One of the most picturesque and geographically interesting regions in Vietnam is the mountainous area of Sapa. Situated in the north of the country, it lies about 100 miles to the north east of Hanoi and is best accessible by catching the overnight train to Lao Cai on the Chinese border. The town that carries the same name as the resin sits at 5000 feet above sea level. Sapa is surrounded by magnificent mountainous scenery on all sides.
The Amazing Ethnic Minority People
The people who live and work in this area are from eight different ethnic minorities. Their struggle to survive in the harsh terrain has led to some delightful and permanent changes to the scenery. Rice terraces have been carved into the hillsides all over the region. They present a beautiful backdrop to many of the views. Vietnamese people in the main are from the Kinh ethnic grouping. They make up only about 15% of the indigenous local population here, despite representing about 98% throughout Vietnam. The minorities that dominate here are the H’mong, (52%) Dao 25%) and Tay. The Giay, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Xa Pho make up the rest.
They make their living from farming rice and in no short measure tourism. The older women weave the most beautiful fabrics which are used in the design and making of their traditional costumes. They sell this material and items of clothing to tourists. Their lives have remained virtually unchanged for generations. They might carry a mobile phone these days, but in just about ever other aspect, they live a traditional ancient lifestyle.
The ethnic minorities in Sapa are among the poorest people in Vietnam. Tourists are encouraged to spend some tourism dollars in the region to help them maintain their way of life. However, it is always advisable to buy from adults and not children. In addition giving sweets to children is not a good idea, they have poor dental hygiene. Giving writing materials and pens is a much more useful gift. They get married young here, most boys and girls marry between the ages of 15 and 18.
It is at the markets where the local people come into their own
The part of these people’s traditional existent is best demonstrated to tourists by the preponderance of markets. At these, everything from trinkets to horses are sold and traded in the same way as has been done for hundreds of years. The traditional food on sale at these markets include quite a lot of horse meat.
Visiting Sapa is a fascinating and rewarding thing to include on your travel itinerary. The ethnic people are very intelligent, have very good English skills and welcome the chance to practice. They are warm hearted people and are happy to share what they have. Many home stay visits are now possible, where tourists get the chance to stay overnight with an ethnic family.
Sapa has become the trekking capital of Vietnam and it is easy to see why. The terrain is well suited to walking, the views are breathtaking and the local people are both interesting and extremely hospitable. Nobody goes home without a sense of having witnessed something special.