Sapa Vietnam Trekking With The Hmong

Our Sapa Vietnam Trekking Adventure

The last stop of our NW mountain tour was Sapa, Vietnam. Sapa is an idyllic little mountain district which features hundreds of miles of trekking trails that are a popular feature on the Sapa Vietnam tours. Sapa is also the name of the township which is the capital of the district. We were here to visit the township and then embark on a Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure. 

How To Get To Sapa From Hanoi

In Hanoi I visited the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. As a result, I became interested in the multi ethnic diversity that existed in the NW mountains of Vietnam. When my girlfriend arrived in Hanoi I convinced her that we needed to visit this area. As a result, while we were visiting Hanoi we took the time to visit several agencies offering Sapa Vietnam tours. The train to Sapa is very popular and that is how to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Well at least it is a popular method if you are with a tour group or you happen to be an Australian backpacker.

However, we were looking for a more enriching and personal experience. Therefore, we selected the complete package (with guide and driver) and elected to go on a one week NW mountain tour and visit several villages. The tour would end in Sapa and we would then return to Hanoi via the train.

Sapa Vietnam Hotels – There is an abundance of Sapa Vietnam hotels to choose from and our tour company set us up at the Sapa View Hotel. We would stay there for 2 nights before embarking on our unique version of the Tavan trek.

Activities in and Around Sapa Vietnam

Before embarking on our Tavan trek there was a lot to do in and around the beautiful mountain township of Sapa. The area is multi-ethnic and many of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups live in this area including the Red Dao (Yao), Black Hmong, Giay and Tay. This is the main reason why I came here and we wanted to visit with the ethnic minorities. We picked up a Sapa Vietnam map at the hotel and procured a motorbike rental nearby. Sapa Vietnam is a small mountain town therefore it was easy to navigate. Our guide also rented a motorbike and we ventured into the countryside together.

Introduction to The Ethnic Minorities In NW Vietnam

Many Black Hmong can be found on the streets of Sapa. They come into town during the day to peddle to the tourists and return to the countryside in the evening.

Black Hmong selling jewelry in Sapa VietnamBlack Hmong in the Sapa township.

Encounters with the Red Dao

While touring by motorbike outside the city limits, we encountered a lot of the Red Dao ethnic group. They were also very interested in selling us their jewelry.

Red Dao Sapa Vietnam photosRed Dao in Sapa district.

However, when not working they are quite friendly and very curious to learn about the tourists. We also made her acquaintance while touring in the countryside.

Red Dao talking with my girlfriend Sa Pa Vietnam

French Colonial Influence on Sapa Vietnam

Previously, the French had built a military sanatorium and a military garrison here in 1912. This was mainly due to the mountain environment and the mild Sapa Vietnam weather. The weather here is not too hot or cold and Sapa Vietnam snow is extremely rare. For our stay, the Sapa Vietnam weather was mostly overcast with accompanying mountain fog and mist. Very tranquil! The relaxing mountain environment was just what the French colonists needed to get their mind off of their collapsing colonial ambitions.

Although the township was effected by the Vietnam War, it still exists mostly intact. Many French colonial buildings were destroyed by the Viet Minh fighters but fortunately, Sapa Vietnam was mostly spared from US carpet bombing. Some of the Sapa Vietnam hotels are of the French colonial style if you enjoy that kind of thing. The Sapa View Hotel where we stayed had excellent views from the deck and it was a colonial relic.

Sapa Vietnam Trekking!

The final two days of our NW mountain tour would be spent trekking around the village of Tavan. However, our guide was careful to route our trek to avoid the plethora of backpackers that have recently descended on the areas around Tavan and Sapa. Unfortunately, most of these backpackers on the Sapa Vietnam tours seemed to confuse Black Hmong with Black African! I really don’t think they knew the difference! As a result, we would not enter the village during our Tavan Trek. Instead, we circumnavigated it and stayed at our guide’s house where she has the loft set up for guests.

Introducing Our Hmong Guide

Our guide was of Hmong descent although she dd not dress traditionally. She spoke excellent English and she had two kids with her husband. Her husband was not Hmong, but instead was of Dao ethnicity. I am so frustrated because I don’t recall her name other than that it is was only a single syllable. She is on the left in the photo below as we are perched on the edge of the valley at the outset of our Sapa Vietnam trekking adventure.

our hmong guide for the Sapa Vietnam Trekking

The Sapa Vietnam Landscape

The Sapa district is surrounded by misty mountain tops that comprise the Hoàng Liên Son range. Many of the mountains are of significance including Fan Si Pan which is 3143 meters above sea level. Our Sapa Vietnam trekking would take us through the valley and then up the far side through numerous terraced rice paddies and small communal groups of village homes.

We had plenty of company along the way as there were lots of Black Hmong villagers making their way to and from the Sapa township.

