Sapa - The most picturesque and culturally rich in Vietnam

Nga Do
Northern Vietnam is full of beautiful destinations, but Sapa region is by far the most picturesque and culturally rich of them all!

From chasing waterfalls and admiring the incredible vistas, to hiking through rice patties and getting to know the local Hmong people and their ways of living, this destination gave us an opportunity to do it all!

Sapa is a mountainous district which is 38km far from Lao Cai province.  It always stays in the heart of each visitor a special feeling thanks to not only its nature has bestowed on Sapa, a land with spectacular peak of Fansipan mountain, poetic landscape of Muong Hoa valley, Ham Rong Mountain, Orchid Garden, Rose Garden, the Silver Falls, Gold streams, ect but also where the diversity of ethnic groups has made the richness of the cultural identity.

The culture and the customs of the locals in Sapa bases on their beliefs and it also shows in the local festivals and traditional architecture or handicraft; their activities and their funeral or marriages of the daily life. Hope you find our below information useful if you plan to discover this charming land.


The Tay’s beliefs: The Tay worship the tutelary gods who are gods of the natural environment, and ancestors and the progenitors of human groups and the midwife.

The H’mong’s beliefs: Alike the Tay people, H’mong people also worship their ancestors, and the god of the house, the god of the kitchen, even the god of the door. Besides, there are different rituals which not allow people to walk into the H’mong house or their villages. For example, a green tree branch in the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden.

The Daos’s beliefs: Dao religion has elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. They worship the family’s ancestor and also the legendary holy man called Ban Vuong who is considered the earliest ancestor of the Dao people.

The Giay’s beliefs: The Giay altar is located in the middle of the house with three incense bowls set from the left to the right in order to worship the God of Kitchen, Heaven and Earth, and the family ancestor. If the head of the house is a son-in-law who wants to worship his real parents, he must set up a fourth incense bowl which is far to the left. If a family has no altar for the Mother spirit, they set a fifth incense bowl to the right. Some families set up a small altar beside the big one to worship their parents-in-law.

Traditional culture is showed in local festivals

The traditional festival plays a very important role in Sapa tourism which attracts and bring a large number of tourists coming to discover Sapa so far. That kind of festival is held to introduce and promote the unique cultural values of local people and its nature to Vietnamese visitors in particular and also the foreign visitors in general. They are a vivid reflection of the ethnic community in Sapa. Therefore it is common for any tourists to find themselves in love with Sapa especially with the festivals performing the folklore among villages, Gau Tao -The spring festival of the Mong ethnic group, Roong Pooc- Going to the field festival of the Day ethnic group in Ta Van, The “giao duyen” (courtship duets) singing festival of Dao Do ethnic group in Ta Phin, etc.

Sapa Love Market

By every Saturday evening in the small town of Sapa, you will find the Dao people busy in sessions of The Love Market. From the afternoon, the visitors can see a lot of Dao girls and boys singing and dancing in rhythm with the passionate hearts along the street and in front of the church.

“Love Market” becomes very familiar with not only the locals but also the tourists who ever been to Sapa. You will find it literally different at this market compared to the other ones in the region as this is not a place to buy or sell but this is a place for dating, showing up sentiments and loving gestures between the girls and the boys.

Sapa - The most picturesque and culturally rich in Vietnam 2
Photo by Arian Zwegers
Traditional handicraft

The rich culture and spiritual life of the local people are also reflected in crafts, handicrafts, traditional brocades which you easily find it in Sapa market or shops. The women of H’Mong, Dao, Xa Pho, Pa Di are very good at color perception, their brocade panels always meet all the natural colors of pine trees, hills, corn, grain, etc. All expresses the rich culture life of the local people in Sapa town.

Unique and special architecture of Sapa

Sapa is not only an amazing destination of culture, cuisine, and tourism attractions but also a famous for the unique architectural buildings. The local architecture is divided into two main styles. One is the traditional style of local ethnic groups, the other is the Western style with French architectural buildings.

