Vietnam is a country of rich variety. Tourism numbers are increasing all the time and the best Vietnam travel packages aim to show tourists that variety; the historical and religious landmarks, the culture, cuisine and the people. The natural environment is stunning and one of the places that demonstrates this is the Northern Highlands up towards the Chinese border. The ethnic hill tribes in the region surrounding the main town, Sapa, live largely as they have for generations though tourism has had its impact on their lives. There is suddenly a market for their handicrafts which make great souvenirs of a Vietnam holiday.
If you are really keen you can learn how the Hmong make their clothes; it is a real treat to visit the ethnic tribes, just one of many things to do in Sapa:
• Trekking Sapa is an excellent base from which to enjoy this lovely region. There are organised treks that you can book though you may just want to have a map and go on your own. Day treks are certainly fine by yourself but you should not stray off well-worn paths. However, if you want to go to Fanispan, the highest mountain in Vietnam, you should certainly take a guide. Incidentally, you will need to buy a licence to go there.
• A Homestay in Sapa is the ideal way to experience local life. You can go trekking, staying overnight in a village; a homestay amongst the locals. You will eat with the family and there may well be rice wine on offer; as much as you like but be careful. You want to be fit to walk in the morning.
• Biking around the area still involves a good level of fitness. The roads may not be great but they are perfectly good for cycling and rarely busy. If you have a cycle you will be able to go ‘’off-road’’ but you need to know where you are going. If you rent a motorbike you can go even further. You can get a map and the tourist centre in Sapa will provide any help you need.
• Cooking from fresh local produce is a real skill. There is a class which is run by the H’mong where you will go to the market with the chef to select the ingredients then it is off to the kitchen to prepare everything. The result will be a great meal, several courses, and a few ideas of food preparation for when you get home.
When you decide on a Vietnam tour you will be able talk to a good Vietnam travel agent about the places you want to visit and the things you want to do. Sapa and the Northern Highlands are regular inclusions for anyone with an interest in rural Vietnam and its people. Often Sapa is the first stop on the itinerary after beginning in Hanoi, the country’s capital and regular airport of entry. It is a great instruction to the beauty of Vietnam and the friendliness of its people.