Vietnam’s Northern Mountains
Sapa or Sa Pa, with its pure natural beauty and surroundings is a beautiful destination, one that is often used in images to promote Vietnam to attract tourists, along with famous locations such as Ha Long Bay and Hoi An ancient old town. Sapa offers the opportunity to trek, staying in homestays, either shared or fully chartered, and stunning views of the rice terrace fields and mountains. A visit to Sapa is incomplete without capturing its breathtakingly beauty through a camera lens at the top of Fansipan to share with the world.
Sapa is one of Vietnam’s most northern trekking destinations and is nearby Fansipan Mountain with a height 3, 143 meters above sea level – the tallest point in Vietnam. The French established Sapa as a favourite hill station in the early 1920’s, believed to be due to the cooler weather. There are spectacular layered rice terraces appearing throughout the region which are often described as waterfalls and each season brings different views and feelings towards the landscape.
Nature’s Creator bestowed on Sapa a playground for painters. It is both romantic and majestic, with large ranges of clouds waiting for the wind, terraced fields to see, and local villagers living an uninterrupted life.
Around Sapa and Lao Cai visitors may come across a multitude of ethnic minorities, visitors can meet 24 ethnic groups with each group speaking their own language, and with their own culture and traditions. This cultural wealth pool is thanks to the diversity of the landscapes and the available farming land. The Kinh, or the true Vietnamese, are 35% of the mix, the Hmong people are 22%, the Tay are 14%, the Dao are 13%, and the Thai 9%, the Nung at 4.5% and the Giay are 4.3%. Other ethnic groups Sapho and Lolo are sometimes represented by a few small villages and a few hundred individuals.
The H’mong, are generally the most well know, are frequently referred to as the Dark Hmong, partly because their apparel is dark. They are nearly black ornamented with colourful brocade and silver jewellery. The Dark Dao wear distinctive headwear, a pile of coiled braided hair with an elaborate rectangular ornamentation of silver metal sticking out from the top, but they’ll happily remove their headdress to show tourists that it is just a hat rather than their real hair.
Sapa, like most destinations that become popular with tourists, is now more developed than before with luxury hotels and resorts. Although the influx of tourists and investment is fantastic for the community and its people, it does however come at a cost of the original character and charm of the area to diminish somewhat and the over reliance on jobs within the tourism sector for locals. Additionally, the environmental impact of tourism can potentially cause harm over time with deforestation and erosion of the natural environment.
When is the best time to travel to Sapa?
Spring : March, April & May
Warm and Dry, perfect for outdoor activities such as trekking, perfect weather. The landscape is greener now than other seasons, making it a perfect time for the outdoors. Enjoy perfect temperatures amazing and views while you are hiking in the mountains; its neither too hot, nor too cold. The sky is clear, and you now have great photo opportunities. In additional to the nice weather and green landscapes you can also see lots of white and pink flowers that blossomed along the roads and in gardens, cherry blossom season has arrived.
Rainy Summer Season: June, July & August
The landscape is a rich green and the rice fields are growing during these months. Also, the waterfalls in Sapa are at its best, with a high volume of water running down the mountains during the rainy season so during summer you will still be able to enjoy stunning views.
Autumn: September, October & November
Cool, dry weather, great for taking photos and trekking in lower temperatures. The rice fields in Sapa are at their best during this time. Looking like golden ribbons winding through the mountains, you will be able to see the breathtaking golden rice fields. This makes autumn the most popular time to visit Sapa.
Winter: December, January & February
Fewer tourists but cold. The cold weather ensures that it is not the best time to visit Sapa for a trekking, and now the rice fields are gone. Make sure you bring the right clothes with you If you do plan to go out for a hike. Keep in mind that the more basic homestays, or all accommodation in Sapa don’t have proper heating, so it can get very cold. There is also higher chance that the mountains are covered with low lying clouds and heavy fog. However, it can also create some beautiful scenery, but the chances are your views will be more likely be blocked.
