Sapa sunny day in december

Discover Sapa without a guide: places to visit

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.

 

  1. Time to spend in Sapa
  2. How to go to Sapa
  3. Accommodation in Sapa
  4. What to see in Sapa
    1. Sapa Villages
    2. Waterfalls in Sapa
    3. Mountains in Sapa
  5. How to move around Sapa?
    1. Trekkings in Sapa
    2. Sapa with motorbike

 

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.

Sapa montaña Ham Rong

 

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.

Sleeping Bus para ir a Sapa

 

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:

Sapa Villages

  • Cat Cat

The village of Cat Cat in the commune of San Sa Ho, is a beautiful destination on a trip to the mountainous area of ​​Tay Bac (northwest). This town is located just two kilometers from the center of Sa Pa and the road to get there is formed by zigzag roads covered with fog, with mountains on one side and green fields on terraces on the other. Being the closest is the most touristic village. To access you have to pay an entrance that costs 70,000 VND (around € 3).
  • Ta Van

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.

  • Lao Chai

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.

  • Ta Phin

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.

  • Ban Pho

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.

  • Ban Ho

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.

  • Sin Chai

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.

  • Thai Giang

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.

Muong Hoa Valle

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.

Cascada de Plata en Sapa

  • Love Waterfall

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.

Cascada del amor en Sapa

 

Mountains in Sapa

  • Fansipan

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.

Las nubes desde la cima del Fansipan

  • 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.

Hoang Lien montaña

  • Ham Rong

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.

Montaña Ham Rong

  • 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.

Ruta de trekking en Sapa

 

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.

Ruta en moto por Sapa

Acommodation with local family: the best option in Sapa

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.

Alojamiento en Sapa

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

Sapa construcción

Casa local en Sapa

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.

Zizi Homestay

¿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.

Family dinner at Zizi Homestay in Sapa

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.

zizi-preparing-food-wedding

Black Hmong Wedding: Traditions in Sapa

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.

 

Content

  1. A black Hmong can marry anyone?
  2. Traditions before the wedding
    1. Chicken over the head ceremony
  3. Food and drink
  4. Hmong wedding rules
  5. When Hmong husband dies
  6. Polygamy
  7. Divorces
  8. 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.

Family sharing happy water shots

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.

Hmong Wedding food

 

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.

Black Hmong wedding lunch

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.

Woman working

Tourist experience in a Black Hmong wedding

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.

Hmong people walking

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

Black Hmong woman wedding

 

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.

Friends of Black Hmong wife

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.

 

La ceremonia

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.

Kitchen before wedding

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.

Man drinking tea and smoking

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.

Family drinking together

Meanwhile all this thing was happening, there’s another important thing happening at this time.

Picture of couple and box for money

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?

Picture and video of couple

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.

Putting food on the table

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.

Table with stunning views

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.

Woman drinking till late

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.

Sleeping after ceremony

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 market saturdays Sapa

Can Cau Market: plan for saturdays in Sapa

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.

Can Cau 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.
Can Cau Vietnam, Saturday Market
Can Cau Market, Northern Vietnam

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…

Can Cau Market local people
Can Cau Market H'mong woman
can.cau market local sellers

Coc Ly Market Sapa Vietnam

Coc Ly Market: live tradition in Sapa

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.

Coc Ly Market Sapa Vietnam

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.

Coc Ly Market in Sapa Vietnam
Local food in Coc Ly Market
Hmong selling buffalos at Coc Ly Market
Local Hmong people buying at Coc Ly Market
The Chickens Lady at Coc Ly 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.
Shop owner at Coc Ly Market
Family in bike at Coc Ly Market
Girls at Coc Ly Market
Local Hmong people at Coc Ly Market

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.
Chay River Boat rivet after Coc Ly Market
Bridge to Coc Ly markets
Horse transport to Coc Ly market

 

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.

Bac-ha-market-feast-for-your-eyes

Bac Ha market – highland culture feature

Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is the largest and most colorful market in the area and attracts throngs of villagers from the surrounding hill tribes.

Sapa area is very well known for its mountains and trekking trips, but there are more things to do apart from trekking. One of those things is the Sunday market in Bac Ha village. Bac Ha is located about 80km away from Sapa, 60km from Lao Cai, near the Chinese border, and is a small village famous for its market.  

Even if Bac Ha has stunning landscapes and mountains, it hasn’t become a trekking point as Sapa has, it is only famous for its market. During the week, Bac Ha is a peaceful village without tourism, however at Sundays noise and color fill the town, making it a must see for the tourists in the area.  

Bac Ha Market in Sapa

Bac Ha market is the most colorful market

Bac Ha market is the most colorful market in all Lao Cai province and is less touristic than the market in Sapa town. Every Sunday morning, ethnic minorities from the mountain area of Bac Ha, groups of Miao, Hmong, Dao Do, Tay and Giay minorities go to the village market. Here, the ethnic groups dress up with their traditional clothes and meet in the village to buy and sell all type of products, such as spices, tobacco, food, craft-work, clothing,… all kind of local area products. The market area is divided into 7 parts, each of the specialized on one product: 

  • textile area, where you can buy all kind of materials and fabric you need to make ethnic clothes. 
  • food market 
  • horse area 
  • farm animals area, where you can buy chicken, hen, pigs, buffaloes,… 
  • street restaurant area 
  • poultry area 
  • craft and blacksmith area  

For the locals, this market is not only a place to trade and make business, it is a place where they sit, meet and eat with friends that they only see on Sundays, show off their handcraft clothes, find a couple, … to socialize in general. Even if they sometimes have to walk a long way to get to the market, for them it is worth the walk, as the Sunday market is the biggest event of the week. 

