have to walk up 17 stairs from both sides, then to the sheltered lounge. Additionally, the castle also has other construction items such as two auxiliary blocks on both sides. Each has two floors and is lower than the main building with an area of 300m². This is private space of Hoang Yen Chao’s wives and Hoang A Tuong’s wives. There are also two sub-blocks with simpler architecture used as accommodation for soldiers and servants.
The castle covers an area of 4,000m² in which the main building occupies 420m², Occupying a pivotal position overlooking the Bac Ha valley. In front of its arched doors are earthen banks. Its network of walls, bunkers, and battlements were reinforced by a mortar mixed with sugar molasses. In a distance, the white castle jutting out from the valley looks imposing and majestic. At present, this castle is put under a restoration scheme to better help tourists get insight into the changes of the local life.
Visiting this place you have an opportunity to learn about the live of a family of the ruling class and part of Bac Ha’s history in the past.
Ta Van Village is a place where many Vietnam ethnic minority groups gathering and living in harmony with each other. Having a trip to Ta Van, you can explore the cultures of ethnic minority groups and enjoy trips to peaceful villages where many traditional customs of ethnic people in Vietnam are well preserved. Is one of ideal destinations in Vietnam for both domestic and international tourists.
Being one of the most stunning spots in Sapa, far away from Sapa busy streets, about 8 km distance from the town center. Ta Van is home of ethnics living and you can find over 110 households living in this village. So the best way to enjoy is choose to stay overnight at the homestay in Ta Van village to fully experience. Is one of the Sapa day trips that you must do.
During the road to Ta Van you can enjoy a great trek amongst the beautiful rice paddy and corn terrace fields. Also, it’s usual than a group of local people join you in the way to the village. Located at the mountain base, Ta Van village is approximated 7 – 11 km away from the center of Sapa, depending what route you take. The road to Ta Van Village is quite small and narrow. Two sides of the village are covered by fertile terraced fields embellished with the green color of corns and rice plants. This fabulous destination owns lots of must-sees for your trip to Sapa, Vietnam like the mysterious Ancient Rock Field
The best choice it’s hire a guide to trek to Ta Van. But if you go during the summertime, you can rent out a scooter and get to Ta Van this way. It’s the best way to avoid the high temperatures in this season. Homewer, tt’s not impossible to do it in other seasons but it’s more dangerous due to slippery muddy road.
It was built a road for car; however, the trail from Y Linh Ho crossing Lao Chai to Ta Van is the best path to get the most amazing trek and it is definitely recommended. On your trip to Ta Van Village, along with dreamy beautiful Muong Hoa Valley which sometimes looks so magnetic and mysterious under the fog, you also have a chance to witness floating clouds atop of imposing Fansipan Peak.
Local people in Ta Van Village
In Ta Van village, there are two major minorities groups: the Giay and the Dao. As soon as you cross over the wooden bridge through the Muong Hoa water stream, which connect Ta Van village to the outside, you’ll be able to meet the Giay community. A bit further up the hill is the Dao community. The people here make their living mainly based on farming and occasionally homestay services.
Ta Van Village was formed by a group of Giay people in Lao Cai province. These people settled in areas having low topography such as foothills and valleys along streams or rivers. Due to living in the same residential locality, in the course of history, Giay people have exchanged and under the influence of different cultures from other ethnic groups such as Tay, Thai, Nung. This intercultural phenomenon has greatly contributed in creating a diverse culture in the village. Ta Van Village has a diverse system of folklore including fairy tales, riddles, and proverbs. This is also a place of many traditional festivals such as Tet holidays in January and July, full moon festivals in May and August, etc.
Growing rice is the major profession of the Giay. Besides, they also produce instruments and engraved silver. They live in both stilted houses and common houses with a solemn central part which is served as a place for ancestor altar and guest reception. The Giay have quite various cultures with fairy-tale, poetry, proverbs and riddles. Costumes of the Giay are simple: women with short eczema, wearing cloth bag with embroidered flowers; man also wears pants and shirt. If having the opportunity to come here, visitors can enjoy some special dishes of ethnic Giay such as: roast fish of Muong Hum, horse meat of Muong Khuong, sticky rice of Van Ban… and enjoy festivals, folk games of the Giay: Nao Cong, Roong Pooc… and participate in tours of the village.
