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

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.

Ta Van Village rice terrace views

Ta Van Village what to see & travel tips from Sapa

Ta Van Village is a place where many Vietnam ethnic minority groups gathering and living in harmony with each other. Having a trip to Ta Van, you can explore the cultures of ethnic minority groups and enjoy trips to peaceful villages where many traditional customs of ethnic people in Vietnam are well preserved. Is one of ideal destinations in Vietnam for both domestic and international tourists.

Being one of the most stunning spots in Sapa, far away from Sapa busy streets, about 8 km distance from the town center. Ta Van is home of ethnics living and you can find over 110 households living in this village. So the best way to enjoy is choose to stay overnight at the homestay in Ta Van village to fully experience. Is one of the Sapa day trips that you must do.
Tả Van Village in Sapa
Ta Van Village air view of the town

How to go to Ta Van Village

During the road to Ta Van you can enjoy a great trek amongst the beautiful rice paddy and corn terrace fields. Also, it’s usual than a group of local people join you in the way to the village. Located at the mountain base, Ta Van village is approximated 7 – 11 km away from the center of Sapa, depending what route you take. The road to Ta Van Village is quite small and narrow. Two sides of the village are covered by fertile terraced fields embellished with the green color of corns and rice plants. This fabulous destination owns lots of must-sees for your trip to Sapa, Vietnam like the mysterious Ancient Rock Field

The best choice it’s hire a guide to trek to Ta Van. But if you go during the summertime, you can rent out a scooter and get to Ta Van this way. It’s the best way to avoid the high temperatures in this season. Homewer, tt’s not impossible to do it in other seasons but it’s more dangerous due to  slippery muddy road.

It was built a road for car; however, the trail from Y Linh Ho crossing Lao Chai to Ta Van is the best path to get the most amazing trek and it is definitely recommended. On your trip to Ta Van Village, along with dreamy beautiful Muong Hoa Valley which sometimes looks so magnetic and mysterious under the fog, you also have a chance to witness floating clouds atop of imposing Fansipan Peak.
Ta Van Village bridge
Ta Van Village rice terrace padies

Local people in Ta Van Village

In Ta Van village, there are two major minorities groups: the Giay and the Dao. As soon as you cross over the wooden bridge through the Muong Hoa water stream, which connect Ta Van village to the outside, you’ll be able to meet the Giay community. A bit further up the hill is the Dao community. The people here make their living mainly based on farming and occasionally homestay services.

Ta Van Village was formed by a group of Giay people in Lao Cai province. These people settled in areas having low topography such as foothills and valleys along streams or rivers. Due to living in the same residential locality, in the course of history, Giay people have exchanged and under the influence of different cultures from other ethnic groups such as Tay, Thai, Nung. This intercultural phenomenon has greatly contributed in creating a diverse culture in the village. Ta Van Village has a diverse system of folklore including fairy tales, riddles, and proverbs. This is also a place of many traditional festivals such as Tet holidays in January and July, full moon festivals in May and August, etc.

Growing rice is the major profession of the Giay. Besides, they also produce instruments and engraved silver. They live in both stilted houses and common houses with a solemn central part which is served as a place for ancestor altar and guest reception. The Giay have quite various cultures with fairy-tale, poetry, proverbs and riddles. Costumes of the Giay are simple: women with short eczema, wearing cloth bag with embroidered flowers; man also wears pants and shirt. If having the opportunity to come here, visitors can enjoy some special dishes of ethnic Giay such as: roast fish of Muong Hum, horse meat of Muong Khuong, sticky rice of Van Ban… and enjoy festivals, folk games of the Giay: Nao Cong, Roong Pooc… and participate in tours of the village.

