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Despite its commercialization during the last seven years, Sapa is still a must-see on any northern Vietnam itinerary. On a clear day you will treated to views of steeply terraced rice fields, towering verdant ridgelines, primitive mud-thatched villages, raging rivers and astounding waterfalls.
Nestled high in the Tonkinese Alps near the Chinese border, Sape was built as a hill station during French colonial days, to serve as a respite from stifling Hanoi summers. These days, weekends are still the biggest draw in this crumbling hill-tribe center. Visitors from the capital flock to Sapa for a glimpse of the famed "Love Market," a trek to local hill tribe villages, or an ascent of Vietnam's highest peak, Fan Si Pan.
Some eight ethnic groups inhabit Lao Cai province: Hmong, Dao, White Thai, Giay, Tay, Muong, Hao and Xa Pho. The most prominent in town are the Red Dao, easily identified by the coin-dangling red headdresses and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women, and the Hmong, distinguished by their somewhat less elaborately embroidered royal blue attire. Groups of ethnic Hmong youngsters and women can be seen hauling impossibly heavy, awkward baskets of wood, stakes, bamboo, bricks, mud and produce. Deep in the valleys surrounding Sapa, the Muong Hoa River sluices a wild, jagged course among Giay, Red Dao and White Thai settlements, their tiny dwellings poking out of the neon rice fields like diamonds on a putting green. One- to four-day treks are offered by a handful of outfitters. Guests sleep in tents or in the homes of villagers, their gear hauled by Hmong porters. Be warned: Despite what the local innkeepers will tell you, both the Hmong and the Dao really do not enjoy having their photographs taken unless they're paid for it. It's a certainty that any brochure you see of smiling, care-free ethnic hill people was shot under a Screen Actors Guild contract.
Sa pa is famed for its "Love Market" sort of a cross between a peacock mating ritual, a Middle Eastern arms bazaar, an Amish square dance, a bad Pavarotti concert and Bangkok's Patpong (except here the people wear clothes). On Saturday nights, Red Dao hill tribe youths of both sexes congregate in a weekly courting rite, singing tribal versions of Loretta Lynn love songs to woo the opposite sex. The songs are highly personalized and boast of the composer's physical attributes, domestic abilities and strong work ethic. While Dao women are indeed highly industrious, the men, it seems, prefer to spend most of their time drinking, smoking opium or sleeping, only occasionally slapping the rump of a lethargic bovine moving more slowly than they are. Few of their songs, though, are about drinking, smoking opium, sleeping or slapping rumps.
Topping out at 3,143 meters, Fan Si Pan has become the Mount Everest of Vietnam, with queues of yuppie trekkers in their latest TravelSmith "totally-packable" rainwear forming mountaineering traffic jams at base camps. Footprint Travel can arrange guided ascents.
Sapa itself is a somewhat bedraggled village meshing crumbling, mildewed French colonial architecture with the pencil-thin, brick-and-concrete mini-hotels that have become so ubiquitous in recent years all across Vietnam. This neglected, cultural mishmash would be an eyesore in any place less spectacularly scenic than Sapa. Because of its Shangri-la-like setting, Sapa actually seems quaint - a tranquil, restful village. Which is, of course, what the French originally intended the place to be. Amenities are limited unless you choose to stay at the Four Star Victoria Sapa, a sprawling alpine campus nestled discreetly into a hillside in the center of town.
The best times of the year to visit Sapa are in the spring and fall. Summers tend to be rainy and muddy, while winter temperatures can drop to the freezing mark (Sapa ushered in 2000 with snow!). Weather really does make a difference here, because the spectacular scenery is all but blotted out when there is cloud cover and rain. Ignore the other Nikon-toting tourists in the villages and get out into the countryside, where you just may still catch a glimpse into hill-tribe life of a couple of centuries ago.
Lao Cai is a mountainous province in the northwest region of Vietnam, bordering with Ha Giang on the east, Yen Bai at the south, Lai Chau at the west and China’s southern province Yunnan in the north. At the moment, there is no airport, so Lao Cai can be reach only by road or by railways.