The month of October (according to the Lunar calendar, which often falls in mid-November or December depending on the lunar year) rolls around would mean the wedding season for the Giay community. If you ever visit the village during this period of time, be prepared to be fascinated with the Giay traditional wedding customs which involves a lot of dancing, singing and loud instruments playing.
Homestay in Ta Van Village
Although Giay people mainly make a living by rice cultivation and silver carvings, they also open homestay services to serve the needs of tourists when travelling the village. Homestay is a kind of a special tourism service in Ta Van Village in which tourists will live with local residents in their house. Arriving in the village, many tidy and clean houses hang a signboard “Homestay”, which are always ready to welcome tourists. Using this service may be a memorable experience of tourists because you will have a chance to experience daily activities with Giay people. In these days, Giay people will serve tourists traditional dishes that they often eat every day. The ingredients of these foods are homemade products made by local people such as fresh vegetables, chicken, pigs, fishes, etc. Although these are very popular ingredients, through a special process of cooking, it promises to leave visitors a long lasting impression. In addition, through such a simple meal, tourists may gradually feel the familiar and close connection with local people here. In the next days, tourists will also be served some specialties of Giay people like grilled fishes caught from Muong Hum stream, Muong Khuong horsemeat, Bac Ha pork meat, Van Ban five color glutinous rice, and so on.
Life in Ta Van Village doesn’t get much affected by the booming tourism service in the recent year. The minorities group would go on with their everyday activities as if nothing has happened. Some seldomly get shy to start the conversation with the tourists, making the homestay services in Ta Van special. You get to truly enjoy a day as a part of the real minority group.
Houses here are built along the slope of the rice paddy terrace fields, and are made out of wood entirely. The view from these houses is simply stunning. Anyone who decides to stay overnight here will be speechless to wake up with such an amazing view, a view that you won’t never ever see in your daily city life.
Despite the fact that electricity has been in the village for less than the decade, the people here doesn’t heavily rely on it. They go farming at dawn, and get back home at sunset. The village can actually get really quiet during the day, and becomes exceedingly crowded with all sort of entertaining at night. The people in Ta Van Village would gather together and do their usual nightly musical show routine to celebrate a whole day of hard working. There will be traditional fan dancing, bamboo dancing, multi bamboo flute dancing, etc., all are dancing around the huge camp fire. you will not need to worry about the facilities because the locals equip with essential appliances and devices so that it will be always convenient and efficient for you taking a relaxation after a long-day trip.
Lao Chai village, home to the black H’mong people, is located about 6 km from Sapa town. Just follow the main road for about 8 km, and then you’ll see a path down the valley to the right which will lead you to Lao Chai Village. The village is backed by high mountain ranges and situated near Muong Hoa river. Here you will enjoy the best panoramic view of rice terraces and streams and explore three large villages with over 100 families of the Black H’mong ethnic. Ethnic people in Vietnam are very hospitable and friendly. Going around this village, you will easily make friends and have chance to learn about local culture and customs.
Lao Chai almost lies in the middle of rice and corn terraces, so you also have a good chance to trace along with narrow but fabulous path on the fields to contemplate the whole zone of terraces. Best time to visit it’s from September to next April on which the village is so attractive with the most wonderful rice terraced fields.
How to go to Lao Chai Village
As you can see, Lao Chai is not too far from Sapa, so you can take a one day trail on your own. If you feel confident, of course.
You may go by car or motorbike to get to the villages but it shall be more stunning if you spend time trekking following the path along with the mountain side to go there. A trek is always the best recommendation to explore Sapa’s ethnic villages and their very culture and customs.
Lao Cai or Sapa and the Northwest of Vietnam in narrow sense often is developed it tourism industry with a form of community-based tourism, so then trekking to Lao Chai village learning about the local’s life and exploring the beauty of the very nature in the village are some of the most interesting and appreciated activities when coming to the upland town. By the way, it is very nice when from a high position on the main road, you can get great panorama of the whole village looming in high mountains along with the most beautiful river.