The month of October (according to the Lunar calendar, which often falls in mid-November or December depending on the lunar year) rolls around would mean the wedding season for the Giay community. If you ever visit the village during this period of time, be prepared to be fascinated with the Giay traditional wedding customs which involves a lot of dancing, singing and loud instruments playing.
Ta Van Village local food
Ta Van Village local people harvesting rice
Ta Van Village local people

Homestay in Ta Van Village

Although Giay people mainly make a living by rice cultivation and silver carvings, they also open homestay services to serve the needs of tourists when travelling the village. Homestay is a kind of a special tourism service in Ta Van Village in which tourists will live with local residents in their house. Arriving in the village, many tidy and clean houses hang a signboard “Homestay”, which are always ready to welcome tourists. Using this service may be a memorable experience of tourists because you will have a chance to experience daily activities with Giay people. In these days, Giay people will serve tourists traditional dishes that they often eat every day. The ingredients of these foods are homemade products made by local people such as fresh vegetables, chicken, pigs, fishes, etc. Although these are very popular ingredients, through a special process of cooking, it promises to leave visitors a long lasting impression. In addition, through such a simple meal, tourists may gradually feel the familiar and close connection with local people here. In the next days, tourists will also be served some specialties of Giay people like grilled fishes caught from Muong Hum stream, Muong Khuong horsemeat, Bac Ha pork meat, Van Ban five color glutinous rice, and so on.

Life in Ta Van Village doesn’t get much affected by the booming tourism service in the recent year. The minorities group would go on with their everyday activities as if nothing has happened. Some seldomly get shy to start the conversation with the tourists, making the homestay services in Ta Van special. You get to truly enjoy a day as a part of the real minority group.

Houses here are built along the slope of the rice paddy terrace fields, and are made out of wood entirely. The view from these houses is simply stunning. Anyone who decides to stay overnight here will be speechless to wake up with such an amazing view, a view that you won’t never ever see in your daily city life.

Despite the fact that electricity has been in the village for less than the decade, the people here doesn’t heavily rely on it. They go farming at dawn, and get back home at sunset. The village can actually get really quiet during the day, and becomes exceedingly crowded with all sort of entertaining at night. The people in Ta Van Village would gather together and do their usual nightly musical show routine to celebrate a whole day of hard working. There will be traditional fan dancing, bamboo dancing, multi bamboo flute dancing, etc.,  all are dancing around the huge camp fire. you will not need to worry about the facilities because the locals equip with essential appliances and devices so that it will be always convenient and efficient for you taking a relaxation after a long-day trip.
Tả Van Village local house

Lao Chai Village

Lao Chai Village: discover Hmong culture

Lao Chai village, home to the black H’mong people, is located about 6 km from Sapa town. Just follow the main road for about 8 km, and then you’ll see a path down the valley to the right which will lead you to Lao Chai Village. The village is backed by high mountain ranges and situated near Muong Hoa river. Here you will enjoy the best panoramic view of rice terraces and streams and explore three large villages with over 100 families of the Black H’mong ethnic. Ethnic people in Vietnam are very hospitable and friendly. Going around this village, you will easily make friends and have chance to learn about local culture and customs.

Lao Chai almost lies in the middle of rice and corn terraces, so you also have a good chance to trace along with narrow but fabulous path on the fields to contemplate the whole zone of terraces. Best time to visit it’s from September to next April on which the village is so attractive with the most wonderful rice terraced fields.

Lao Chai Village
Lao Chai Village terrace padies after harvesting

How to go to Lao Chai Village

As you can see, Lao Chai is not too far from Sapa, so you can take a one day trail on your own. If you feel confident, of course.

There’s another good point to visit during this trip, Ta Phin Village.

You may go by car or motorbike to get to the villages but it shall be more stunning if you spend time trekking following the path along with the mountain side to go there. A trek is always the best recommendation to explore Sapa’s ethnic villages and their very culture and customs.

Lao Cai or Sapa and the Northwest of Vietnam in narrow sense often is developed it tourism industry with a form of community-based tourism, so then trekking to Lao Chai village learning about the local’s life and exploring the beauty of the very nature in the village are some of the most interesting and appreciated activities when coming to the upland town. By the way, it is very nice when from a high position on the main road, you can get great panorama of the whole village looming in high mountains along with the most beautiful river.

