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.

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

tips-for-Sapa-trekking

Four tips for Sapa trekking

When trekking in Sapa, as in any other place, is important to wear appropriate clothing and shoes. If you don’t wear suitable shoes and clothes, your experience may not be the same, as you will not feel comfortable during the trip. It is also important to know how the weather is in the area and dress up according to it. A good advice is to ask always the locals, they know, better than anyone, what you should wear and take with you, depending on the trek you are doing and the time of the year it is, but as you need to think what to pack before you leave, here are some quick tips to help you, so you can enjoy your trekking trips as much as possible. 

SHOES  

You will see locals going everywhere with their slippers, but don’t get confused, they are used to the paths and the roads and don’t need to wear special shoes when they go to the mountain. The rest of the people should wear mountain boots or walking shoes when going on a trip, as the way will be muddy and slippery most of the times. Even if you are used to go to the mountain, you should not be too confident and be careful. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money buying shoes that are the best for trekking, waterproof, and high-tech; with some walking shoes that fill hold tight to your feet and will not slip in the ground is enough. If it is raining though, you should as for some rubber boots in your homestay/hotel, as if you go with your own boots, you will end up with your feet soaked.  

CLOTHING 

Clothing is not as important as the footwear, but it needs to be taken into account. As with the clothes, you don’t need to wear the newest and most expensive clothes, but yes the appropriate ones. What does this mean? It means that wearing jeans or a skirt is not the best choice. This can be very logical for most of us, but there is people that thinks that as they are going in a trek though the valley, it will be fine. Wrong assumption. Wearing a t-shirt, if breathable better, and a light raincoat is summer, a thicker one in winter, will be enough. For those trekking in summer, a good option would be to wear a hat too, as the sun can be a bad friend when walking. 

BACKPACK 

It is quite important to take some basic things with you when you go in a trekking trip, no matter how long it is going to be. As the climate in this area is quite humid, it is highly recommendable to take a water bottle everywhere you go. With the ups and downs of the mountain and the humidity, you will need to drink water, and there are not many places during the treks to buy water. It is better if you take a ice-cold water bottle, as it will get warm very fast.  

To take sun cream is a good idea too. You should apply some before you leave your homestay/hotel, but take it with you too. Even if it is not completely sunny, you will get sunburn, as the sun in between clouds is strong.   

Apart from your guide, many local women will join you during a part of your trip, and they will try to sell you hand-made souvenirs, so you may want to buy some bracelets or anything they sell you. 

WEATHER 

The weather in Sapa is fresher than in the rest of Vietnam as it is in the mountains. During the months of April-May is the best moment to visit this area, as it should not rain that much and the weather is warm. If you are visiting it in summer period, it will be hotter, but don’t forget that it is the rainy season. I t is important, as said before to wear a light but waterproof raincoat, as you will need it for sure. 

No matter when you are visiting Sapa, do not trust the sky you see when you wake up. The weather may change in a minute and start raining, or just the opposite, get completely sunny. Always take a raincoat just in case, and a light t-shirt.