Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Sapa Valley Region of Northern Vietnam

Welcome to this week's blog!

Located an overnight train ride from bustling Hanoi is the remote region of Sapa Valley, home to beautiful mountains and valleys, many minority hill-tribes and fascinating street markets. An escape to Sapa is highly recommended for those looking to see real life and culture in Vietnam.


















Sapa is an old French Colonial Hill station nestled amongst the highest mountain range in Vietnam, Hoang Lien Son close to the Chinese border. Sapa is well known for its outstanding natural beauty and the variety of hill-tribes people that live in the area. As a destination it offers many adventure outdoor activities, cycling and trekking are the most popular of these.












For those seeking the ultimate adventure, consider a three day trek to the summit of Fansipan, standing at 3143 meters, it is the highest peak in Vietnam, affording breathtaking panoramic views into neighbouring China. Travelling to the summit, is not the hardest trek in the world, so if you are fit and healthy and have plenty of energy, consider making this trek to the roof of Vietnam, where you'll be amongst the clouds.












Hill-tribe visits and home-stays are a very popular activity in the Sapa region. One of the most well known hill-tribes in the area is the Black Hmong minority, who frequent the villages throughout the area. They have their own culture and customs and many tourists enjoying visiting and learning about their ways of life, by taking a tour or even arranging an overnight home-stay. You will learn about farming techniques, how their wonderful garments are made and be treated to traditional hill-tribe fare and music, a fascinating experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in how simple life can be!
Home-stays are an ideal choice if you wish to have a real life experience of how these people live and work their daily lives and the people of the Hmong tribe and other minority groups are very welcoming to foreigners visiting them. Another aspect of local culture not to be missed is a visit to one of the numerous, hill-tribe markets. Each market has its own unique feel and is generally a place for the locals to get together to sell their wares and to socialize with friends and family, perhaps even meet a partner!

The largest of these markets in Bac Ha market, 80 Kilometres from downtown Sapa in the Lao Cai region, this market takes place every Sunday under the gaze of the nearby mountains and the border with China. In-fact, tribes people from all over the region and even from over the chinese border come here to barter and trade. This is very common at all of the markets in the Sapa region, a real cultural experience, where horseback is the mode of transportation of goods for sale.












A Hmong culinary specialty you may wish to try is Thang Co Blood Porridge, made from a mixture of pony and goats meat, slow cooked to produce a fine 'blood soup' served in a large hot-pot. This dish is a popular staple of the hill-tribes people in the region and is shared by everyone, using chopsticks to dip the succulently cooked meat into a spicy dip and then eaten, normally accompanied with bread, instant noodles, vegetables and herbs.














It is best to try this dish at one of the restaurants in the Sapa area, as opposed to experiencing it at one of the markets, like Bac Ha, here you will see the locals socialize , eat and wash the soup down with wine! Thang Co is very popular among the locals and warms the body in a region where temperatures and plummet dramatically in the evenings.

Cycling, trekking and even traveling by motorcycle are all very popular ways to explore the Sapa Region. Generally tourists take an overnight 9 hour rail service from Hanoi to Lao Cai, the main town in the region and then a 90 minute journey by road and dirt track to get to Sapa itself.

For a short break to visit hill-tribes and trek, 3 to 4 days is the recommended amount of time for a tour here, for the more adventurous there are various treks, cycling routes and home-stays that can be arranged for those wishing to spend longer, and a perfect combination with the Sapa Region would be Hanoi and a cruise around stunning Ha-long Bay, well known for its limestone cliffs, commonly referred to as the Gullin of Vietnam!

So consider visiting the Sapa region as part of a tour to Vietnam and indeed Indochina, Vietnam offers a fantastic mix of history, culture, outstanding natural beauty and stunning beaches, more than comparable to other Asian destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia. You would also be supporting Responsible and Sustainable tourism and growth throughout the region as a whole.

Xplore Asia offers a variety of escorted and tailor-made tour options, please visit our website and contact us for more information and to design your personalized tour.
www.xplore-asia.com

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