The trip must be very interesting when you mix with groups of H’Mong people on their ways to the village or to the terraces for work and though they intend to make some business, they do not force you to buy their products but chat with you friendly and share their experience and life. The children in villages love seeing the strangers coming to their homes, they are always happy for such small gifts. You do not forget to take some used comics or newspapers, magazines as gifts for them. However, absolutely do not give them money. It is a kind of unwritten rule.
Lao Chai, Mu Cang Chai, terrace padies
Children in Lao Chai road

Lao Chay Map

Lao Chai Village map

Lao Chai map by CBT Vietnam

 

Local ethnics in Lao Chai Village

 

The Giay

Only 2% of Sapa’s population comes from the Giay ethnic group, and so it can be tough to discover much about this fascinating community that immigrated to Vietnam from China only two centuries ago. A majority of Vietnam’s Giay group live in more northern provinces in the country where a stilted house (the traditional-style home) is common even now. In the sunny and fertile Lao Chai village, though, Giay homes have adapted to be closer to be only one story, usually with a simple interior in a dirt floor.
Distinct from the H’mong communities they live alongside, the Giay wear relatively simple clothing that boasts splashy, vibrant colours but less ornamentation than H’mong textiles. Thanks to their geographic roots, a whole host of Giay cultural elements feel distinctly Chinese, with the group’s clothing and cuisine borrowing flavours from Vietnam’s northern cousin. In Lao Chai, the Giay sustain their livelihoods and health in much the same way as the H’mong – by raising livestock and tending to endless rice terraces and mountain fields.

 

The Black H’mong

Making up a significant part of Sapa’s ethnic minority population, the H’mong community in Lao Chai is one of many scattered throughout the town’s verdant valleys. The Black H’mong are a distinct community within the larger H’mong ethnic group – so named after the deep indigo dye used in nearly all of their traditional clothing. Green, blue and purple is highlighted with splashes of red – and the Black H’mong’s uniquely vivid textiles have become a favourite element in souvenir shops and markets throughout all of Vietnam.

Black H’mong communities remain deeply traditional, with men and women often getting married as young as their mid-teens. It’s not unusual to meet a local H’mong villager of 25 that already has a handful of children. Instead, most families live off of the land and rely very little on income from selling textiles in local markets. Only when buying livestock or home goods will Black H’mong families need money. Most (if not all) of their food comes from their crops and animals.

The locals houses are built on the half side of the mountain to prevent from floods on the wet season. The H’mong here focus their cultivation in rice farming which is carried out on the lower land close to the bottom of the valley and sometimes they cultivate corn on the mountain slopes on terraces as the subsidiary food for life.

 

What to do in Lao Chai Village

With the form of community-based tourism, you will have a chance to experience handicraft manufacturing operations along with the travelling route, in which includes brocade weaving, traditional dyeing and more. Then you are highly recommended buying such products not only for their distinction and beauty but also the practical features with good benefits such as brocade scarves, embroidering cushions, especially ethnic instruments like “Khen”, “Dan moi” for beautiful souvenirs.
You can participate in the local’s routines by staying in their rudimental houses, communicating with such hospital and friendly ethics and mingling with their life which is definitely close with natural space and particularly enjoying their local dishes with exotic but yummy taste that always deserve at least a try. Thus, on your way to Lao Chai, you might receive simple but unforgettable experiences with preserved and precious traditional characteristics and customs of the local here and be obviously impressed with the ethnic’s hospitality and frankness despite the subsistence living.
Family in Lao Chai - Sapa
Black Hmong woman and baby, rice planting, Sapa Vietnam

 

Homestay with local Black Hmong Family

One of the best experiences when travelling to Sapa is a stay in the home of a local Black Hmong family. Thanks to CBT Vietnam training workshops many homes offer homestay experiences and authentic batik workshops. Within the network of trekking routes in the Sapa Region, Lao Chai does offer an excellent option to stay overnight and learn more about the Hmong culture.

You can find a list of homestays with local people.

Homestay with local family in Lao Chai

Cat Cat Village stunning views

Cat Cat Village: trek from Sapa&travel tips

:Cat Cat Village is a mountainous district of Lao Cai province, about 376 km from Hanoi. It is located in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley and near the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. This is an age-old village of H’Mong ethnic group remaining unique customs and practices that are lots in other villages.

Cat Cat Village stunning views

How to go to Cat Cat Village

There’s nothing like a good hike to explore the surrounding villages, this is good because it is located only 3km south of Sapa. The hike to Cat Cat is downhill and easy on the legs. There are plenty of xe om (motorbike taxis) if you feel tired or lazy about finish the road. The trail offers beautiful views of terraced rice fields and you can see the village homes in the valley below. Along roads to the village, tourists can enjoy the ancient architectural beauty of small houses of local residents.

