Nestled in the mountains of northern Vietnam near the border with China, lies the incredibly picturesque village of Sa Pa, Vietnam. After a long 9 hour overnight train ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai and a one hour van ride up the mountains, BFF Tien and I found ourselves 5,400 feet above sea level in a charming town famous for both its rugged scenery and exotic cultural diversity.
Sa Pa was first settled in 1909 by French civilian residents who were attracted to the continental climate. Under the French colonial period, many hotels, villas and tennis courts were built and the region was transformed into a summer retreat. The mountainous landscape is filled with rice terraced fields, lush vegetation and the highest mountain peak (Fanispan) in Vietnam. Conditions here are ideal for many crops and animals which allows locals to support themselves. This was very evident as Tien and I climbed up and down the mountains for three days. We ate tasty indigenous dishes and observed locals making their own vibrant clothing from the indigo plants and hemp. They even have their own unique headache cure. We saw many people with round, red marks on their foreheads (you will notice a few in my video below). Our guide, Nhu, told us that the mark is created with the end of a buffalo horn that is heated with fire and then placed on forehead! So glad we have Tylenol.
There are five ethnic minority tribes living in Sa Pa region. Many migrated from China as early as the 13th century. The two dominant groups (H’mong and Dao) have their own branch minorities. Each group has its own culture, traditions and costumes. Each tribe also speaks their own language. Many have also learned Vietnamese in school and English from their interactions with tourists.
One tradition I was eager to explore is the famed Love Market where teens gather to find their mate. Unfortunately, this custom is now mostly a tourist attraction with young people now flocking to the event to learn English or sell their trinkets. Girls and boys marry as young as fifteen years old. Aside from the constant haranguing for your business, the ethnic minorities were absolutely mesmerizing to me. After you watch this slideshow, you will also fall in love!
Sa Pa is experiencing a big surge in tourism for obvious reasons. Tien and I will never forget our beautiful adventure and time together in this stunning and fascinating destination. Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa