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Are you preparing your trip to Sapa? If you plan to travel to the North of Vietnam and want to save some money by traveling on your own, it is possible to do! In this guide we will tell you which are the best places to visit, to propose routes and give you travel advices… so you can travel Sapa without the need of any tourist guide.
- Time to spend in Sapa
- How to go to Sapa
- Accommodation in Sapa
- What to see in Sapa
- How to move around Sapa?
Time to spend in Sapa
To organize your trip, first of all, you must take into account how many days you are going to spend in Sapa. In the north of Vietnam, the distances between points are quite large, so it is one of the most important aspects to take in mind when you are planning your trip. The advisable thing to live a good experience is to spend, at least, two days and one night in Sapa. Obviously, this depends on the travel plan that each person carries and the available days.
Sapa one day trips:
For this option the best choice it’s to take the night bus from Hanoi, we are talking about Hanoi because it’s the principal city to depart to Sapa. Choosing the bus instead of the train you will earn a couple of hours. since the train goes to Lao Cai, and from this city you will have to take a bus or taxi that will take you one more hour of travel. A good option to take advantage of the time, can be to combine bus and train: to arrive at Sapa in bus, to rent a motorcycle and to visit all the places of interest of Sapa and near and, once you visit every place, take the road to Lao Cai to catch a train night.
On the other hand, if you prefer to enjoy a good motorbike route around the mountain, the best option is to rent a motorcycle and head for Fansipan. You will not reach the top, but you will spend a great day enjoying the views as you drive towards the border with China. If you try this option, you should make a stop to visit the waterfall Thac Bac and then enjoy the views in Tram Ton Pass. Along the O Quy Ho road there are several places in which you can stop to eat and buy a bottle of gasoline to refuel, or even souvenirs. The duration of the journey depends of you, but remember that normally the rental motorcycles have to be returned before 18pm.
You also can head to the villages and make a route to discover the roads that people from the different ethnic groups that lives in these area face to get to Sapa. In a radius of 8km you will find Cat Cat, Y Lin Ho, Lao Chai and Ta Van. If you are one of the brave ones you can try to find a more alternative route to go, and return by the main road which is easier and will take you about 20 minutes. You can also make this route by doing a small trekking, and enjoy of the chill and peace of this area and discover more about the local people.
Another option is to travel from Hanoi to Lao Cai, and try to go see some of the markets that are celebrated further north. Another great option, to discover in first person the customs and traditions of the local people.
Sapa two days trip:
This is the option most recommended. Because it allows you to make a trekking route to get into one of the adjoining villages. During the route you will find people from different ethnic groups (Hmong or Red Dzao) who, in addition, trying to sell you their products will offer you to stay at your homestay. It is a good option to accompany you on the trekking route and show you places that you might not discover on your own and try for a day how it is lived and how you live in one of these villages.
For the second day you have the option of take a motorcycle route that we proposed previously, and return to Sapa or Lao Cai in search of your transport. Going to Fansipan is totally recommended, after a day of trekking you may not see yourself with strength, but you can crown the top of Indochina roof using the cable car. If there are any of the local markets you should also go to visit them, although for this option you should spend the night in Lao Cai, as it is closer to the main ones.
Sapa three or more days trip:
Without a doubt, you should take the opportunity to try to become a Hmong. You will spend several nights, so one should be in a local house for dinner with a local family (but be careful with the excesses of happy water). Do trekking with them, eat with them and experience the feeling of being one more of the village. It is one of the ways to enjoy this experience in a different way.
Another thing you should dare to dare is to crown the top of Fansipan by your own feet. For this option, if we recommend you hire a guide, especially if you have planned to do it in two days, because this way you will avoid losing yourself or spend the night alone in the mountains. But by paying a ticket you can try it for yourself if you feel capable of it.
Without a doubt, you should take advantage to go to one of the most well-known traditional markets. At Weekends you can go to Can Cau Saturday Market and Bac Ha Sunday Market. Both are near Bac Ha, so spending Saturday night in this town can be a great option. In addition, it is a less touristy town than Sapa.