The trip must be very interesting when you mix with groups of H’Mong people on their ways to the village or to the terraces for work and though they intend to make some business, they do not force you to buy their products but chat with you friendly and share their experience and life. The children in villages love seeing the strangers coming to their homes, they are always happy for such small gifts. You do not forget to take some used comics or newspapers, magazines as gifts for them. However, absolutely do not give them money. It is a kind of unwritten rule.
Only 2% of Sapa’s population comes from the Giay ethnic group, and so it can be tough to discover much about this fascinating community that immigrated to Vietnam from China only two centuries ago. A majority of Vietnam’s Giay group live in more northern provinces in the country where a stilted house (the traditional-style home) is common even now. In the sunny and fertile Lao Chai village, though, Giay homes have adapted to be closer to be only one story, usually with a simple interior in a dirt floor. Distinct from the H’mong communities they live alongside, the Giay wear relatively simple clothing that boasts splashy, vibrant colours but less ornamentation than H’mong textiles. Thanks to their geographic roots, a whole host of Giay cultural elements feel distinctly Chinese, with the group’s clothing and cuisine borrowing flavours from Vietnam’s northern cousin. In Lao Chai, the Giay sustain their livelihoods and health in much the same way as the H’mong – by raising livestock and tending to endless rice terraces and mountain fields.
The Black H’mong
Making up a significant part of Sapa’s ethnic minority population, the H’mong community in Lao Chai is one of many scattered throughout the town’s verdant valleys. The Black H’mong are a distinct community within the larger H’mong ethnic group – so named after the deep indigo dye used in nearly all of their traditional clothing. Green, blue and purple is highlighted with splashes of red – and the Black H’mong’s uniquely vivid textiles have become a favourite element in souvenir shops and markets throughout all of Vietnam.
Black H’mong communities remain deeply traditional, with men and women often getting married as young as their mid-teens. It’s not unusual to meet a local H’mong villager of 25 that already has a handful of children. Instead, most families live off of the land and rely very little on income from selling textiles in local markets. Only when buying livestock or home goods will Black H’mong families need money. Most (if not all) of their food comes from their crops and animals.
The locals houses are built on the half side of the mountain to prevent from floods on the wet season. The H’mong here focus their cultivation in rice farming which is carried out on the lower land close to the bottom of the valley and sometimes they cultivate corn on the mountain slopes on terraces as the subsidiary food for life.
What to do in Lao Chai Village
With the form of community-based tourism, you will have a chance to experience handicraft manufacturing operations along with the travelling route, in which includes brocade weaving, traditional dyeing and more. Then you are highly recommended buying such products not only for their distinction and beauty but also the practical features with good benefits such as brocade scarves, embroidering cushions, especially ethnic instruments like “Khen”, “Dan moi” for beautiful souvenirs. You can participate in the local’s routines by staying in their rudimental houses, communicating with such hospital and friendly ethics and mingling with their life which is definitely close with natural space and particularly enjoying their local dishes with exotic but yummy taste that always deserve at least a try. Thus, on your way to Lao Chai, you might receive simple but unforgettable experiences with preserved and precious traditional characteristics and customs of the local here and be obviously impressed with the ethnic’s hospitality and frankness despite the subsistence living.
Homestay with local Black Hmong Family
One of the best experiences when travelling to Sapa is a stay in the home of a local Black Hmong family. Thanks to CBT Vietnam training workshops many homes offer homestay experiences and authentic batik workshops. Within the network of trekking routes in the Sapa Region, Lao Chai does offer an excellent option to stay overnight and learn more about the Hmong culture.
:Cat Cat Village is a mountainous district of Lao Cai province, about 376 km from Hanoi. It is located in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley and near the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. This is an age-old village of H’Mong ethnic group remaining unique customs and practices that are lots in other villages.
How to go to Cat Cat Village
There’s nothing like a good hike to explore the surrounding villages, this is good because it is located only 3km south of Sapa. The hike to Cat Cat is downhill and easy on the legs. There are plenty of xe om (motorbike taxis) if you feel tired or lazy about finish the road. The trail offers beautiful views of terraced rice fields and you can see the village homes in the valley below. Along roads to the village, tourists can enjoy the ancient architectural beauty of small houses of local residents.
