In Sapa Vietnam you can chill out in the mountains
Sapa is a loose knit collection of villages in the mountain range near China. Home to some the most breathtaking landscapes in Southeast Asia, Sapa is home to variety of natural and cultural treasures that make it quite unique compared to the rest of Vietnam.
While tourism dollars have begun to flow into the region it still remains largely untouched. Although how long it will remain that way is questionable. Therefore it’s highly recommended that visitors to Vietnam carve a few days out of hectic urban and beach tours for something a bit different.
Chill out – literally
Sapa was used by the French as a retreat from the heat of the lowlands that surround it. They chose well. Temperatures quickly dip down once you begin to ascend the hills and keep dropping as you move up. This can serve as a great escape from the sweltering heat of the Hanoi summer.
Walking & trekking
If you’ve spent even just a few hours in any Vietnamese city you’ve most likely noticed the lack of walking. Sapa is the opposite, offering endless opportunities for walking, hiking and trekking. The variety of trails can appeal to everyone, from novice to all out mountaineer. It’s recommended that whenever possible you pursue this mode of travel over motorbikes and minivans as you’ll be able to slow down and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll also be able to get off the tourist trail quickly and experience a way of life that very unique.
If you’re interested in hiking and trekking in Sapa seek out the growing number of hill stations that are being refurbished.
Throughout the region of Sapa are a variety of ethnic minority groups. The largest group is the Hmong or Black Hmong. As you might guess they dress in predominantly dark colors particularly their hats and headgear.
The second largest group is the Dao, who also wear mostly dark colors. However, Dao women tend to wear brightly colored scarves in their hair.
It’s not uncommon to come across people, or for them to come across you, selling handicrafts and trinkets. At times this can seem overwhelming and you may feel disdain towards sellers. However, bear in mind that for many ethnic minorities tourism is a newfound source of income in a life that was once quite barren.
Many hill tribes continue to live a very baseline life. For them, a small farm with a patch of rice and a few animals and a stilt house is all that is needed to live. It is worth experiencing this kind of life, be it in the form of a day trip or an overnight homestay. If anything, it’s a way to support the hill tribes with tourist dollars without encouraging the kind of roving trinket selling that seems to keep growing.
Don’t let the seemingly endless array of trinkets and handicrafts fool you – the minorities of Sapa do have a more significant trade and that is of fabric and embroidery. There are dozens of markets in the region but the most notable is Bac Ha Market in Lao Cai. Here you will find and array of embroidered tapestries, hand made jewelry, colorful scarves and traditional wood carvings.
The real appeal though is the people. You’ll find people from roughly a dozen different hill tribes doing business at Bac Ha. Take time to slow down and absorb what’s going on around you. It’s not just commerce or collecting prizes to wow people back home – this is life.