Finally, after several days trekking and driving you will take the opportunity to have a massage in Sapa, since there are a lot of spas and not all have those views; or to give you a traditional herb bath in the village of Ta Phin.
How to go to Sapa
The best option to get to Sapa is to depart from Hanoi. You have other options such as from Ha Long or Cat Ba, from where also depart night buses. If you plan to go from Hanoi to Sapa you have the option of bus and train.
As for the trains, all are nocturnal and go to Lao Cai. You have different companies that operate this journey, starting between 21:00 and 22:00. The price is higher than the bus, but you can also enjoy more comfort. In the trains, you have seat in tourist class, but also of private compartments for 2 and 4 people, and even some offer soft beds. Everything depends on the budget you have allocated for this trip. Once in Lao Cai, you must take a bus or a private driver to get to Sapa. This trip will take you one hour, we recommend the bus option because the time is the same and you will save some money. If you choose to drive, be careful as this is one of the roads that has the highest number of accidents in Vietnam. With this we do not mean that it is dangerous, but you have to extreme the caution because you are driving in a country that is not ours.
On the other hand you can go by bus. This is best option regarding the price and duration of the trip. You have night buses and throughout the day, here you can check the bus schedules to Sapa. The journey takes about 5 hours, have between 10 and 20 dollars, and many of the buses are composed of bunk beds, also known as sleeping bus, which is a good option to rest during the journey.
Accommodation in Sapa
Depending on how long you are going to stay, you will need accommodation or not. In case you are going to stay you will not have any problem, because Sapa is one of the most touristic points of the North of Vietnam has a great variety of hotel offer so you can spend one or several nights. Best of all, it’s the great variety of sites: from the most luxurious hotels to spending nights at the home of local people. Without a doubt, the accommodation in a local house is the most recommended option so you can feel like a Hmong more.
As for the price range is very variable, you can find from very cheap options to prices like those of a hotel in the West. Everything depends on the budget you have assigned and the comforts that you want to add or you can ignore.
What to see in Sapa
Sapa is one of those magical places, in which you can enjoy just taking a walk around. Of those in which still the man has not been dedicated to modify in excess the surroundings. Leafy mountains, waterfalls that rise to the top, endless rice terraces, etc. A total disconnection from the city.
So you can travel on your own, and do not feel worried about missing the most important places, we have created this map including all the places by categories:
Located about 8 kilometers from the city of Sapa, Ta Van (village of Ta Van Giay) belongs to the commune of Ta Van, and has approximately 150 homes. An essential visit if you want to enjoy the landscape as it is located in the heart of the Muong Hoa valley. Despite the different ethnic minority groups that live here, the Giay ethnic minority represents the majority of the population. It is curious to see the ethnic variety of this village, because you can also find black Hmong in the areas closest to the mountain. In fact, their humanistic noble values in the characteristics and special culture of the people of Giay is the most impressive feature for tourists when they travel to Ta Van Village.
The village of Lao Chai is located 6 km from the city center of Sapa, and is also the starting point of the Muong Hoa valley. It is inhabited mainly by black Hmong. From the main road, the great view of the town opens up to offer wonderful views, backed by high mountains and facing the river. Here you can enjoy the fresh air, see the fields of terraces, streams, visit and discover some of the Hmong families, three large villages with more than 100 families of the Hmong black ethnic group. As it is usually normal with people of these ethnic groups, you will experience a welcome feeling in any house due to the hospitality of the people. Visiting this village is an opportunity to interact, learn about its culture and its customs.
Y Lin Ho
Y Linh Ho is a small commune composed of a dozen small villages scattered in the harsh mountainous terrain with high, steep mountains. Located in the Muong Hoa valley, this village is home to the black Hmong.
The village of Ta Phin is one of those places in Sapa that you should visit if you have the opportunity. Ta Phin is located in a beautiful and pristine valley, about 15 kilometers northeast of Sapa. This town is inhabited by the ethnic minority “Dao Do”. When visiting Ta Phin, something that will catch the attention of tourists is the Dao Do women’s dress, a product traditionally handmade by the locals. These people are quite friendly and hospitable, and when you walk through this village you can explore the customs, traditions and culture of the ethnic community. If you are lucky you will be able to witness wedding ceremonies and some traditional types of dances. In addition, this place is known for its herbal baths. What can be a good option to unwind and relax.