From Hanoi to Lao Cai:
* By road: It is 335 Km by road. From Hanoi, first follow national road 2 via Viet Tri City to Doan Hung Junction. Turn left and follow national road 4D via Yen Bai. Due to the mountain terrain and poor investment, the road condition is bad and it is a long and tiring trip.

* By Train: The French started to build the rail road to Lao Cai from early 20th Century and nowadays this portion has been developing very fast to satisfied great demand especially for tourists to go to Lao Cai. Every day there are many trains depart from Hanoi to Lao Cai and v.v. However the only day train, departing at 06.00Am, is a slow one which stops at every station and poorly equipped with hard seats only. Most of the best trains with best facilities including sleeping cabins with A/C start from Hanoi station in the evening from 21.00 to 23.00 and arrive at Lao Cai station early next morning. For details of these trains, please visit our train section.

From Dien Bien Phu via Lai Chau:
It is about 200 Km by road from Dien Bien City and it is the only way to reach to Sapa and Lao Cai from Dien Bien Phu via Lai Chau and Tam Duong. This road was very bad in the past but is being upgraded. However some tourists choose to flight from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu and take tours along this rout.

From Kunming City, China:
Lao Cai is about 500 Km from Kunming City, the central city of Yunnan province, China. Passengers, especially tourists choose this rout to reach to Lao Cai in stead of taking a flight to Hanoi.

• By road: The road from Kunming to Hekou with a border crossing to Lao Cai is good and it takes about 9 to 10 hours by bus. There are many bus operating along this rout day and night.

• By Train: There are 2 trains from Kunming to Hekou every day. Once when in Hekou, Just go to the border gate for clearing immigration formalities and it takes only 5 minutes to walk crossing to Lao Cai town.

Transportation within Lao Cai Province
Land transport is the only way to travel to localities within Lao Cai Province. In recent years, good road have been building and upgrading to link Lao Cai City with all district townships and big centers such as Sapa, Bac Ha, Muong Khuong…

• Lao Cai - Sapa: It is 37 Km from Lao Cai to Sapa and this portion of the national road 4C is the best road in Lao Cai province which takes about an hour to go uphill. There are many vans operating along this rout from morning till late afternoon.

• Lao Cai - Bac Ha: The distant is about 70 Km and the road condition is good. However upgrading work is being taken at some part. It take almost 2 hours to reach to Bac Ha and there are just a few local buses operating along this rout.

• Lao Cai - Muong Khuong: The distant is 45 Km and the road condition is good.

Trains depart from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back
A - From Hanoi to Lao Cai
Train Code Departure Arrival Category Tourist carriage
LC5 06.00 17.00 Slow with seats only
LC1 Slow. 6 bed, 4 bed cabin
LC3 Fast, 6 bed, 4 bed cabin
SP1 Express, 4 bed cabin, A/C

B - From Lao Cai to Hanoi
Train Code Departure Arrival Category Tourist carriage
LC6 06.00 17.00 Slow with seats only Not advice
LC2 Slow. 6 bed, 4 bed cabin
LC4 Fast, 6 bed, 4 bed cabin
SP2 Express, 4 bed cabin, A/C

There are special carriages ranging from budget to luxury classes providing travelers with much better facilities being operated in co-operation with the railways company. Below is information about these carriages.