However, unless you’re with a tour or trekking guide, all the foreigners have to pay an entrance fee and you will need to buy them in advance and not at the door. The current price of the ticket is 70.000 VND. The Government set this tax in order to collect money to mantain the village. You will be disappointed if you arrive without a permit in hand. If you plan to hike this on your own, visit the Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to pick one up first.
Road to Cat Cat Village from Sa Pa

History & Local People in Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat cultural village was formed in 19th century by the gathering of some families belonging to some ethnic groups living in mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, especially Black H’Mong. They lived next to each other along the mountain side and cultivated surrounding their home. Rice and corn are grown in terraced fields, while traditional handicrafts such as twisting flax and weaving fabric have been well-kept.

You will be impressed with the peacefully picturesque sceneries. You can see women sitting in front of the loom with colorful pieces of brocade, while children playing around with pets or even livestock. From the plain brocade, then women can carefully dye them with special leaves and embroider beautiful patterns of flower and animal on them. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs. A noteworthy is that H’mong women use plants and leaves to dye these brocade fabrics. And then they roll a round and smooth section of wood covered with wax on fabrics to polish them, making their colors durable.

In addition to the brocade weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at manipulating gold and silver jewelry. These are very sophistique products, especially jewelry for women.
Young hmong people in cat cat village
Cat Cat Village local H'mong people

Local architecture in Cat Cat Village

The original architect of H’Mong people is interesting as well. The houses of local people are divided into three rooms roofed with wood planks. Walls of these houses are often made from sawn timber. There are three columns standing in round or square stones inside houses. Each house will have three doors including a main door in the middle room and two others in the rest. The main door is always closed and only opened when big events such as weddings, funerals, Tet holidays happened. Besides, in each house, there are indispensable parts like kitchen, altar, places for keeping and food, etc. Houses in the villages are separated with each other by the terraced fields. At the rear of houses there are green and luxuriant bamboos. The most interesting thing that you can see when visiting Cat Cat village is rice mortars using water power from streams to pounding rice.
House in Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village Sa Pa Vietnam
Cat Cat Village local Hmong house

Traditions and festivals in Cat Cat Village

Some traditional festivals and customs of local people are often held annually such as Gau Tao festival and customs of “Pulling Wife”. Tourists visiting Cat Cat at the beginning of a year can participate in Gau Tao festival, which aims to bless for people in the village. This is the biggest festival of the village in one year. The festival is an epitome of spiritual and cultural life of H’Mong people. Another special customs of H’Mong is “Pulling Wife“. According to this customs, if a boy in the village falls in love with a girl, he will hold a party and invite his friends participating. He and his friends will make a plan bringing (“pulling”) the girl to his house. He will keep the girl three days at his house, and then if the girl agrees to marry him, they will hold an official wedding. On the other hand, if the girl refuses his proposal, they will drink “a bowl of wine” and just make friend with each other.

 

What to do in Cat Cat Village?

Cat Cat Village gives tourists a chance to have a glimpse into the daily life of local ethnic people, as well as take part in traditional activities such as weaving fabric. It is also a good opportunity to purchase some traditional souvenirs and handicrafts right from the craftsmen. You will find a lot of people trying to sell their products, specially children.

  • Take photos of the splendidly picturesque view of the hills and the terraced rice fields.
  • Look through the houses of the ethnic minorities in the village and discover how people in this area live. You will often see a big family so in one household: can live until 10 members more or less!
  • Visit the school. Currently, the government has made an effort to discourage villagers and tourists in giving of candies. So try not to give candies to kids.
  • Shop. As you go down the village you will walk past a lot of stalls with ladies selling handicrafts.
  • Drink the home-made apple wine. The price of a glass it’s 10,000 VND (50 cents).
  • Talk to the villagers and learn how Hmong say “Look”: “Loke” and “Make”: “Meki“. A little tip is when you don’t want to buy anything you just have say: “I’m only loke Ioke”.
  • Visit Cat Cat Waterfall. As you hike to the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley you will see the stunning waterfall. There is actually a hydroelectric station, built by the French, that people in Sapa use to generate electricity.
  • Discover the Bamboo Dance. You can go into a small theater to watch the talented locals showcase their traditional dance.
  • Taste the local food to remember the experience.
  • Hike. Cat Cat is an easy and interesting route for trekking. The hike through mountains will offer you the wonderful picture of rice paddies, the waterfall or even water buffaloes grazing leisurely.
  • Nowadays, in order to develop the tourism potential of Cat Cat village, Lao Cai Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism has implemented many tourism programs. Such as Cat Cat Village’s Culture Days, One day becoming a Dao farmer or One day becoming a H’Mong bridge.
Cat Cat Village hydroelectric station