The village of Ban Pho is the village inhabited by black and flowers Hmong. In addition, it is a beautiful landscape during the spring (February and March) when the plum blossom blooms everywhere. This village is the ancient destination of the Hmong people and, in this place, there are more than 500 families and more than 3000 people. During the visit to Ban Pho, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful views of Bac Ha Highland. In addition, you will be attracted to local ethnic specialties such as “thang co” and its famous corn wine.
At the end of the paved road, about 25 km from the city of Sapa, you will find Ban Ho in a vast and flat valley, surrounded by mountains and hills. It is divided into three areas: Ta Trung Ho, Xeo Trung Ho and Hoang Lien, which is the place of the Hmong, Dao and Tay. The Muong Hoa River meanders around the village and provides fresh water for 2 rice and bean crops each year and makes the landscape of the valley more romantic. The Tay people possess a high technique of rice cultivation and live a sedentary lifestyle. In Ban Ho, you will have the opportunity to see waterfalls, swim in a pool of hot water or a stream of cold water, discover traditional fabrics, make brocads … and participate in community activities. You will be alive and living in the cozy and family atmosphere. Another important note is that the climate in Ban Ho is warmer than Sapa.
The town of Sin Chai is located in the Ta Giang Phinh commune, what the locals consider a unique gift that God gave to the Hmong. This village is located at the bottom of Thau Stream, which is never out of the water and at the foot of the Ngu Chi Son mountain range. You can reach the town walking from Sapa and then passing through Lanh Waterfalls and Ngu Chi Son. The weather is usually cold and accompanied by wind and fog. Still, it presents a unique charm and beauty. Mount Ngu Chi Son (Mount of Five Fingers), magnificent rice terraces, the Mong Valley of a hundred years ago, its traditional and peaceful houses full of equipment made in Mong are the symbols of this town and make it one of the the most interesting places in Sapa. At present, the road to this place is one of the best. Anyway, if you come to Sapa, it will be better to try its natural and quiet trails, such as through forests or narrow trails to make the trek.
The village of Thai Giang Pho is special because going up and down along the mountains (with a height of over 1,400m), you can see the landscape full of Bac Ha people and ethnic minorities appear and disappear in the mountains and Terraced fields around mountain in sunlight. It is a village inhabited by Flower Hmong.
Waterfalls in Sapa
Tha Bac Waterfall
The waterfall is located right next to the 4D national road, one of the main roads to reach the province of Lai Chau (another convenient place to visit). You will have to spend about 30 minutes by motorcycle or bus to visit one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sapa in particular and waterfalls in Vietnam in general. Discovering this waterfall is one of the essential nature shows in Sapa.
The waterfall of love is located in the commune of San Sa Ho. It is one of the indispensable tourist sites of Sapa and the starting point to climb the travel itinerary conquering the Fansipan peak. Before setting foot here, tourists will have the opportunity to discover the beauty of the primitive forests surrounded by the old and mossy taciturn bamboo canopy. The immense bamboo forest is lit with red, yellow and white azalea flowers.
Mountains in Sapa
With a height of 3,143 meters Mount Fansipan is known as the highest mountain in Vietnam and “the Roof of Indochina”. The conquest of the Fansipan peak is the dream of many professional climbers, as well as adventurous travelers when they come to Vietnam. It is located in the province of Lao Cai, about 9 km southwest of the city of Sapa. It belongs to the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, located in the northwest of Vietnam and lying on the border of two provinces: Lao Cai and Lai Chau. You can try to climb it by yourself (you’ll need two days) or use the cable car.
Hoang Lien National Park
The Hoang Lien National Park, just outside the city of Sapa, is unique to experience nature up close. The park covers approximately 30 km2 of scenic mountain scenery, including the highest peak in Vietnam: the Fansipan (3.143m). The park contains temperate and sub-temperate forests that cover the Hoang Lien mountain range. The forest and the surrounding vegetation provide habitats for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Many of these are found only in northwestern Vietnam and are of great biological importance.