Name of the carriage Category & facilities Operating with train
+ Luxury class:
Victoria Deluxe: serving those staying in Victoria hotel sapa only: 2 bed & 4 bed cabins

+ First Class:
Tulico Carriage: 2 bed & 4 bed cabin with A/C
Livitrans Carriage: 2 bed, 4 bed, 6 bed cabins with A/C

+ Budget Class:
Et - Pumpkin : 4 bed cabin with A/C
Fansipan express : 2 bed & 4 bed cabin with A/C
TSC Carriage : 2 bed & 4 bed cabin with A/C
Royal Express: 4 bed cabin with A/C
Fansipan Mountain 
Fansipan is branded "the Roof of Indochina" at the height of 3, 143m; Fansipan is to be approved as one of the very few eco-tourist spots of Vietnam, with about 2, 024 floral varieties and 327 faunal species.
The topography of Fansipan is varied. Muong Hoa Valley, at the lowest altitude (950-1, 000m), is created by a narrow strip of land at the base on the east side of the mountain.
Geologists say the Hoang Lien Mountain Range, with Fansipan as its highest peak, did not emerge in the mountainous North West of Vietnam until the neozoic period (circ. 100 million years ago). Fansipan, a rough pronunciation of the local name “Hua Xi Pan” means “the tottery giant rock”. The French came to Vietnam and in 1905 planted a landmark telling Fansipan’s height of 3, 143m and branded it “the Roof of Indochina”. Very few people climbed to the top of Fansipan at the time. Then came the long years of war and Fansipan was left deserted for hunting and savaging. The trail blazed by the French was quickly overgrown by the underbrush.
It takes six or seven days to reach the 3, 143m summit, the highest peak of the Indochina Peninsula.
In 1991, Nguyen Thien Hung, an army man returned to the district town and decided to conquer Fansipan. Only on the 13th attempt did Hung, with a H’Mong boy as his guide, conquer the high peak by following the foot steps of the mountain goats. Scaling the height was meant to satisfy his eager will and aspiration to conquer the mountain without expecting that his name would be put down in the travel guidebook. After that the Sapa Tourism Agency started a new package tour there. It seemed the Fansipan Tour was meant only for those who wished to test their muscular power.
The summit of Fansipan is accessible all year round, but the best time to make the ascent is from mid-October to mid-November, and again in March.
Foreigners like best to book Fansipan tours between October and December, as this period is more often than not free from the heavy rains that obstruct the jaunt. But the Vietnamese prefer their tours to the peak of the mountain from February to April, as it is not so cold then. However, the best time for the trek to the mountain is from the end of February to the start of March.
Cat Cat Village 
Visitors to Cat Cat have an opportunity to admire a lively and colorful picture. That is the image of young women sitting by looms with colorful pieces of brocade decorated with designs of flowers and birds. 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. Their products are fairly sophisticated, especially jewelry for women.
In addition to the brocade weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at manipulating gold and silver jewelry. Their products are fairly sophisticated, especially jewelry for women.
Tourists to Cat Cat are most attracted by its unique customs, including the custom of “pulling wife”. A man can ask his friends to lure a girl he likes to his house and keeps her there in three days. During these days, if the girl agrees to become his wife, a wedding will be held. However, the girl can happily go home after three days if she does not like him.
Traditional houses of H’Mong people in Cat Cat have three rooms with three doors and covered with po mu wood roof. In the house there are three columns that stand in round or square stones. The walls are made from sawn timber. The main door is always closed and only opens when people in the house organize important events. Altar, inlaid floor containing food, places for sleeping, kitchen and receiving guests are indispensable parts of the houses. Visitors to Cat Cat Village can discover countless unique features of H’Mong.
Ham Rong Mountain 
Legend has it that in the distance past, all animals lived together in a chaotic environment. One day, Jade Emperor gave an order that every species of animal had to find for them an area to live. Having heard the order, they scrambled for a place to reside. The three brothers of dragon who were living in a large lake hurriedly ran to the east but could not find any place; they then ran to the west. The two older brothers ran fast and came to the destination first. The youngest brother ran slowly and strayed into the crowds of lions, tigers and big cats. Fearing that these animals would attack it, the dragon opened its mouth to defense itself. At that time, the order of Jade Emperor was no longer available, so the three dragons petrified. The two older dragons, which were waiting for their brother, face Lao Cai City, and the youngest one raising its head and opening mouth faces the Hoang Lien Mountain Range. So the mountain is named Ham Rong (Jaw of Dragon).
