A Feast of Ethnicity in the Vietnamese Alps
It’s a long and bumpy ride north from Hanoi to Sapa, the country’s most picturesque hill resort, perched at 5,000 feet in an incredibly beautiful mountain area that the French used to call the Tonkinese Alps, near the Laotian and Chinese borders.
The area is home to a wealth of hill tribes – collectively known as the Montagnard (“mountain people”) – who come to the Sapa marketplace on Saturdays to sell their homegrown fruit and vegetables and handicrafts and to share news. Of the thirty-odd ethnic groups that live in distant villages on the mountainsides or deep valleys, the friendly Black Hmong and Red Dao dominate. You might get a good deal on a water buffalo.
Sapa is the perfect base for day trips or overnight treks to Mount Fansi Pan (Vietnam’s highest peak) or to the Montagnard villages, where the natural beauty of steep, terraced vegetable gardens and crystal-clear streams are easy on the eyes and refreshing to the spirit.