The traditional style of the local houses in Sapa is expressed most clearly through houses of local ethnic groups especially those of Tay, Nung and H’mong people. Each type of house is designed differently from another but in general, all ethnic houses in Sapa are made of wood. Stilt house of Tay people is made of iron wood with unique decoration. There are three stoves in a typical house. One is placed in the center room for guests, another is put near the bed of the elderly and the last one is placed in the kitchen for cooking. Tay people build only one door at the top of the staircase and in their belief, the stair must have 9 footsteps which symbolize 9 souls of the woman.

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Photo by Vietnam typical Tours
Stilt house

Visitors taking a Sapa tour may easily catch a sight of the ground house of H’mong people in Cat Cat, Lao Chai and Ta Van villages. The house is built with one of the most precious wood: Fokienia Hodgirni, the same kind of wood they use for burying. A traditional H’mong house has 3 rooms, 2 doors and 2 windows at least. Among 3 rooms, the left one is the bedroom of spouses, the right is room for guests with a stove. Like Tay people, ancestors play an essential role in Hmong’s belief so the altar is solemnly placed in the center room. Besides altar, H’mong people also consider two pillars as the most important part in the architecture of their house. It symbolizes the righteousness, stability, and strength of the host. You will have an opportunity to experiment this architecture when taking the day tours in Sapa especially a homestay tour.

Stone Church in Sapa

Besides houses of ethnic groups which were built in traditional style, French-style buildings also contribute to the unique architecture of Sapa. The time has gone and even those buildings have been damaged more or less but they still keep their timeless beauty. One typical work of this architectural style is the Catholic Church (or Stone Church) which is located in the center of Sapa town, with Ham Rong Mountain behind and several historical vestiges surrounding. The Church was built in the shape of Gotic Roman architecture with the hewn stones; therefore it is also called “the Stone Church”. The wall on the right of the cross is designed as the stalactites melting down to create the natural fell for visitors. The church becomes one of the must-see places of tourists and this is also where the locals richen their spiritual life which lasts for years and years.

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Photo by Vietnam Typical Tours

a. The Tay

Marriage: Young Tay men and women are free to love, but the decision to become husband and wife base on their parents’. The boy’s parents need to know the potential bride’s fortune so they can compare it to their son’s. To do this, they will go to see the astrologer who judges how well matched they are. If the signs look favorable, the marriage can take place.

After the wedding, the wife will stay with her parents until she is pregnant. She will only go to live at her husband’s house in the late stages of pregnancy.

Funeral: The funeral rituals are quite similar to Viet-King custom. The funeral brings deceased’s spirit to another world after they’re gone. Three years later, there is a ritual to bring the spirit to the ancestors and to end the mourning period. There will be a certain day in honor of the deceased.

Production activities: The Tay use traditional wet rice cultivation which is grown on the hills with very little water. It is well utilized using irrigation methods like digging canals and laying water pipes. By such intensive cultivation methods, they produce high quantities of food for not only their village but also the other areas in town.

b. The Hmong

Marriage: For the Black H’mong, it is important that a girl knows how to embroider and work in the field. Those skills are more important than her beauty. Boys and girls are literally allowed to get to know each other before they get married. They go to the love market where they eat and sing songs together and after that, the boy can propose the girl and if she agrees, she will go to live in his house. She will be put in a small room and visited by the boy’s mother and sisters who give her food and persuade her to accept the marriage.

For the boy, he must give the bride’s family silver coins, pigs, chicken and rice wine for the wedding ceremony. The bride has times to decide if she accepts the marriage – even after living with her husband for a few days, she can choose to break their agreement. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he will live in her house until he is able to marry her.