Pu Luong shows off the spectacular yellow rice paddies in October and is the closest area to Hanoi to find it and is a stunning place. It is a somewhere to experience local homestays, or to relax in mid-ranged resorts. It has an atmosphere of world-class beauty that has somehow managed to avoid the masses of travellers… for now. Ethnic Thai people made this enchanting valley their home long ago. Pu Luong’s slow pace is a striking contrast to life in the capital city of Hanoi, just a few short hours away.
Endless mountains and pristine jungle are just two good reasons to visit, but here are several ways you can make the most of your time here, and within only 2-3 days, visitors can thoroughly enjoy all the beauty of Pu Luong.
At the end of May and early June, it is the season to start a new rice crop, this is when the terraced fields are layered with green, a photographer’s dreams, and extremely nice and peaceful for nature lovers. Pu Luong enters harvest season in September and October. During this time multi-layered terraced fields will turn yellowish, making Pu Luong just that little bit more spectacular!
Although it is the rainy season, Mid-summer is also a good time to go to Pu Luong and by the end of June, all terraced fields bring a green shade. For about 10 days, the rice will turn a bright yellow.
Visit Kho Muong Village and Kho Muong Cave
Formed about 250 million years ago, the cave has a connection with the underground river system with a length of about 2.5 km. The river and stream system that flows in the cave is a common feature of the Kart rocky areas which connects between the valley by the flow of the streams. It retains its inherent wild and poetic features because It’s less affected by human impact. This is home to 230 people and approx. 60 Thai households. Kho Muong is not easy to access by road. However, if you like a challenge, you’ll love exploring here.
Visit Ban Hieu and take a dip at Hieu Waterfall.
Located on the bank of the Hieu stream is the Thai village Hieu, the stream, which is originates from the Pu Luong peak, flows across the village with a hundred rooftops scattered along its both sides. Lying in the steep slopes of jagged mountains, Hieu village over looks stunning valleys with its natural waterfall. Deep inside Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hieu Waterfall stands out in the green jungle backdrop, and is in the central province of Thanh Hoa, roughly 25 km from Canh Nang Town.
Anyone who is lucky to get here, all agree that Hieu is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in central Vietnam. It’s only a short hike through the rice fields from the top of Hieu village, before you’re presented with a series of waterfalls cascading down the hillside. Climb down and follow the route along to where the two streams meet, and pools become larger. This is the perfect spot to relax in nature, explore different sections of the falls or cool down with a quick dip.
Conquering Pu Luong Mountain
This is one of the peaks that trekkers visiting from Vietnam and abroad often choose to conquer. The peak stands at 1,700m high and it takes about 6-8 hours in good weather to reach the top. You can set up a camp on the top to rest overnight, the next day you can return back down the mountain.
Pho Doan Market
This is the best place to meet the people of Kinh, Muong and Thai ethnic groups from the communities around the region.
What makes the attraction popular and interesting for tourists when visiting the markets, is the culture of buying and selling goods of a perceived equal value. Quite often, they do not trade in money. For example, for two dozen eggs with a bunch of vegetables can exchange for a chicken once both sides feel comfortable and happy with the outcome.
130 km northwest of the Pu Luong city centre is Son Ba Muoi, Son Ba is three highland villages of Lung Cao commune. Because of its mild climate all year round It’s often referred to a miniature Sapa. The average temperature of the year is from 18 to 22 degrees Celsius, sometimes snowy in the winter and summer night temperatures can also drop very low. Also known as Cao Son area, Son Ba Muoi is located on the top of the Pha Hé and Pha Chien mountains running parallel to the majestic Pu Luong – Cuc Phuong Mountain circuit. Cao Son is in the heart of Pu Luong Nature Reserve and adjacent to Ngoc Son – Ngo Luong Nature Reserve of Hoa Binh.
In particular, Son Ba Muoi is quite isolated from the outside world in many ways, so it still preserves many of the practices of the ancient Thai people. The stilt houses still retain the traditional imprints, showing the specific characteristics that have not been influenced by the modern architecture.
What to Eat in Pu Luong?
Eating is quite simple in Pu Luong, bringing the distinct characteristics of Thai cuisine with grilled dishes, herbal items, and spices with many mountain flavours. You will experience most of the delicious food in Pu Luong at your homestay. The hosts will prepare all the dishes according to the numbers in your group, the fish meat is presented on the tray of leaves.
