Vietnam is a country of contrasts and nothing demonstrates that more than the traditional ethnic tribes living as they have for generations in the Northern Highlands and 21st Century life in cities and resorts. The Country remains largely rural with tourism playing an increasing part in the economy. In the rural areas the locals have become used to seeing tourists and their local handicrafts make great souvenirs of the holiday.
Vietnam tour packages attempt to include these contrasts to give tourists who decide on Vietnam travel a genuine understanding of the country, its history and culture. The people are a very important part of that understanding, inevitably smiling and welcoming although to the tourist their lives might appear to be especially hard. Certainly those people living and working in the region of Sapa are amongst the poorest in Vietnam. They may have little time to appreciate their wonderful surroundings yet tourists on a Vietnam holiday are certain to remember what they see, especially in the monsoon season ironically when the terraces get more and more green as harvest time approaches.
‘’Travel and Leisure’’, a USA magazine reported that its readers regarded Sapa Terraces as a wonderful location; amongst the most impressive of terraces in the whole of Asia. The terraces sit on hillsides in what is a mountainous region with fertile soil. The rice produced is vital for the villagers who use as much of the hillsides as possible. To read more, please look at our Sapa travel guide.
Climate and Growing Season
In the spring, April and May, tourists will see the Sapa Terraces as mirrors. The villagers plant and water to start the growing process before nature begins to add its own water. Green shoots emerged and the picture gradually changes until the rice is ready for harvest by September and October. At that point the overwhelming colour is golden and exceptionally beautiful. Once the rice is harvested the terraces lose some of their ‘’glamour’’ through the winter months until the growing season comes around again.
The climate in Vietnam varies by region, another contrast, with two different monsoons so that when it rains in one region there may not be a cloud in the sky elsewhere. Vietnam north to south covers several degrees of latitude while highland areas in the North and Central regions of Vietnam have a different climate from lowland areas.Tourists need to realise that it is likely to rain at some point during their Vietnam travel packages yet in the Northern Highlands the compensation is the beauty of Sapa Terraces. Winters can be cold, especially after sunset through to mid-morning.
Access to Sapa Terraces
Many Vietnam holidays begin in the Capital, Hanoi. The Sapa Terraces are accessible by road or rail. As an indication the train journey is 8 hours to Lao Cai and a further hour through stunning countryside to Sapa Town itself. You can travel overnight either by train or coach. The roads are inevitably winding so those that think about driving around themselves by car or motor bike should be extra careful.
Vietnam tour operators will make all the necessary arrangements of transport and accommodation for Sapa tour packages. The town of Sapa is at an altitude of 1,500 metres near the Chinese border. Locals realise the potential of tourism to boost their meagre earnings; in all there are eight different ethnic groups as well as the majority Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese). Four of those groups have a total population of just under 500 within a district population of just in excess of 30,000 people, 10% within the town itself.
Respect is very important in Vietnam and the hill tribes can be very sensitive about being photographed by tourists. You should ask permission by smiling and lowering your head. Your Vietnam tour operator will advise you if you are in any doubt. Once you have permission and take photos it is polite to show your subjects what you have taken. When it comes to the end of the holiday your ‘’phot album’’ which includes people as well as the wonderful buildings and natural environment should be something to treasure.
It will also recommend clothing and footwear which may vary with the season involved. Comfortable shoes are a necessity every time. In the winter you will need warm clothing that you probably won’t need anywhere else during the holiday. Light rainwear takes up no space in the case and will come in useful.
As a preliminary to exploring the area it is worth visiting the culture museum in the town to find out more about Sapa, history, tradition and costume. There is also some French colonial architecture including the Town Hall. The Church and the Square. Trekking is obviously a major activity though it is possible to get transport to see much of the region if you simply want to sit back. It is possible to arrange an overnight stay in one of the villages within aSapa visit. There is a lodge in a remote valley accessible by road and it is a good starting point for trekking to places where few tourists go. Alternatively, Cat Cat Village a short walk from Sapa offers the chance to watch local farmers but there are some steep parts to the visit so be warned if you consider going.
Even if you only have a limited time in Vietnam, Sapa Terraces make a compelling case for inclusion in a Vietnam travel package. The Northern Highlands are so different from many other parts of Vietnam that no Vietnam holiday will be truly comprehensive without seeing the Sapa Terraces and the people who grow their rice and vegetables on the hillsides. There is plenty of information available for those wishing to learn more about the ethnic tribes. If you have begun your Vietnam travel in Hanoi, then go to the museums that offer you that information. The Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi should be first on your list if you want to know more.
Read more: Things to know about Sapa before you visit