Local clothes and Bac Ha Market

Location and timetable of Bac Ha market

It is a street market, even if it is said that a building is going to be built to host this growing market. You can find the market in the right side of the main street of the village, Ngoc Uyen street, in the south part of the village. 

The market only takes place on Sunday mornings and starts very early. It is opened from 6:00 am until 14:00. The best moment to visit it is around 9:00 because at around 12 many ethnic groups start picking up and leave.  

 

How to get to Bac Ha market

There are no many ways of getting to Bac Ha, as it is a small village in the mountains. However, there is a regular bus line that will take you from Lao Cai or from Hanoi to the village. This is the most economical way of going to Bac Ha, about 3$ the way, but it will take you 90 minutes to drive the 60km that separate Lao Cai from Bac Ha.  

Buses from Lao Cai leave at 6:30, 7:00, 12:00, 13:00 and 15:00 and from Bac Ha back to Lao Cai at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 12:10 and 13:00. The most recommendable option is to take the morning bus at 7:00 to Bac Ha and come back at 13:00. This way you will have enough time to see everything and even buy some souvenirs.  

If you decide to go from Hanoi to Bac Ha, you may want to take the train to Lao Cai and then the bus to Bac Ha. If you take this option, you should book in advance, as the train tickets for Sundays are very popular.  

The most comfortable way of going to Bac Ha is the mini bus service. Some agencies and hotels offer mini-bus or van services for tourists, with 5-12 seats, depending on the service, that for a little more money than the regular bus line, will take you to the market and back. For about 12$ round way, they will pick you up around 7:00 in Lao Cai and bring back at 12:00. This way it will take you 1 hour to get to the market, and they usually leave 3 hours later, after you have had enough time to visit the market.  

Another way of getting to Bac Ha is renting a motorbike and riding on your own. This will take you around 3 hours from Sapa, but it is a good way if you want to stop and admire the landscape along the way. Even if this option will be more expensive than the regular bus line, it will allow you travel on your own pace and enjoy the trip in a different way, even if the road may be challenging because of the curves and the heavy traffic.  

If you don’t want to ride a motorbike or go on a busy bus, there is always the option of taking a taxi, but this, of course, will be the most expensive way, because even if you take it in Lao Cai, it is 60km. 

the-history-in-sapa

The Sapa’s history, something you never heard

Once upon a time, King South Dragon married Au Co, a beautiful north fairy. At the beginning, the lived in the northern mountains, where she laid 100 eggs. But the king was homesick and went there with half of his sons. These ones would be the starting of the main ethnic group in Vietnam (Kihn and Viet).The others fifty would be the ones who would remain in the north. 

Chapa – another name of Sapa

Nowadays, in Sapa remain eight ethnic groups: Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay, Muong, Thai, Hoa and Xa Pho. Each one with different traditions, rituals and so clothes and homes. Hmong people in Sapa(called Hmongsapa) dress dark clothes with colourful complements, Dao prefer red clothes. 

But the history cannot be always a nice one and in part of its process can develop fights, rows and poverty. 

Sapa was one of the preferred places for French to spend holiday season and get fresh from the warm temperatures in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and their surroundings (about 1900). 

As it started to be popular, they created a railway and also few hostels at the beginning of XX c. Sapa was also a place aforementioned for the doctors to people recuperate forces and get benefit from mountains air. Was so huge impact for locals this air fresh mountains that the Governor of Indochina constructed his own summer residence. Therefore, more people wanted to go not just to spend holiday’s time but also using this place as a health resort. From then to nowadays lots of hotels has been constructed not only for Asiatic people but for people from around the world.  

Therefore, in the middle of XXs a church was built up and also a prison, its own water, telephone system an also electricity.

CHO_SAPA_1930

Sapa market in 1930

In February 1947 Viet Minh troops launched a devastating attack on Sapa, destroying military installations and forcing civilian residents of the town and the Cistercian nuns of Ta Phin to flee to Hanoi. But Sapa was re-occupied by the French in 1947, but its popularity was not as the same before.  

After 1960 Sapa started to be, once again, the preferred area for relax. From then till today. As so in 1993 Sapa had been opened for foreign tourist. Nowadays everybody can enjoy the amazing views and breath-taking landscapes of this awesome place.

About sapa vietnam- Another colourful and charming side

About Sapa Vietnam- Another colourful and charming side

Sapa today is the tourist center of the northwest of Vietnam. It is famous not only for its landscapes but also convergence of many ethnicities living together. 