However, unless you’re with a tour or trekking guide, all the foreigners have to pay an entrance fee and you will need to buy them in advance and not at the door. The current price of the ticket is 70.000 VND. The Government set this tax in order to collect money to mantain the village. You will be disappointed if you arrive without a permit in hand. If you plan to hike this on your own, visit the Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to pick one up first.
History & Local People in Cat Cat Village
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 are grown in terraced fields, while traditional handicrafts such as twisting flax and weaving fabric have been well-kept.
You will be impressed with the peacefully picturesque sceneries. You can see 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. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs. A noteworthy is that H’mong women use plants and leaves to dye these brocade fabrics. And then they roll a round and smooth section of wood covered with wax on fabrics to polish them, making their colors durable.
In addition to the brocade weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at manipulating gold and silver jewelry. These are very sophistique products, especially jewelry for women.
Local architecture in Cat Cat Village
The original architect of H’Mong people is interesting as well. The houses of local people are divided into three rooms roofed with wood planks. Walls of these houses are often made from sawn timber. There are three columns standing in round or square stones inside houses. Each house will have three doors including a main door in the middle room and two others in the rest. The main door is always closed and only opened when big events such as weddings, funerals, Tet holidays happened. Besides, in each house, there are indispensable parts like kitchen, altar, places for keeping and food, etc. Houses in the villages are separated with each other by the terraced fields. At the rear of houses there are green and luxuriant bamboos. The most interesting thing that you can see when visiting Cat Cat village is rice mortars using water power from streams to pounding rice.
Traditions and festivals in Cat Cat Village
Some traditional festivals and customs of local people are often held annually such as Gau Tao festival and customs of “Pulling Wife”. Tourists visiting Cat Cat at the beginning of a year can participate in Gau Tao festival, which aims to bless for people in the village. This is the biggest festival of the village in one year. The festival is an epitome of spiritual and cultural life of H’Mong people. Another special customs of H’Mong is “Pulling Wife“. According to this customs, if a boy in the village falls in love with a girl, he will hold a party and invite his friends participating. He and his friends will make a plan bringing (“pulling”) the girl to his house. He will keep the girl three days at his house, and then if the girl agrees to marry him, they will hold an official wedding. On the other hand, if the girl refuses his proposal, they will drink “a bowl of wine” and just make friend with each other.
What to do in Cat Cat Village?
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. You will find a lot of people trying to sell their products, specially children.
Take photos of the splendidly picturesque view of the hills and the terraced rice fields.
Look through the houses of the ethnic minorities in the village and discover how people in this area live. You will often see a big family so in one household: can live until 10 members more or less!
Visit the school. Currently, the government has made an effort to discourage villagers and tourists in giving of candies. So try not to give candies to kids.
Shop. As you go down the village you will walk past a lot of stalls with ladies selling handicrafts.
Drink the home-made apple wine. The price of a glass it’s 10,000 VND (50 cents).
Talk to the villagers and learn how Hmong say “Look”: “Loke” and “Make”: “Meki“. A little tip is when you don’t want to buy anything you just have say: “I’m only loke Ioke”.
Visit Cat Cat Waterfall. As you hike to the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley you will see the stunning waterfall. There is actually a hydroelectric station, built by the French, that people in Sapa use to generate electricity.
Discover the Bamboo Dance. You can go into a small theater to watch the talented locals showcase their traditional dance.
Taste the local food to remember the experience.
Hike. Cat Cat is an easy and interesting route for trekking. The hike through mountains will offer you the wonderful picture of rice paddies, the waterfall or even water buffaloes grazing leisurely.
Nowadays, in order to develop the tourism potential of Cat Cat village, Lao Cai Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism has implemented many tourism programs. Such as Cat Cat Village’s Culture Days, One day becoming a Dao farmer or One day becoming a H’Mong bridge.
Cat Cat Waterfall
With these activities, Cat Cat village is one of attractive Sapa places to explore folk culture of ethnic minority and immerse you yourself in unspoiled nature.
Coc Ly Market is held on every Tuesday. Is a medium sized market that plays an extremely important role to ethnic minorities in the west of Bac Ha. Every Tuesday this is the place for meeting, goods exchanging and purchasing of the tribes from the surrounding villages. Goods sold in the market is the local products and utensils brought from the plains or imported from China. In addition, the market is a meeting place to display affection and feelings of ethnic minorities. Coc Ly Market, is more than a place where to exchange goods, is one of the few markets in Sapa still retaining its traditional cultural features.
