Sapa is an old French hill station, nestled among the Hoang Lien Son Mountains near the Chinese border. Because of its situation near the tallest mountain range in Vietnam, it is possibly the most scenic mountain location in Vietnam. The members of the Black Hmong ethnic minority are very present in town, and other ethnic minorities come for the weekly market.
I've been to Vietnam several times now. Once in December to Hanoi and Halong Bay. On another tour, Saigon was the endpoint and now I have returned to Hanoi to visit Sapa, a former French hill station to the North of the capital. I arrived at the international airport and was met by my guide who transported me to the train station and the night train to Sapa or actually to a town an hour or so down the mountain. From there it was to the Victoria hotel for a short break before our first visit to a local village of the Hmong tribe in the afternoon.
Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure. Maybe because it was all so new and different to my life before and the world I grew up in. The food, culture, landscape, and smell; they’re all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go.Anthony Bourdain
On February 3rd, 2014 we traveled to Vietnam with another couple. After landing in Ho Chin Minh city and spending several days we flew to Nha Trang. We would later continue to Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi before embarking on a private tour to Ha Giang Province and returning to Hanoi on its conclusion. There the other couple would return to Ho Chi Minh city while we took the train to Sapa. This is a night train that comes with small bunks to sleep on.
The last time I came to Sapa it snowed but the weather was a lot better this time. The weather would hold for the most part.
For the first two nights, wen would be staying at the Sapa Unique Hotel, a wonderful Bed & Breakfast. During our time there the restaurant offered free cooking lessons every night. We had a wonderful view of the mist-covered mountains from our room balcony. The hotel's location was also very convenient. Overall a good investment for $35 per night.
On Thursday we were scheduled for a short trek in the hills outside of Sapa with Viet Sapa Travel. We would spend the night at Mr. Dat’s Heavenly Homestay in Ta Phin Village. All through our trek, we were joined by some members of the Red Dao minority group who though wanted to sell us some handy crafts we welcomed their company and were allowed to take some wonderful photographs. The trek we took was fairly level for the most part and though long for us, easily attainable.
The Red Dao people who migrated from China starting in the 12-13th century belong to the family of the Dao ethnic group, officially called Yao worldwide. The Yao ethnicity is the second biggest ethnic minority in Vietnam with a population of 750,000 people, just behind the H’mong. Ta Phin village has more than 700 Red Dao people.
Many Red Dao women shave their forehead and eyebrows. According to folklore, a newlywed bride was cooking dinner for her husband, when suddenly a strand of hair fell in the food, the husband unknowingly ate it, and subsequently passed away. The whole village believed that this woman wanted to murder her husband by putting hair in the food. After this incident, all women are to shave off their eyebrows and front part of their hair once they got married.