About Sapa Vietnam scenery 

Mist is cover in the sky creating a charming paint. Sapa lies at an elevation of about 1500 metes, so the climate is temperate and rainy in summer (May – August), and foggy and cool with occasional snowfalls in winter. Sapa scenery is very majestic, you can see in anywhere I list below. 

mist-in-sapa

About Sapa in foggy

Sapa has Fansipan peak, at 3,143 metres, the highest mountain in Vietnam and Indochina (comprising Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) and is dubbed “the Roof of Indochina”. Conquering Fansipan gradually becomes a strong desire for those who love adventure and adventurous feelings. On the journey to discover Fansipan in Sapa tours, tourists will be immersed in the wonderful scenery. (Read more about Fansipan mountain) .

Fansipan peak in Sapa

Sapa has Ham Rong mountain where is adjacent to the town, is one of the musts for tourists when visiting Sapa. When you stand here, you will see the whole town, Muong Hoa, Ta Phin hidden in mist. Walking along here, it’s like walking on the heaven garden, clouds cover human body and flowers are brilliant on the ground. Ham Rong Mountain that is fine combination of man-made scenery and natural landscape is an attractive tourist area in the center of Sapa.  

Look like dragon’s head

Sapa has Old Church which is built from the early 20th century by the French. The whole church was built by stone (walls, floors, bell towers …) that are linked by a mixture of sand, lime, and molasses, with total area over 6000m2. The church of Sapa is always a place where holds many traditional cultural activities of ethnic minorities. In the front of the church is tennis area which has unique cultural activities of local people on Saturday. With flute, trumpet leaves, “xòe” dance… created sparkling, magical atmosphere in Sapa. 

old-church-in-sapa

Old Church in Sapa

Sapa has Ta Phin village which is a village of Red Dao people have a rich culture that has not been damaged by the modern life. Coming to Ta Phin village, you will immediately catch sight of groups of Red Dao’s women gathering together, keeping inside their hands colorful reels of thread and cloths. They sew continuously, even when offering the goods to the customers. Since 1998, Ta Phin has officially become the “brocade village”, where tourists can find the distinctively hand-made brocades made by ethnic people. 

hand-made-brocades-in-sapa

About the hand-made brocades in Sapa

Talking about Sapa Vietnam, Muong Hoa Valley is a spot which you should not miss. Muong Hoa is an ancient rock area with many different shapes, intermingled with grasses and terraced fields of ethic minority people. There are about 196 stones which were carved exotic shapes by ancient inhabitants for thousands of years ago and were not decoded by archaeologist. The ancient carvings were ranked national monuments. At the lowest altitude of about 1000 meter, there is the home for H’mong, Zao, Zay minority groups, who have been working on the slopping land and living their own ways of life for hundreds of years. It’s best time for you experience life of ethnic. Don’t forget to take photos, this valley has terraced fields which is the most beautiful one of Sapa. 

One of the ancient rock in Muong Hoa Valley

Last, should not miss Silver Fall. This is really a different picture about Sapa which isn’t paited with yellow of ripening rice, green of trees but painted with silver of water and water foam. When come here, the eye-catching waterfall will appear right at the front of you. Above is droplets flying out like clouds obscuring somewhat falls; meanwhile, the foot of the waterfall is water bubbles splashing. Even from far, tourists can also hear the springs chasing each other down Silver Waterfall. It is the enchanting beauty that has promoted numerous tourists to go to one of the unique Sapa attractions.  

Sliver Fall in Sapa

About people and culture of Sapa Vietnam 

Many ethnic minorities live in and around Sapa. In pact, you can meet eight ethnic minority groups: H’mong, Dao, Tay, Giay, Muong, Thai, Hoa and Xa Pho. Each with its own language, culture, and traditions.  

Hmong is the most populated in Sapa, you can meet them in Cat Cat village. Easily recognizable by their costume: Men usually wear black or dark blue pants and long-sleeved blouses. On the head, they often wear a small hat what is round and shallow. Women also wear black costume, also wears a black scarf on their head. The Hmong people in Sapa is not same the other Hmong, so they are called Hmongsapa.

Hmong’s custome

The Red Dao ethnic group ranks second after the H’mong. They live mostly in Ta Phin, Nam Cang, Kim Thanh and Suoi Thau, and Trung Chai commune.  

“Tet nhay” of the Red Dao in Sapa

The Dao also has many featured festivals such as “Tet nhay” which is held on the 1st or 2nd of January, and “Hat giao duyen” festival which is celebrated on 10th of January in Ta Phin village, a small village of the Dao and H’mong. This village is famous for various kinds of brocade designed by skillful H’mong and Dao women. Especially, all your tiredness after a long trip will disappear when you take a bath with wild leaves remedy of the Red Dao. 

After Hmong and Dao ethnic groups, the Tay ranks the third in term of population in Sapa. They are often concentrated in some communes, such as Ban Ho, Nam Sai and Thanh Phu. When you come one of communes, you will have a chance to sleep in stilt houses, enjoy stream fish, pork or grilled chicken, besides you can learn way to make brocatelle with ethnic people and enjoy dances performed by Tay girls. 

Tay people in Sapa

And more interesting things about ethnic minorities group in Sapa, you can read here.