Getting the most out of Sapa travel
2009-10-12 (GMT + 7)
Located in the northwestern mountains of the country, Sa Pa is a modest town nestled within the Hoang Lien Son mountain range in Lao Cai province. Sa Pa is an excellent destination to enjoy outdoor activities with stunning landscapes that attract both domestic and foreign tourists.
Travelling in Sa Pa, few tourists miss an opportunity to trek to mountain villages and majestic waterfalls.
Cat Cat village sits atop unspoiled landscapes and is a desirable destination for trekkers seeking to spend full days walking in a world of natural charm and tranquillity.
Visiting the village, tourists will discover various traditional trades of the local people such as weaving, jewellery manipulation, metal work and stone carvings.
The road from Sa Pa winds through hilly terrain, past terraced paddy fields. A sign reads "Welcome to Cat Cat Cultural Village", greeting visitors as they arrive at the entrance of the village.
A leisurely walk within the old village provides visitors with a better understanding of the traditional customs and practices of the ethnic Mong people that live here.
While wandering around the village, I continually asked the locals about their crafts and houses. I was curious about everything and the locals were friendly and ready to help. They also politely asked me to buy some hand-made souvenirs.
Visitors in Cat Cat have an opportunity to admire and watch locals sit with looms and create colourful pieces of brocade. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs of flowers and birds. Interestingly, Mong women use plants and leaves to dye the fabrics. After dyeing the fabric, they then roll a round, smooth piece of wood, covered with wax, over the material in order to polish. By doing this it helps to make the colours more durable on the fabric.
In addition to their weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at making gold and silver jewellery. Their products are quite sophisticated, especially the women’s jewellery.
Further into the village are waterfalls along with a stream that weaves its way around boulders, hills and mountains. The pristine stream is spanned by a suspension bridge, which offers a good view of the waterfalls and mountains.
The path after the bridge passes through bamboo forests filled with wild flowers and past tranquil brooks.
Another must-see village is Ta Phin, a remote village located 12km from the centre of Sa Pa, which still retains traditional customs and lifestyles of the Dao, Tay and Mong ethnic groups.
It’s recommended for tourists to catch a local xe om (motorbike taxi) at price of VND180,000 (US$10) in order to get there. Another option is to rent a motorbike for VND100,000 ($5.50) a day, which provides a convenient and interesting way to discover the landscape and villages.
Despite the winding road to the village, tourists can see picturesque rolling hills and terraced fields on the way. Much of the Sa Pa valley has been cultivated into verdant rice paddy fields equipped with irrigation systems.
Sculptured: Terraced rice fields make Sa Pa picturesque.
The villagers often invite tourists to visit their homes, where they show them how they live and what they have, and tell about their families. Their living standard is still low, but their lives have been improved by the expanding tourism industry.
"We women are so active – not only do we grow vegetables and raise pigs and get wood for the fire, we also try to learn English so we can talk to tourists," said a 25-year-old Dao woman. "Before there were tourists we were very poor, but now we can make handicrafts, make money and meet people."
Ta Phin village is able to win tourists’ hearts thanks to the beautiful sights that surround it. Lavie waterfall is a common destination for trekkers. After trekking through forests, maize fields and mountains, tourists often enjoy soaking in Lavie stream and sunbathing on flat boulders.
After a long day of walking on the curvy roads and hills around Sa Pa, it was pleasant to soak my bones and muscles in a traditional Dao herbal bath at Ta Phin.
The price was reasonable, VND60,000 ($3.30) for a one-hour bath. Soaking in medicinal waters may make you feel a little tipsy. When you start feeling dizzy, it’s time to get out of the wooden bathtub. After the soak, I finally felt relaxed. The herbal bath was good for my health, mind and bones.
I was very happy to have a chance to travel to Sa Pa. I will never forget how it felt to stand in front of imposing, beautiful mountains.