Located next to the city, this mountain is one of the best points to visit in Sapa. This mountain is characterized by the dragon head shape that glimpses faintly in the thin veil of dawn, the mountain Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw), which is a perfect combination of natural and artificial landscape, is an attractive tourist area in the downtown of Sapa.
What to see
Ham Rong is home to numerous types of flowers and orchards. Stone paths along trails take tourists to the wild peach forest, then to the orchid gardens with more than 6000 orchid plants belonging to 194 types. In addition, many native and exotic flowers are cultivated along paths such as the Nile of the Nile, hydrangeas, geraniums, ox-eye daisies and cheerful flowers. Mountain fruits such as peach, plum and pear are also found here. The landscape hidden in the fog and the echo sound of the bamboo flute of the Mong minority boy, make this place a paradise on earth.
Another interesting activity is the conquest of San May (Cloud Yard), the peak of Ham Rong mountain at an altitude of 1800m to enjoy the impressive panorama of the city of Sapa. On sunny days, from here tourists can even see the peak of Fansipan under a clear sky with white clouds floating around. On the way to San May, tourists can stop by Cong Troi 1 and Cong Troi 2 (La puerta del cielo, one of the best mirares in Sapa) to rest and take pictures. These places also offer visitors a great view of the French villas and the attached fields below.
Ngu Chi Son
The Ngu Chi Son mountain range is known as the most beautiful in the northwest, consisting of five major mountains that extend to the southwest – northeast. Ngu Chi Son is 3,000 m high and is the second highest mountain, just behind Mount Fansipan. That is why it is completely suggested that you go through the fabulous Cong Troi or Tram Ton Pass and then try to reach the top of this mountain. It will be interesting and a good challenge, especially if you are one of those who do not want to do something common.
¿How to move around Sapa?
One of the greatest pleasures you can experience is walking Sapa, without haste, and enjoying the scenery, the green of the mountain and breathing fresh air. Without a doubt, a revitalizing experience for your mind. If you want to visit more remote sites, you will need a transport because the distances are much longer, a bicycle or a motorcycle can be the ideal option to travel the farthest points. You can also resort to the option of using a taxi or a private driver, but you will not live in first person.
Trekkings in Sapa
Walking around Sapa is a great way to spend time, connect with nature and discover a little more about what makes the people who inhabit these areas different. Here are some routes to do:
Go from Sapa to Ta Van passing Cat Cat, and Lin Ho and Lao Chai.
The total distance is about 10 km, and is the best way to get into the culture and discover how are the villages of the Hmong ethnic group. You can also say that you are going to discover the Muong Ha valley. Possibly, the best option to do it in full is to spend a night with a local family.
Go from Sapa to Sin Chai.
They are around 4 km and it is a less known route than the road to Cat Cat.
Go from Bac Ha to Thai Giang.
It is a route of around 8 km with a beautiful background landscape.
Sapa with motorbike
If what you like is to take the bike and drive through spectacular places without looking in the rear-view mirror… Sapa is your destination! Rent your motorbike and simply drive and enjoy the scenery. That’s right, do not forget to mark the starting point in the GPS in case you get lost.
Renting a motorcycle in Sapa will cost you around 120,000 VND per day, depending on whether you want it automatic or manual, and you have to return it at approximately 6:00 p.m. They are not 24 hour rentals. Check it before going up, especially if you intend to go a long way. Since the roads of this area do not stand out for being little bumpy… better avoid surprises!
Some of the routes that we propose to do by motorcycle are the following:
Sapa – Tha Bac Waterfall – Tram Ton Pass – Y Quoc Ho – Love Waterfall.
Go from Sapa to Ta Phin Village.
Go from Sapa to Ban Ho Village.
Sapa is a different part of Vietnam that you will find in the most important cities and well-known tourist sites. You will like this other side of the country and its mountains and wide valleys, lively rivers, bamboo forests and specially the lovely people, with are knowed because of their colorful clothes and broad smiles. You also can find fields with rice terraces that imitate the infinity of the sea, ethnic villages at the top of its hills or between flooded fields, children who look at you astonished as they never see a tourist before, people accustomed to living hard times and surpassing the vicissitudes of the life. The best way to enjoy this experience is to find accommodation with a local family, as they will open the doors of your home, show you their culture and help you in the most difficult points during a route to climb the mountain.