Sapa Vietnam Trekking with Black Hmong

Keep in mind that the Sapa Vietnam weather forecast commonly will include rain! If you do this Tavan trek, expect to get very muddy because it is impossible to not to step in the rice paddies! Our guide was wearing blue rubber boots but unfortunately, we were not so well equipped.

Tavan trek - Sapa Vietnam Trekking

We stopped for lunch at this little trail side cafe.

Tavan trek near sapa vietnam

The views were fantastic from the far side of the valley.

tavan trek rice paddies near Sapa Vietnam

We passed through many little hamlets during the day and there were some great opportunities for some Sapa Vietnam photos.

Tavan Trek - Sapa Vietnam Photos

Indigo Dye Used by Hmong

This is a container of indigo dye that is used by the Hmong to stain their clothes blue.

Indigo dye on Tavan Trek used by Black Hmong

After the cloth is saturated with dye it is hung out to dry.

indigo dyed clothes used by Black Hmong on Tavan Trek

The finished product looks like this:

Black Hmong woman on Tavan Trek

The Little Girl Hiding Among the Plants was one of my favorite Sapa Vietnam photos. I am not sure what she was doing there? Just playing hide and seek with herself I guess.

local child Tavan trek near Sapa Vietnam

village child Tavan Trek near Sapa vietnam

Our Guide’s House and Family

In late afternoon we were nearing the end of the trail and started descending into the valley to our guide’s house. We would spend the night there before continuing on the next day to return to Sapa. Our guide’s house was situated on the other side of the Tavan valley and we needed to cross over.

descending into Tavan near Sapa Vietnam

The house was very big and we had beds set up in the loft where we would be spending the night. These accommodations were more comfortable and more personable than the Sapa Vietnam Hotels. Many of the Sapa Vietnam tours were groups of tourists and it added a superficial feel to the Sapa Vietnam hotels and restaurants. These accommodations were a refreshing change of environment.

our homestay in Tavan

We were situated on the second floor and we had a deck from which we could enjoy the view. The loft was very large and we had lots of space. Additionally, there was an adjoining deck which would be our dining area.

view from house near sapa vietnam

Shortly after arrival we got situated and then were introduced to our guide’s daughter who would be our temporary guide while her mom assisted with dinner.

our guides daughter neat Tavan vietnam

Our guide's daughter near sapa vietnam

Encounters with the Very Shrewd Black Hmong Man

While we were out and about we ran into a Black Hmong man dressed in traditional clothing. It’s not surprising that we didn’t see many traditionally dressed Hmong men in Sapa province. The Hmong had allied with the US and French during the Indochina wars and they still face persecution. I would think that most of the Hmong males who were able, have already left Vietnam. Especially those who were old enough to have participated in the wars. I did not ask our guide about this however, the dearth of Hmong men in the area may partially explain why her husband is Dao.

My girlfriend was anxious for a picture. However, he was very shrewd and would not agree unless we paid him a few dong. After his fee was paid he was all smiles. This was very funny because historically, my girlfriend can always get anyone and anything to pose for a photo with her! He is the only one to try and negotiate!

Black Hmong man near sapa vietnam

Well, be careful what you wish for I guess.

Black Hmong man with my girlfriend on Tavan trek

The Last Day of Sapa Vietnam Trekking

We had a hearty breakfast and then went to visit a waterfall before catching our ride back into Sapa. The food was great. In fact, if I had to make up something to complain about during our Sapa Vietnam trekking it would be that our host fed us too well. 

breakfast morning of tavan trek before returning to sapa vietnam

They had an open hearth that they cooked over. As a result, it was amazing how good everything was because it was cooked over an open fire. This is our guide’s Dao husband in front of the “kitchen stove”.

Cooking Hearth our Hmong host near Sapa Vietnam on Tavan trek

The waterfall and return to Sapa Vietnam

Waterfall on Tavan trek

Bridge over river Tavan Trek returning to Sapa Vietnam

The Drive Back to Sapa

While waiting for our ride we were approached by a German couple who were trying to break away from their Sapa Vietnam tours group. We had encountered them on the trail the day before so we were already acquainted. We agreed to let them ride with us back to Sapa. I was very sympathetic because they had explained that there was an Australian in their group who babbled senselessly all the time. 

I could tell they were still a bit discombobulated because while we were riding into town they asked me the million dollar question:

“What do you think of Obama?”

Back in Sapa

After arriving in Sapa we were met by a representative from our Sapa Vietnam tours company who scheduled our ride to the train station that evening.

Tour manager Sapa Vietnam

We would be returning to Hanoi by train to spend the night there. Afterwards we were going to sail to Ha Long bay. The train ride to Hanoi would conclude our visit to the NW mountains. 

 

Additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa_Pa
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_people
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_groups_in_Vietnam