About Coc Ly Market
Coc Ly Market starts around 7am and closes in the early afternoon. The market is divided into separate pavilions: an area for purchasing cattle, buffalo, horses, area for sale of fruit, living utensils and other area for food courts. If you visit this market, you will have a chance to witness the costume of ethnic groups and hear their own languages.
You also could find young Hmong boys and girls carry the baskets containing corn wine and flavors of the mountains such as black fungus, mushrooms, honey,etc. Meanwhile the old members of the tribe bring their buffaloes, cows, dogs, horses… to the market for sale. The widest and most exciting area is probably the place to sell cattle and poultry. From afar, althought there’s no dancing or singing, Coc Ly Market looks like a vivid picture with all of colors, ages from young children, teenagers to middle-aged people and the older.
Ethnic people gather there to buy and sell goods, dine and drink, or just wander to enjoy the ambience of the montagnard market.
You cannot ignore this place if you would like to find a full definition of a pure rural market.
Ethnics at Coc Ly Market
You will find Flower Hmong (Red Hmong), Black Dao, Hoa (Chinese) Mong, Dao Den (Black Dao), Nung, Giay and Tay peoples in attendance and the goods on offer range from local fruit and vegetables to livestock, handicrafts and clothes.
Hmong girls are tremendously beautiful in colorful dresses and graceful with umbrella passing overhead. They usually concentrate at the bridge to show off their colorful dresses and more importantly to find their partners. This is also distinctive characteristic of Coc Ly Market compared to other markets of ethnic minorities in Sapa.
How to go to Coc Ly Market
From Sapa (90 km):
Theser are the itinerary indications:
Follow national road 70 traveling through the lush farm land of Lao Cai province for 42 km to Phong Nien Commune.
Turn left and follow provincial road 154 which sneaks through the country side along the Chay river for 17 km to Coc Ly. You can enjoy a beautiful scenery of high mountains, narrow valleys and terraced rice paddies. Enjoy several photo stops along the way, especially of the beautiful tear farms near Phong Hai.
From Lao Cai (60km):
From Bac Ha (35km):
It’s the best option because is about 35km from Bac Ha. You can get here via a fairly good road, or by road and river.
Tips to enjoy Coc Ly Market
Arrive in the market place at about 09.00am, at crowded time of the market.
Join local ethnic peoples to enjoy the exciting atmosphere as well as activities of this weekly market.
Walk from section to sections, corner to corners, seeing and smelling of different local product, spices, vegetable, farming tools, handicraft, even medicinal herb…
Meeting smiling peoples.
Remember to bargain when you want to buy your favorites.
The items at the booths located at the start of the path you walk on always have higher prices.
Keep walking toward the end of the traditionally ethnic market until you find a real bargain.
A good idea is to stroll every corner of the once-a-week bazaar as you listen to unexpected conversations, see nice surprises and learn how ethnic people sell and buy farm produce, life’s necessities and other things.
The market is always crowded for the whole morning and over after lunch time.
What to do after visit Coc Ly Market
After visiting the market, tyou can comfortably walk along Chay River to experience the tranquility of nature and the people here. The river becomes much more beautiful and poetic thanks to 2 majestic mountains. Both banks of the river are the beautiful sandbanks, villages of Tay, H’mong ethnic people, and wonderful waterfalls looking like flyaway white ribbon in the wind.
Leaving the market at noon, boarding a motor boat and cruising down stream the Chay River for 1.5 hour to Trung Do village of the Tay which is beautifully set on the bank of the river. Spend about an hour walking to explore this charming village before continuing the boat trip briefly to Bao Nhai.
Going to Coc Ly Market is to soak up colorful cultural beauty, experience the meeting place of the loving couples, ascertain the daily activities of the locals; at the same time you are immerse in charming and poetic natural scenery.
Not only is it the convergence of goods exchanging among ethnic minorities, Coc Ly Market now is also one of the impressive attractions in Sapa. You can go to the market in order to immerse in the romantic nature, discover unique features and feel to be one more of the locals. But take in mind that is 2 hours away from Sapa, so we recommend you to visit only if your time is not very limited.