Enjoy the Vietnamese kitchen: Hanoi Delights and Discover old temples: Hue Impressions

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sapa - a magic mountain scenery above the mist

See the locations on Sapa Google Map and see the Weather in Sapa

Picture by marhas
Sapa morning: The mist is leaving and the view towards the valley with the rice terraces is opening

Picture by Lawrence Sinclair

Picture by ronancrowley

Picture by n gr0uch0
Sapa Square with churchbr>
It's a long one-hour drive from the town Lao Cai on a road winding up into the Hoan Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam. Up to 1650 m above sea level. Into a town, that may be still enclosed by mist, when you arrive early in the morning. There you may witness, how the mist is floating away and discloses a fine rugged scenery and rich cultural diversity, great views into the surrounding mountains and valleys, towards the famous rice terraces with the farm houses of the hill tribe people (Hmong and Dao) living around this town in the Tonkinese alps. The picturesque village is a former French hill station near Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, rising from the Red River Valley. And you find here a very special atmosphere: something between a Vietnamese hilltribe-market-town and a skistation in the French mountains. Sapa’s streets are the business place to the Hmong, Dao, Giay, Pho Lu and Tay people. Their traditional ethnic dresses make the difference from the many nations, who come to Sapa to plunge in its landscape. The women of these groups carry their handmade goods on their backs in traditional wicker baskets to barter and trade with tourists.

Picture by marhas
Cau May street: Full of restaurants, handicraft- and outdoorshops and leading to the market

Muong Hoa Street: Wine and chocolate and more food

Picture by marhas
Cau May Street: The Hilltribe Mini Hotel, the Highland Bakery Restaurant and the Sapa Trekking Shop

Pictures by marhas
Pastries in the window of Highland Bakery

Picture by marhas
Crafts and fashion

Picture by marhas
Skipants in Sapa? Sometimes Sapa sees some snow - and normally a lot of tourists buying outdoorclothes

Picture by marhas
Flowers at the market

Picture by Hector Garcia
Black Hmong women at Sapa market

Picture by marhas
Black Hmong women waiting

Picture by marhas
Sapa street food

Picture by Arian Zwegers

Picture by marhas
In the evening: The mist creeps around the corner

Red Dzao Traditional Medicine Bath: 10 Thac Bac Street. Read about this experience. Due to the isolation in the mountains herb medicine plays an important role in protecting the health of the Dao people. There are plenty of herbs in the forests. During the herbal bath they drink restoratives. This helps women recuperate after giving birth, stimulate their appetite and protect infants from disease via their mothers milk. According to the wisdom of the Dao people a herbal bath helps against physical and mental fatigue and it enhances blood circulation. For women the herbal bath promises skin beauty by opening pores, removing dead skin and impurities. Read more: Trying medicinal bathing with the Dao

Picture by marhas
Red Dzao Traditional Medicine Bath

There is something in Sapa, that can be enervating. "Welcome to Sapa, home of the hard sell", writes the Ottawa Citizen. Susan Riley describes: "From the moment you step out of your minivan in the town of Sapa (...) you will be besieged by Hmong women - short, friendly, decked out in bright head scarves, patterned umbrellas and dark leggings and as persistent as black flies. They followed us everywhere (...) - even on a three-hour "trek" through high pastures, sodden rice paddies and down slippery goat paths to a neighbouring village. We told them we weren't buying the blankets, trinkets and scarves they carry in woven baskets; we asked them politely to let us walk in peace; finally, we affected tight smiles and tried ignoring them." As tourist you are really in the dilemma: You would like to be polite and answer their questions (where are you from?), but if you do this, you encourage them to follow you because they think sooner or later you are going to buy from them. "Don't talk to them", is the advise of the local Tay guide, who shows the author of this blog around. Another advise: "Say you are Belgian - they know that Belgians newer buy". Or should you buy, because you are a rich tourist and should give something of your richness away, because you know, that many people in the mountains of Vietnam are still poor and have not a lot of possibilities in their lifes? You are in a dilemma.

The tourism boom in Sapa has its backside. Some parents take the children out of school and send them to sell things to tourists. But there is an organization fighting against this and better education and formation for children: Sapa O'Chau. This organization, founded by Shu, a Black Hmong woman (see video1 and video2), is attracting children to their school classes of English language and guidework and then send the well prepared young guides to tours with guests or other work in the tourism. Today Sapa O'Chau has over 70 students. And you can get here experienced guides for trekking tours or tours to local markets.

Sapa O'Chau Café - where you book tours with their guides

While Sapa itself has much adapted to tourism - with more and more guesthouses and hotels lining its streets, all competing for the best views, with restaurants for many tastes of the world - the landscape around the town remains stubbornly untouched: Rice terraces, who have been built by generations, water buffaloes, pigs and ducks in between and the hilltribe people working in the rice paddies and on their handicrafts.

Special nights in Sapa used to be Saturday evenings. Then men and women from the surrounding hilltribes come to the "Love market" or better: dating market (Cho Tinh, see pictures). Which is described by edbourke.net. But the growing interests of tourists has destroyed this event. Young people now find other ways to date. What happens now is described by vietnamnet.vn.

Sapa Museum:

Picture by marhas
Hmong Shaman Altar

The main season for vistors is from September to November or from March to May with dry sunny days and cool nights.

Picture by jmhullot

Picture by Palojono
Sunset at Tram Ton Pass, after driving up from Sapa

Picture by alex franka
Hmong village

A two to three hours drive from Sapa lies Bac Ha, a Hmong village. It has a Sunday market. You can get tours to this market, taking you at Lao Cai railway station when you arrive in the morning and afterwards bring you to your hotel in Sapa or the other way round, when you leave Sapa on Sunday, for example here.

Picture by Tartarin2009
Bac Ha market

How you get to Sapa

By train:
From Hanoi to Lao Cai at the Chinese border (7 to 8 hours). You can travel with sleepers and book on vietnamrailways.com. Then get to the right railway station in Hanoi: The entrance is from Tran Quy Cap Street. See Hanoi Railway Station Google Map. From Lao Cai buses to Sapa (1 1/4 hour), take seat on the left side to have the best view.

Overland Travel to Luang Prabang: There’s no direct bus going to Luang Prabang from Sapa, notes flipnomand.com. His minivan left at around 8 am and took around eight hours to reach Dien Bien Phu (12 USD). There he took the bus to Mhuang Khua in Laos (5 USD) at 5.30 am via Tay Trang Border and arrived at around 2.30 pm. There he took a minibus the next morning to Udomxay and there another bus to Luang Prabang.

Where to stay in Sapa: Sapa Hotels and Guesthouses

Where to go from Sapa: Discoveries around Sapa

Restaurants: Where you eat in Sapa

Picture by johnlemon
Rice fields down in Sapa Lao Cai

Picture by ronancrowley

Tweet This

No comments:

Post a Comment