Accomodation in Sapa
Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Vietnam. It is a small village located between green mountains and rice terraces, inhabited by people of different ethnicities. Of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, eight live in the hills around Sapa: Hmong, Thai, Dao, Tay, Xa Pho, Moung, Hoa and Giay.
It’s a popular destination for both international and national tourists. This means that on weekends, the occupation of this small town is somewhat higher and, if you plan to go, you have to book in advance both your accommodation and transportation.
Another aspect to keep in mind for traveler that wants to do this place at their own, it’s that Sapa can be a very frustrating experience. This is because the tourist exploitation of this area is very high, with dozens of hotels, restaurants and travel agencies. Everything is very organized and accessible, but sometimes you are going to miss the factor of authenticity to this experience. Probably you are going to share your trekking route is shared with many other tourists. Or probably you stay at the home of a local family that sometimes does not speak English and sometimes they are tired of receiving so many tourists. Many of the tourists are attracted by the possibility of doing something different and connect with the authenticity and tradition of the area and end up sharing routes with a large group of tourists, in a hotel similar to those of their country and eating western food.
Hotels in Sapa
If you are looking for a mountain route and a good rest away from the city, even with the possibility to enjoy for a while in a spa, heated pool or receiving a massage and you have a good budget, this is your option. You are going to give up the authenticity and try to discover how local ethnic groups and tribes live, but you can enjoy the fresh air and enjoy the tranquility of this area without sacrificing any comfort.
The list of 10 best hotels in Sapa
- Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa
Located near the edge of a mountain and far enough from the busy city center of Sapa, just 5 minutes walk from the central Catholic stone church. It offers views of the Fansipan mountain and the Muong Hoa valley. In terms of services, it has access to Internet, gym, outdoor pool and Spa. From $ 144 per night.
- Sapa Dragon Hotel
It is a traditional mountain chalet complete with stone fireplace. It is located two minutes walk from the stone church Sa Pa and at the foot of the Ham Rong mountain. Sapa Dragon Hotel occupies an unprecedented location overlooking the valleys of Sapa and the imposing Ham Rong mountain. Starting at $ 41 per night.
- Sapa Freesia Hotel
Located in Sa Pa, only 350 meters from Sa Pa Lake, it offers comfortable rooms with air conditioning. The hotel has an indoor pool, fitness center, garden, restaurant and free WiFi. From $ 88 per night.
- Sapa Clay House – Mountain Retreat
It is a building dating from 2016, and offers a garden and rooms with free Wi-Fi. The establishment has a 24-hour reception, a restaurant and a terrace. The Fansipan Legend cable car station is 4 km from the hotel and the Fansipan mountain is 9 km away.
- Sapa Horizon Hotel
Sapa Horizon Hotel is centrally located less than 50 meters from the famous Sa Pa Market and Nha Tho Da Church. It offers picturesque views of the mountain and free Wi-Fi throughout.
- Cat Cat Garden Hotel
It is located on a hill deep in the mountains of Hoang Lien National Park, just 5 minutes from Sapa. It has 10 mountain rooms, all built as rustic houses of a local white granite cottage style. A quiet place to get away from the bustling life of the city.
- Eco Palms House
It is located in Lao Chai. It has 6 private bungalows, each of which is designed as a local house of minority groups in Sapa: a Black H’Mong House, a Flower H’Mong House, a Red Dzao House, a Dzay House, a Tay House and a Xa Pho House They also have cooking classes.
- Sapa Legend Hotel & Spa
It is a four star hotel that offers luxury facilities, a first class service and an excellent accommodation experience for each guest.
- Topas Ecolodge
Topas Ecolodge is a small hotel located on a beautiful hill deep in the mountains of Hoang Lien National Park, just 45 minutes outside the city of Sapa. It has 33 mountain bungalows, all built as rustic houses of individual style of local white granite. Each bungalow has an informal style with a private balcony.
- Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa
The Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa, overlooking the lake of Sa Pa, is a traditional mountain chalet that blends perfectly with the natural environment. It consists of a heated indoor pool, a restaurant and a bar, as well as offering a variety of outdoor activities and leisure facilities. It even has an exclusive train line for the clients of this establishment.
Hostels in Sapa
Staying in a hostel is always a good way to save some money in accommodation, at the same time it becomes an opportunity to meet people if you opt for a bed in a shared room. You renounce some of the extra comforts but in return you get an affordable price, something that is not bad when all you are looking for is a bed, a good shower and Internet connection after a long day exploring the surroundings of this town and the terraces of rice.
Hostales en Sapa para pasar la noche por 10$ o menos
- Sapa Sunflower Hotel
- Sapa Honeymoon Hotel
- Dzay House Homestay
- Sa Pa Hieu Dang Hotel
- Pumpkin Sapa Hotel
- Hang Nga Guest house
Stay with a local family in Sapa
Many of the local families income comes from selling souvenirs to the tourists, as a result of this, many children stopped going to school to dedicate themselves to this trade. Which is not good, especially for the development of these. As you will see when you get to Sapa the insistence of the vendors will overwhelm you. You have to keep in mind that it is their way of being, of earn their incomes, they are the same even with local people. But when you live in first person the experience of living with them, those same people who can become so tedious trying to show you and sell their bracelets, are the ones who will help you if you need it and will look at you with curiosity when you pass through their villages. Trying to understand what a tourist does in that remote place.
As for their communities, they are usually formed by around 10 wooden houses that are not usually placed facing each other. Depending on the village you are in, there is usually a communal house with bamboo pillars where you they receive their guests. Usually, they are received by the man of the house who gives them a drink as a welcome. The women work in the fields, take care of the children, weave, cook and go to the market. Meanwhile, the men guard the house or the buffalos. The children go to school, help the mother and also sell simple crafts such as cloth bracelets.
As advice if you pretend that you stop trying to sell, one way to stop them from trying to sell you something is to take a picture, it works with the children. Not so with mothers who pose smiling with all their ornaments.
Staying at least one night in a traditional family house in the hills is an unmissable activity for those who are interested in knowing the culture. The price that they usually will charge per night ranges between 15 and 25 USD (depending on your negotiation capacity) and includes the walk to the village with a guide, thick blankets to sleep and four homemade meals with the traditional local rice wine. It is convenient to agree everything in Sapa before arriving at the house where you are going to stay. In this way, you can avoid extra charges or scams because they include some extra that was not previously agreed. Keep in mind that some houses have hot showers but others do not so it’s best to ask. Especially, if you are going for more than two days, or if you are one of those who need a good hot shower after a long and hard day of trekking.
As for the reservation, the usual procedure is that you do not make any reservation and that upon your arrival in Sapa, you will negotiate with one of the women who will proactively offer you stay at their homestay. In fact, they may be so many that they allow you to adjust the price a little. Because if they have something in common these negotiations is that the initial price is usually something crazy, and you have to bargain to get a fair price.
On the other hand, if you are one of those who prefer to travel quietly and with everything reserved, local houses like Zizi Homestay is a good option. Since you will find yourself sharing a house with a black Hmong family and you will be able to see what is the daily life in one of these villas. This is concrete is the best option to stay in a hostel with more backpackers and to meet people, at the same time you try the food, or feel the same as one of these families.
Things to take in mind:
- There are many villages and many roads. Make sure that the town is at a reasonable distance to make a route of 3 or 4 hours, or whatever you want. But keep in mind these facotres, especially if you have booked buses or trains back.
- The road to the village can be an unpaved road. The largest towns are on the main roads, where tourists have to pay to walk by (tourist tax). A village in the mountains, more remote, usually has a more picturesque road and no toll booths. So the more you want to immerse yourself in the more real life, the more complex the path you have to travel.
- The houses in the mountain villages are very rustic. They are usually made of wood, with a dirt floor and without a bathroom. In some cases you will have to sleep on the ground and there may be some bugs and mosquitoes. Do not expect much, relax and enjoy a day of experience. Is that why you chose to live the real experience?
