The North of Vietnam bordering a stretch of about 1000km over China is slowly opening up to tourism. The access is improving every year and it is now possible to cross from the impressive mountainous area of Dien Bien Phu to Cao Bang, passing through the most breath-taking landscapes of Vietnam. Some trails offers unforgettable view over the rice terraces as far as the eyes can see. Among the significant sites to visit, Sapa is the most popular spot in the region, which can be reached by a night train from Hanoi. This little town situated 1500m above sea level has already been visited by tourists since 1910. Nowadays, people still love to come, not only to enjoy the fresh and cool climate, but most of all to explore the neighboring valleys and meet the ethnic minorities.
Further to the East lies the beautiful region of Ha Giang, which may be considered the most beautiful landscape of Vietnam. The road between the villages of Dong Van and Meo Vac is simply remarkable. However tourist visiting this place is quite rare and therefore, available accommodation is rather basic and simple.
One of the sites which must be visited is Ban Gioc Waterfall. Located at the edge of Vietnam, it marks the boundary with China. Surrounded by a dense jungle and rice fields, water gushes out from a cliff and continuously flowing through succession of ponds. The environment is indeed idyllic and relaxing.
The Northern area is absolutely a place to go while visiting Vietnam. Accommodation may sometimes be difficult in remote villages, but one may enjoy the warm welcome of the guesthouses. However, for those looking for more comfortable accommodation, four- star hotels are available in Sapa. This region of Vietnam is more suitable to FIT but Sapa can accommodate medium size groups if booked in advance.
AMONG THE 10 BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD FOR TREKKING
Recently, Lonely Planet ranked Lao Cai province as one of the ten best places in the world for trekking. From East to West, the landscapes are beautiful and unique such as the rice terraces, waterfalls and colorful minority markets.
Our excursions offer a half-day short route, as well as several days trekking with home stay for the more experienced hikers.
For instance, with our 2-day program you will have the opportunity to meet the Tay Xafo, Red Daos, Flower H’Mong minorities and stay in a stilts house that will please the one looking for such an original experience. Trekkers will go through rice fields, bamboo forests and suspension bridges. Note that this trekking requires 5 hours walk per day and cannot be done during rainy season.
ETHNIC MINORITY MARKETS
Bac Ha is the most renowned minority market but the most touristic. Hence, Phoenix Voyages recommends Muong Khuong market, a little further from Sapa but way more authentic. There also exist many villages organizing colorful markets every different day of the week. Too isolated from Sapa and Lao Cai, tourists in this area are rare. One has to leave the hotel before 7am to arrive at the right moment when the market is full of ethnic minorities gathered to sell and buy their goods and crafts. It is also possible to have a meal here surrounded by the ethnic minorities in various colorful costumes. After this unforgettable experience, you will continue to visit a tea or pineapple plantation in hamlets hidden in the mountains.
Note that the markets are organized in each village (Coc Ly, Bac Ha, Si Ma Cai, Muong Hum, Muong Khuong) according to a specific day of the week.
Those markets are a gathering of farmers from all valleys. Product sold comes from the Chinese border or are manufactured by them. Every minority has their own specific costume with particular colors. According to the market days, you can meet the Flower H’Mong, Black H’Mong, Red Dao, Phula, Tay Padzi, Ha Nhi and many others. A minority market is often the most remembered souvenir of a journey in Vietnam.
More than 10 different ethnic groups are living in the North of Vietnam. Each having their own culture, language, costumes, house architecture, most of them originated from Southern China and are living in the area from Myanmar to Vietnam.
Along with fabulous landscapes of the region, the ethnic minorities are by far the prime interest of a tour in the North of Vietnam. Indeed, their ways of life leaves one in awe.
DIEN BIEN PHU BATTLE
On May 7th 1954, Dien Bien Phu battle was lost by the troops of Colonel de Castries. In 1991, Dien Bien Phu was also the title of a great movie by Pierre Schoendoerffer depicting the end of the Indochina conflict. I t was the longest, the most intense and the most deadly battle after World War II.
Today, this mountainous area covered by jungle is still a symbol of the end of the French colony. One can visit the bunker of Colonel De Castries, a cemetery and a memorium. An airport allows 2 flights per day between Hanoi and Dien Bien Phu. By its geographical location, this city is a convenient port of entry between Laos and Vietnam.
REACH SAPA BY TRAIN
To get to Sapa, the best way remains undoubtedly by a night train from Hanoi, leaving at
21h15 and arriving Lao Cao in the morning. Then, an hour route (37km) by bus is necessary
to reach Sapa. It is also common to visit the minority markets according to the day of arrival.
Standard category trains are comfortable and each compartment has four berths. However,
a more comfortable option is the Victoria Express which leaves Hanoi at 21h55. This train
offers high class service in colonial setting. A restaurant carriage serving Vietnamese and
western cuisines complete the experience.
Chau Long Hotel is situated in Sapa, at 1600m in altitude. The "new wing" of the hotel offers the most picturesque view over Fansipan Mountain among several accommodations available in the city. Most of their standard, superior, deluxe rooms and suites have a private balcony. Having a beautiful panorama of the mountain, their restaurant serves Vietnamese and Western food. The hotel has 41 deluxe rooms (27 - double, 14 - twin), 20 superior rooms (4 - double, 16 - twin) and 2 large suites.
More details on: www.chaulonghotel.com/