Visitors to Ham Rong have chances to climb up the San May (Cloud Yard) to enjoy the panorama of Sapa Townlet, visit the orchid gardens with beautiful and colorful flowers.
Sapa Ancient Rock Field
Sapa Ancient Rock Field is between the terraced rice paddies of ethnic minority groups. The first exploration research, in 1925, recorded that there were 200 stones of various dimensions concentrated in the area. Hon Bo, which is 15m long and 6m high, is the biggest of theses rocks.
The engravings on the surfaces of the stone are either pictographic or decorative. Remarkably, among the engravings are drawings of humans, stilt-houses of the ethnic minorities and symbols believed to be a primitive form of writing. But their meaning has not yet been deciphered.
In addition, impressive images include a da chong (the husband stone), da vo (the wife stone), as well as stones that look like tigers and a stela with an incantation written on it by the carver to help his people defeat the tigers. The da chong and da vo tell the story of faithful love between a couple who overcame all difficulties to be together; even though they turned to stone, they are still dedicated to each other.
Archaeologists have proven that this area has been inhabited since ancient times. These fascinating Viet remains have drawn the attention of scientists and tourists.
Thuong Temple Spring Festival Sapa Vietnam
Thuong Temple is located on the Hoa Hieu Hill, Lao Cai City, dedicated to Tran Hung Dao - the famous general of Tran Dynasty. He commanded the Dai Viet troops defensive in Lao Cai in 1257. The spring festival is organized at the cutural center of Lao Cai Ward and Thuong and Mau Temples. The ceremonies include the opening festival, processions of the Holy Mother and Thien hau Nuong; worshipping ceremony takes place on the 14th day, thanksgiving ceremony is on the 15th day to pray for peaceful and prosperous things to everyone. It involves traditional singing and dancing performances and mountainous ethnic games: con throwing, arbalest shooting, tug of war, stick pushing, wrestle, cocks fighting, swinging… The spring festival is alco displayed brocade souvernirs, local goods which are made by girls of the Mong, the Dao, the Thai…
Xoe Dancing Festival in Ta Chai
Xoe Festival in Ta Chai is the spring festival of the Tay to pray for good crop, full of grains and rice. The ritual is rather simple with a tray of offerrings put at the foot of a neu tree which show the sincerity of villagers to the god of farming. After the magician observes rituals, the whole of the village take part in dancing of xoe in the boisterous sounds of gong, drum with many special styles of dance such as: xoe in group, xoe in couple, xoe in four person, xoe greeting…
Can Cau Market
Can Cau Market is a small, but very colourful market, set in the mountains near the Chinese border. The Flower Hmong minority is the most common here, and their colourful dresses makes is a beautiful sight.
Coc Ly Market
Leaving Sa Pa early Tuesday morning or picked up in Lao Cai arriving with the train from Hanoi, we drive with land cruiser to Coc Ly Market. The drive from SaPa will take us approx. 2 ½ hour. We visit the market with all it's colourful ethnic people such as Flower Hmong, Phu La and Dao Tuyen who gathers to buy and sell.
Before lunch we go on a short trek to the nearby village of Sa Koun Ho which is inhabited by the Flower Hmong and Black Dao minority.
We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before we leave Coc Ly and drive to Trung Do village - inhabited by Tay minority. From the village we go by boat down the river, where we experience the magnificent sight of the beautiful caves and bustling life on the riverbank. The boat trip takes us about 2-2 ½ hours before we are picked up by our jeep. The jeep takes us back to Sa Pa or to Lao Cai train station depending of your wishes.
Bac Ha Market
There are many trees around Bac Ha, and in the spring the countryside is white with blossoms. Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is a trading centre and meeting place for couples, friends, and relatives, and it is a typical weekly activity for the H’Mong and other minority groups living in the locality. Local products for sale or barter are carried on horseback.
At the fair, adventurous gastronomes can try thang co blood porridge, a popular dish of the H’Mong and other local people.
Ban Ho Village
Ban Ho Village, Vietnamese Australian Tran Han expressed his excitement when he walked out of the Lavie Stream in the scenic village Ban Ho, more than 26 kilometers away from the famous resort town of Sapa.
Han said swimming in the Lavie was one of many unforgettable memories of his trip to northern Vietnam earlier this year, as the water was fresh and clean in the stream which ran from rocks and hills where a few minority groups live.
Young citizens of Lao Cai Province Vietnam and foreign tourists often trek to Ban Ho to indulge in the pristine Lavie Stream, enjoy the sweet sound of running water from the Ca Nhay Waterfalls and other natural attractions of the tranquil village.
The Lavie Stream, together with Muong Hoa Stream, weaves through boulders, hills, mountains and terraced paddy fields of Tay village, which is nestled in the breathtaking Valley Muong Hoa, adding the finishing touch to the picturesque image of Ban Ho Sapa.
Even though Ban Ho is not too far from the center of Sapa Vietnam not many tourists have visited the village because of the tough approach road, which is under construction and slippery in the rainy season.
However, the village is also accessible by driving from Sapa to Su Pan Village and then trekking 10 kilometers to Ban Ho. Topas is one of a number of tour operators who offer this one-day package, with cost determined by the number of participants.
Ban Ho Village, Ban Ho is worth the somewhat difficult journey to get there, as the village rewards visitors with stunning views of unspoiled sites and an opportunity to discover the daily activities of the ethnic people Tay.
On the way to the waterfalls, which were named by locals after seeing fish jumping out of the water in the old days, visitors will pass brooks gently running down bamboo cylinders that locals use to channel the water into their terraced paddy fields, wooden houses perched on the sides of rolling hills and wild flowers.
When they emerge from the water in the dry season the boulders and stones along the Lavie Stream are artworks that resemble different figures, depending on the imagination of viewers. In the rainy season from May till September visitors can see water flowers created by the splashing water running into the boulders.
The trails and roads from Ban Ho also lead to the quiet Red Dao Village of Nam Toong and other ethnic communities, where trekkers can enjoy the best of Northern Vietnam, such as deep valleys, amazing mountains and simple people.
Lao Chai Village 
Lao Chai is a village of black H’Mong ethnic group. Located 7 Kms from Sapa, it is quite approachable from Sapa for a travllers who do not have much time. In this village which you will have a welcome feeling at any house of the hospitable people there. You can interact them, learn about their culture and customs.
Thac Bac waterfall
Eight miles (13km) from Sapa is the Thac Bac Waterfall (the one in the picture). You can get here easily on a motorbike.
This is one of the region's major attractions. It is possible to climb to the top of the waterfalls. From there, there is an excellent view of the waterfalls. If you come here, follow the road and you will get to the Tram Ton pass.
Ta van Village
Ta Van is located in Vietnam in the northern province of Lao Cai, about 5 kilometres from Sapa, at an altitude of 1, 816 meters. This province borders the province of Yunnan in south-west China, and the indigenous people here share many cultural features with their Chinese neighbours.
Also located in the valley of Muong Hoa, Ta van is a village of Giay people, who look more like the traditional Viet living the Red delta. This village is normally a combination in the visit to Lao chai village on the trek to Muong Hoa valley. It is also a popular stop for those who would like to experience an overnight home stay with a family of Giay people here, sharing dinner with them as a member of their family.
Ta Van is a small village set within a picturesque valley not far from the northern Vietnamese mountain resort of Sa Pa. The area is renowned for its colourful ethnic minorities, and Ta Van is home to two such groups. A stay with one of the farmer families here will give you a close-up experience of the life-style and culture typical of the area. Trekking in the surrounding area is most satisfying.
Sapa is emerging as the top shopping destination in the mountainous north. Most items are clothing, accessories and jewellery produced by the multitude of minority in the area. More recently some Vietnam designers have also been getting in on the producing clothes and household t inspired by tribal motifs and patterns. Check out some of the stores on Pho Cau May the best selection of designer gear.


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