- Do not take the big backpack to the route. The best option is to book a guesthouse for the next day and leave the backpack there. This is something more personal and depends on how you have organized yourself, but due to the complexity of the roads it may be that the big backpack is somewhat uncomfortable if you have to climb some complicated slope.
¿Why is better stay with a local family in Sapa?
As we mentioned earlier, Sapa is one of the few places that has kept alive the oldest traditions of northern Vietnam. In this area there are still six different ethnic groups that maintain many of their ancient traditions, so live a few days with them can serve as a great experience to check the amount of amenities you have in your hometown. Above all you must take into account if your intention is to do something different, as this town it’s full of hotels and hostels that make you lose the essence of the cultural wealth that houses this place in northern Vietnam.
You will be able to experience who is to live in the nature in first person, their daily routine does not end because it ends because they have guests in their homes. If there is a wedding or ritual to do, the guests will be part of that tradition. With the cultural value that is going to bring to your experience. You have to think that at the beginning of the rice growing season, new years, weddings or funerals require a tradition different from the Western one. So open your eyes, listen and, above all, respect and be part of their traditions.
You will be able to enjoy with the natural thing that is everything, here the politically correct thing does not exist. Perfectly, you can be enjoying the fresh air and finding a herd of pigs or a buffalo passing behind you. It is what makes this real. At the same time that you can play with all the animals that are there, especially you will like to see how well cared dogs are cared for in the houses.
Another thing that you can do in this experience is observe and learn how are their traditions or how they do their things, even try to help them with domestic tasks. It may be that you hallucinate with the strength that Hmong women or of any other tribe have acquired in the wake of years of work. And you can even learn to cook some of their typical dishes. But one of the things that can bring you the most, is to try to help children with their homework, teach them English or how to use functions in a mobile phone.
Because, finally, introduce them to our culture, it is to give them an opportunity to be free, that they can study what they like, learn about what they like and that, if at any time they want to stop selling souvenirs and annoy tourists, they can do it thanks to the help you gave them.
Especially you will find it useful to count the presence of a local person if you decide to go out for a trekking route, since you can do it on your own. But you may end up lost or not enjoying the most beautiful places on the route. So hire a local guide can be a good investment. The best thing about negotiating when you are staying in a local house is that you know that there are no intermediaries that do business with it.
But it’s just good to breathe fresh air at least a few days, leave the city, change the noises of the horns of the vehicles for the ones that emit the animals, that if there is no Wi-Fi connection does not become a problem and that you enjoy with the simple things.
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.
If you need more to know the weather with more precision, you can check the weather prediction for Sapa in December.
What to wear in Sapa in December?
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.
- Insect repellent.
- 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!
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.
¿What are you going to in Sapa in December?
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.
Where I can travel after Hanoi?
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:
|Train Route||Train Name||Time SP1||Time SP3||Price|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Hara Express Train||21:40 – 05:35||21:40 – 05:35||N/A|
|Hanoi – Sapa||King Express Train||21:10 – 05:40||22:00 – 06:10||$39 – $77|
|Hanoi – Sapa||TSC Express Train||21:00 – 05:30||20:35 – 04:55||N/A|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Orient Express Train||21:35 – 05:30||N/A||$38 – $74|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Livitrans Express Train||21:35 – 05:30||N/A||$40|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Viollete Express Train||N/A||22:00 – 06-10||$42|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Hoa Phuong Train (Flamboyant Train)||N/A||22:00 – 06-10||$44|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Chapa Express Train||N/A||22:00 – 06-10||$44 – $85|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Sapaly Express Train||N/A||22:00 – 06-10||$47 – $87|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Fansipan Express Train||21:35 – 05:30||N/A||$47 – $91|
|Hanoi – Sapa||Victoria Express Train SP4: 21:40 – 05:30||N/A||N/A||$155 – $295|
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.
- A black Hmong can marry anyone?
- Traditions before the wedding
- Food and drink
- Hmong wedding rules
- When Hmong husband dies
- A real experience in a Black Hmong wedding
A Black Hmong can marry anyone?
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.
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.
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.