Hydroelectric station

Cat Cat Waterfall Sa Pa Vietnam

Cat Cat Waterfall

bridge Vietnam Sa Pa Cat Cat Village

Hydroelectric station Vietnam Sa Pa Cat Cat Village

Bridge Cat Cat Waterfall
With these activities, Cat Cat village is one of attractive Sapa places to explore folk culture of ethnic minority and immerse you yourself in unspoiled nature.

 

Black Hmong feature

All you need to know about Sapa Vietnam

Sapa is a precious gift that Mother Nuture dedicated to Vietnam. Coming to here, you can write poem, take photos on most of your time but not feel bored, enjoy a community wine pot, learn to appreciate indigenous culture or just to escape city noise and relax.

 

Location and history of Sapa

Sapa is the capital of Sapa district in Lao Cai province, northwest Vietnam, 350km far north-west from Hanoi, lies at the altitude of 1600m. The climate is moderate and rainy in summer (May—August), and foggy and cold with occasional snowfalls in winter.

Sapa (or Chapa – the “sandy place”) appeared first in Vietnam national map in the late 1880s when the France disembarked in Highland Tonkin. In 1909, the first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sapa. By 1920, there were a number of villas being built in this area by professionals. Going through many ups and downs, nowadays, Sapa is the prominent holiday destination, favored by both locals and foreign tourists.

One of the most beautiful terraced fields in the world

 

Ethnic minorities in Sapa

Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. There is nowhere in Vietnam you easily meet the local ethnic minorities like in Sapa. There are five ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Tay, Zay and Xa Pho. Each with its own language, culture, and traditions. With Hmong people, their costume is primarily black color. With Yao people, their costume is primarily black – blue color with red scarf or hat. Tay costume is only color is black – blue, men and women wear a blouse, a round neck with two front pockets, and a large waistband wrapped around the waist. Giay clothes are simpler than other ethnic groups, are less embroidered and have only a little colorful cloth around the neck and lace. Xa Pho clothes have two main colors are black and red with a colorful headscarf.

Ethnic minorities groups are not live in center area but scattered on the valleys throughout Sapa district. They often gather in the town of Sapa to trade or sell their farming products such as rice, corn, fruits, as well as handicrafts and souvenis to tourists.

If you want to experience daily life of ethnic people, you should spend time visiting ethnic minorities’ villages. In their houses, you can observe their daily’s activities or even live homestay, in order to understand more about their culture. A trip to Sapa would definitely more meaningful with participatory activities, such as learning to make handicrafts or helping the local with farm work!

The Hmong people in Sapa(called Hmongsapa)

Challenging trekkings in Sapa

Sapa is voted to be the best trekking spot in Vietnam, by both Vietnamese and foreigners. The whole district is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son mountain, which also includes Fansipan mountain – the highest peak in Vietnam and dubbed “the roof of Indochina”. This is not only a tough challenge to trekking enthusiasts but also an opportunity to witness the splendid mountainous vista.

The scenery of the Sapa region represents a harmonious relationship between the minority people and nature. You will see the paddy fields carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the Hoang Lien Mountains. This was created by ethnic people since thousand years ago.

Sapa is also a truly unique place for a rich variety of plants, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, some of them can only be found in northwestern Vietnam.

Sapa Vietnam – the best trekking spot in Vietnam

 

Thunderstruck local food in Sapa

Sapa’s specialties are another reason attracting more and more foreigners traveling to this town. A wide range of sub-tropical vegetables such as white cauliflower, red beet is planted here. There are dishes that you will enjoy – “lon cap nach”- pig carried under armpit, which is home pigs but are raised in the field or forest, “thang co” – horse meat or bamboo-tube rice. If you don’t enjoy strange dish, you can easily find Western restaurants, from Italian to French ones around the center of Sapa.

“Lon cap nach” in Sapa

Read more about scenery and people in Sapa Vietnam.

So if you are convinced to go to Sapa why not make a plan for it. Down below are some basic guide for you to have wonderful trip in Sapa:

Full Basic Guide for travel and stay in Sapa