When traveling in Pu Luong, Lam rice is also a dish that you shouldn’t miss. Lam rice is made from new rice, it is fragrant and cooked in a bamboo forest tube. Com lam Rice of Pu Luong not only gives you the feel of the aromatic taste of fresh rice, but also the sweetness of the forest water and the aroma of forest bamboo also.
Cổ Lũng Grilled Duck
When visiting Pu Luong, Hieu Village in particular, it’s almost impossible to ignore the delicacies made from Co Lung ducks. This is a thoroughbred duck breed, so it always keeps its succulent tastes. Ducks are processed into many different delicious dishes, but the most flavoursome is the grilled duck. Ripe duck meat with crispy brown skin, sweet meat, and the most the charming fragrance that tasters will never forget.
Ha Giang is known as a place of mountains, green rivers, fresh nature, flowers from all four seasons, endlessly winding roads, and colourful highland markets.
Situated in the northern highlands of Vietnam. Ha Giang has a high concentration of majestic mountain ranges with altitudes ranging between 800m to 1,200m above sea level. According to recent statistics, it’s covers about 8,000 km2 in total.
This is the residence of 24 ethnic groups also, creating a diverse cultural space. It’s becoming an ideal destination for tourists to learn about the local culture. Although the life of the people here is simple and rustic, the scenery is still wild and raw.
Ha Giang’s windy roads serve up the ultimate motorcycle adventure with spectacular views. Ma Pi Leng — where the road snakes past the Nho Que River — is the jewel in Ha Giang crown. However, the drive into Dong Van is impossibly beautiful too.
Bac Sum Slope
Bac Sum Slope connecting Minh Tan commune, Vi Xuyen district and Quyet Tien commune, Quan Ba district this is the most dangerous place in Ha Giang. The Bac Sum slope, from a distance, resembles a soft fabric laid across the top of the mountain. The Bac Sum slope looms in the mist amidst the cat – eared Rocky Mountains.
On the 4C National Highway, Sung La Valley in Dong Van town is known as a paradise of alpine flowers. It’s called Sung La Valley as a place where rocks now bloom, previously the valley was mostly planted with cherry blossoms but now Sung La valley is famous for many beautiful flowers.
The fields and slopes of the hills here are vast, purple, and covering an entire region full of flowers such as the Buckwheat flower, the Golden Mustard and Rose. Also, do not forget to visit “Pao’s house”, a famous place chosen as the setting in Pao’s home movie.
Hoang Su Phi
Located about 50km from Ha Giang city is Hoang Su Phi. This is a highland border district that attracts many adventurous tourists due to the roads being quite dangerous. The terraced fields in Hoang Su Phi are like the fields were pulled up to the horizon.
Trekking opportunities are plentiful in Ha Giang. The Quan Ba Pass: Heaven’s Gate – holds a lookout that lives up to its name. Also, Quan Ba is a gateway to the rock-strewn fields of Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark and lofty limestone peaks.
Dong Van Old Street
Dong Van, surrounded by mountains and forests, there are 40 ancient roofs located that intersperse with each other, creating a picture that is hidden behind the wild dense mountain fog.
Dong Van ancient town, established in the early 20th century was originally inhabited by Tay, Mong and Chinese families, afterwards, some residents of other localities came to form their own commune. This tourist spot is not only beautiful but also embedded with Chinese architecture.
When is the best time to travel to Ha Giang?
Ha Giang is beautiful spot all year round, however to fully explore its beauty, we recommend you come to Ha Giang at the following times.
January: The season of peach blossom, plum blossom and yellow mustard flower
Spring time: Everywhere from Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac all are all covered with peach blossoms, and plums boasting with the black stone background of the rock plateau
April, May: Rainy season
May, June and a few places in July: Some plots are filled with water storage from April’s rain; but the most beautiful is transition midway through May to June.
September, October: The rice season. Probably the best time to discover rice terrace fields
October to December: The Buckwheat Flower Season, the most beautiful season in Ha Giang due to the Violet heart-shaped flowers spread across the hillsides.
Written by Youin Travel Team
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