In the Lao Cai province, the buildings of specific architecture fall into two main categories: the traditional buildings of the local ethnic groups, French buildings dating back to the colonial era.
Some trekking tours to Sapa will be the best way for you to discover this attractive point of Sapa!
1. The Tay stilt houses:
Made of strong durable wood (such as “iron wood” called Lime), these houses are built on stilts, with the traditional palm roof to keep the summer heat away. They are often surrounded with balconies and open on all four sides to let the breeze in. Three thousand palms are necessary to cover an average-size house (8m x 12m). One single family does not own enough palm-trees to make a roof, so the whole village helps: relatives and neighbors bring their palms and their know-how, in return for which the family will provide food and alcohol for everyone until the roof is completed. The most beautiful stilt houses are found in the districts of Bao Yen, Bao Thang and Van Ban.
Tay’s stilt house
2. The Nung and Tu Si houses with traditional baked clay roof tile
These wood-frame houses have become very rare. The roof tiles are made of clay, baked at high temperature in wood kilns buried in the ground. After 5 days of baking, the still hot tiles are sprinkled with water. Those that do not break will protect the houses for a century at least. This technique, known as “rakou” tends to disappear because the hundreds of kilos of wood necessary to bake the tiles are hard to find. King Hoang A Tuong’s palace in Bac Ha is covered in traditional clay tiles. Some can still be seen in the north of the Muong Khuong, Si Ma Cai and Bac Ha districts.
Nung’s house with traditional baked clay roof tile
3. The rot-proof wood H’mong houses
To build the walls and roof of their houses, the Hmong and the Dao use one of the most popular woods in the area, peumou (Fokienia Hodginsii) also called “coffin wood” because the Hmong and the Chinese like to bury their dead in it. Insects do not attack peumou and it does not deteriorate when in contact with water. Roofs made of peumou shingle will last up to 70 years. Some can be seen in Cat Cat, Lau Chai and Ta Van.
The rot-proof wood H’mong houses
4. Some vestiges of colonial architecture
Many French architects living in Indo-China borrowed building techniques and decoration patterns from Vietnamese and Chinese architecture. The few Sa Pa buildings that have survived the wars show how these influences have mingled, with the palace of Hoang A Tuong in Bac Ha as best example. Some of Sa Pa colonial-era villas and the houses along the main road in Muong Khuong testify to this cultural syncretism.
A vestige of colonial architecture
However, besides the unique architecture, Sapa also has the impressive festivals, the special markets, and of course the beautiful landscapes that Sapa’s people are always proud of. So don’t ever forget to make Sapa trekking or homestay tours once in your lifetime! This land is truly a place full of wonder and surprise.