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Ethnic Minorities

Many ethnic minorities live in and around Sapa. Excluding the Kinh people or ethnic Vietnamese, eight different ethnic minority groups are found in Sapa; H'mong (pronounced Mong), Dao (pronounced Yao), Tay, Giay (pronounced Zai), Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Xa Pho (a denomination of the Phu La minority group). However, the last four groups comprise less than 500 people in total. The population of the district is estimated at 31,652 (1993) of which 52% are H'mong, 25% are Dao, 15% are Kinh, 5% are Tay and 2% are Giay. Around 3,300 people live in Sapa town, the remainder are peasant farmers distributed unevenly throughout the district.

Many older women in particular make items such as ethnic-style clothes and blankets, to sell to tourists. Striking up a conversation with them can be very rewarding and their spoken English is impressive. Sadly, however, doing this in Sapa town itself will sometimes lead to a scrum as a multitude of vendors taste a potential sale.

Children from these ethnic minorities often begin to support their families financially through selling trinkets to tourists. Do not encourage this by buying from children - Buy from adults. They peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and often walk for several hours from their surrounding villages to reach the town. At the end of the day, some take a motorbike ride back to their village, some walk home and some sleep in the market.

Children have poor or non-existance dental hygiene. ""Do not give them candy or sweet"". It hurts their teeth badly. If you want to give them something, safe toys from your home is highly regarded.

There're schools in Sapa's villages. Most of them lack essential learning : book, pen or pencil. Give those to the teachers, thus reducing your loading weight in return.

Girls and boys get married young (around 15-18) and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. Poverty has led to a great number of girls leaving their villages each day to go selling in Sapa town.

Weather

In winter (the 4 months November to February), the weather in Sapa is invariably cold, wet and foggy (temperatures can drop to freezing and there was snow in 2011). Travellers have rolled into town on a glorious clear day and proceed to spend a week trapped in impenetrable fog. When it is like this there really isn't very much to do. Also the rice paddys are brown & empty (they are planted in spring), the paths very muddy & slippery & the glorious vistas of summer are completely hidden in the mist. If you chose to visit in winter, bring along warm clothes or prepare to be cold and miserable, as many hotels do not have efficient heating in their rooms. During that time, more upmarket hotels that do have heating fill up quickly, so make advance reservations if you can afford not to freeze. (Or don't go there in winter time). It rains very often during the month of August, especially in the mornings.

Sapa map billboard states proudly of its weather : Four seasons in one day. Chilly winter in the early morning, spring time after sunrise, summer in afternoon and cold winter at night.

Tips

Bear in mind that some of the minorities do not wish to have photos taken of them. Ask permission beforehand. Smile, lower your head down and raise your camera up to show them is the good manner sign for asking the permission. After that, show them their pictures is the very good manner too. If they allow, their allowance is free and expect no money back at all.

Bring along a poncho. You can also buy a cheap one in the many shops around.

Rubber boots and trekking shoes can be rented from some shops or perhaps at the hotel you are staying in. However, do bear in mind that they have limited sizes.

Do buy some hand made items direct from the ethnic minorities, especially if you have enjoyed a good conversation or received help from them. Though they do charge slightly more than the shops, bear in mind that the majority of them are very poor and depend on tourist money to survive.

If you want to support the ethnic minorities, try to hire a guide directly instead of doing it through your hotel. This way all your money goes directly to the minorities instead of the 50% they get if booked through a hotel or agency. Some hotel asks for $30/people for private trekking of group of 2-4, but pay $10 to a guide. If you want to save money you can bargain with minorities a 4h hike to their village (including a lunch) for 600 000 VND (30$) for a 4 people group but keep in mind that this very cheap price does not includes return and you will have to come back by your own or ask a lift to a motorbike (around 50 000VND or 3$)

What to Do?

  • Sit and Drink. Sit on the balcony of a hotel overlooking the valleys drinking a beer at sunset - sublime!  
  • Hmong Sewing Classes. Indigo Cat provide Hmong Sewing Classes but you also will find a huge selection of local products such as genuine handicrafts, different teas or cardamom. You can find it at 046 Fansipan Str. 
  • Trekking. *Sign-up for a trekking trip that enables you to stay overnight at one of the villages. The homestay experience is not uncomfortable (some homestays have hot water showers, while some don't. Red Dao homestays may have herbal baths. Ask in advance if this is important to you) and an enriching one. Bring a sweater, as the villages can be very chilly at night and there are no heat sources of any kind except for the cooking fire in the kitchen. Thick blankets will be provided when you sleep. These treks can be purchased in Hanoi as part of a package, or you can ask for private treks for your party, at USD25-35 per day.. Be aware, however, that most trekkings organized by Vietnam people do not really respect the guides (who will mostly be members of the ethnic minorities). Some local organizations guarantee a good income for the local people, not only for the Hanoi-based tour organizations. 
  • Homestay. At the time of writing a typicial "classic" tour will costs you around 35/40$ for one night including the trek to the village, including 4 cooked meals and as much rich wine as you can drink. Some of the more remote villages have very few foreign visitors and do not deal with the large volumes of tourists from the 'homestays' on the guided tours. (!)Just a little reminder : Sleeping in houses not officially recognised as homestays can lead to problems for both the host and you if you get caught. You have been warned.(!). If you want to go off the beaten track and still sleep in a comfortable bed check out the new accommodation www.namcangriversidehouse.com. We had a really amazing time here. 
  • Heaven's Gate. The mountains will take your breath away. Join a tour or go by rented motorbike. Get directions and a map from the very friendly girls at the tourist centre right in the middle of the town's square. If you go on tour it will be a half day thing with a waterfall nearby thrown in. This waterfall has its own charm. Viewing the mountains is free, though there is a small charge to enter the waterfall. Make sure you bring along wide-angled cameras for the mountains. 

  • Go Solo Trekking. Hire a motorbike and head for one of the villages outside of Sapa. When you pay at the pay stations, they give you a pretty good map or you can buy a great 'Tourist Map' for about 20k at the tourist information center. All of the trekking routes are marked (the one you get at the pay station even gives you distances and difficulty). Paths are generally easy to follow and there are a lot of people around to help if you are unsure. Great adventures!  

  • Sapa Lake. A 5-minute walk from the church will bring you to Sa Pa lake where you can rent a pedal boat for 40,000 dond/30 min or 80,000 dond/hour. Note that the pedal boats are available only on weekends& good weather days.
  • Remote Sapa valley. Catch a free shuttle bus from the Topas Travel Office at 9:30 AM (21 Muong Hoa Street, Sapa) and drive 18 km to the Topas Ecolodge in the remote Moung Hoa valley. From here there is excellent access to various hikes to areas with no tourism (in contrast to busy Sapa). The ecolodge has an excellent restaurant with great views of the mountains.   

Keywords

Travel, Tips, in, Sapa,
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Giấy chứng nhận đăng ký kinh doanh số: 0104731205 do Sở kế hoạch và đầu tư TP Hà Nội cấp ngày 03/06/2010
Giấy phép lữ hành Quốc Tế số: 01-687/2014/TCDL-GP LHQT

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