pinterest verify Globerovers Travel Photography: Hill tribes and rice terraces of northern Vietnam

Hill tribes and rice terraces of northern Vietnam

An overnight train (2 or 3 different trains) leaves Hanoi in the evening and arrives in the small town of Lao Cai at about 5 or 6am. Choose one of several cars in the trains, such as the Orient Express, Fanxipan, Sapaly, King Express, Tulico, Livitrans, Royal, Friendly, Green, or the very luxurious Victoria Express (for which you need to be booked in the luxurious Victoria Hotel). Upon arrival at the Lao Cai station, your hotel in Sapa will greet you and take you on a 45 minute drive up the mountains to the scenic town of Sapa.

First sights upon arrival in the mountain town of Sapa will be the many colorful Black Hmong and Red Dzao people, and either views of thick fog, OR the impressive Fansipan Mountains (the highest in Indochina at 3,142 metres (10,308 ft).

Sapa was first inhabited by highland minorities of the Black and Flower Hmong, the Yao, and also the Tay and Giay. Today these are the four main minority groups still present but you will also notice many Red Dzao and Zai people. People (most of them) are extremely friendly, even in the touristy areas such as Sapa.

Using Sapa as you base, you can take day trips (or multi-day trips) to villages around the area. Most areas require permits and a local guide. Shop around for the best rates, which vary from US$10 per person to $20 for a 2-person "private tour". If you do only a 2-day trip, go with a group tour (4-8 ppl) as a "private tour" is not worth the money. If you go on a longer trip (more than 2 days), you may find a private tour (1-2 ppl) offers a lot more flexibility if you prefer to keep a distance from other travelers.

Don't plan on doing the trekking on your own as tour guides are required by the law. A local government official informed me that this rule was introduced after locals committed suicide after being converted by missionaries.

Sapa has many restaurants catering to both traveling Vietnamese and foreign tourists. Prices are high by local standards but very low by international standards.

Standard practice for foreigners in Vietnam: Always be on the alert for scams and gross over-charging.

Tips:
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Hanoi, avoid the Khai's Brothers Cafe (which for years has been a favorite among travelers). It has become so bloated with pride that the expensive prices do NOT justify the totally inferior food.
Hanoi: eat at Quan An Ngon for a great upscale local Vietnamese experience
Hanoi: avoid the Cha Ca La Vong restaurant, for the same reasons as the Khai's Brothers Cafe.
Sapa: Stay at the Sapa Eden Hotel. Fantastic views and awesome staff.

More information:
Quan An Ngon Restaurant, Hanoi
Sapa Eden Hotel, Sapa

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