Funeral: When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children fire a gun to let everyone in the area know. People in the village come to deceased’s house with everything they have – chicken, rice, a small pig or rice wine – to help the family. Everybody will sing and eat until the deceased is wrapped in a mat and taken to a grave by one group, while the coffin, which has been kept in a cave somewhere near the grave, is carried by another group separately. Both groups have to run very fast and meet at the grave to make sure the deceased forget the way home. If the deceased’s family is not able to supervise the funeral rituals, they can wait for a few years before organizing a special one called “Ma Kho”.

Artistic activities: The Black H’mong are very skillful at making agricultural tools, wooden furniture, musical instruments, and jewelry. They are also well-known for their handicraft and embroidery. They, in general terms, only make such items to meet their own needs, but other minorities in the area buy their produce because of its high quality. Since the blooming of tourism in Sa Pa, many H’mong women make decorated cloth to sell on the town’s main streets.

 c. The Daos

Marriage: Compared to the H’mong customs, the Dao’s parents select the partners for their sons. When a boy is fourteen or fifteen years old, his father will take him to have a look at a girl who he thinks is fit and healthy and can help with the housework. The couple chooses the date to get married then have to consult a diviner who judges their compatibility based on a ritual using a chicken leg and their horoscopes.

The girl’s value is shown by how many silver coins, chickens, pigs and jars of rice wine that the boy’s family will have to give to her family.

During the marriage ceremony, the groom will carry the bride on his back, and she must step over a blessed pair of scissors to cross the threshold into his house.

When there is no son in the family, the parents can buy a groom who will live happily with his bride’s family. However, if a boy is so poor that his family can’t afford a dowry, he has to live in his bride’s house – which causes him great shame.

Funeral: When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children have to invite a man called “thay tao” to supervise the rituals and find the right piece of land for a grave. The deceased is wrapped in a mat, placed in a coffin inside their house and carried to a grave of stones. In the past, if the deceased was over 12 years old, the body was cremated.

The funeral rituals celebrated to ensure that the deceased rests in peace. The ceremony, which lasts for three days, usually coincides with initiation rites for Red Dao boys. The first day liberates the spirit of the deceased, the second day is a time to worship the deceased at home, and the third day is the boy’s initiation rite.

The boy has to sit on a throne at the highest place of the village till he falls into hammocks hanging below him. This represents him falling down from the sky to be born on earth, another symbol of the Dao belief that they are descendent of God.

d. The Giays

Marriage: The procedure for marriage is strongly based on Chinese traditions. It means the groom’s family will give the bride a necklace and a bracelet to show their intentions – a kind of engagement. For the wedding, the groom’s family must offer the bride’s family food and money and give close relatives a chicken, a duck, and a silver coin. Once married, the bride will be carried to her new house on the groom’s back, as if she walked, her spirit would find its way back to her parents.

Funeral: Giay people believe that if a funeral is well organized, the dead will go to the heaven gathering with their ancestors happily. If not, the dead will be forced to live in hell or become animals. With the wealthy family, the funeral can last from five to seven days with extra rituals such as running along the river to lead the spirit on a procession. The children must mourn their parent’s death for one year.

e. The Xa Pho

Marriage: Young Xa Pho has the right to have sexual relationships before they’re married. The Xa Pho has a very low population, so the man wants to make sure his partner can have children. The marriage will be organized after the young couple knows the woman is pregnant. The future bride starts making her wedding dress while her groom prepares pigs, chicken and other food for the wedding.

Funeral: The deceased will be placed in the middle of the house, with the head in the direction of the household altar. Water used to wash the deceased’s face is left to evaporate. There must be a bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks and a barbecued or roasted chicken next to the altar. The deceased’s children put straw around the wooden coffin, as they used to use straw as mattresses. The coffin is buried in a grave or a tomb. Lots of people will attend the funeral to ensure that the spirit of the dead doesn’t stay at the tomb or cemetery.

Sapa tour from Hanoi is the best destination for nature lovers and diverse cultures. It will be a worthwhile experience in every human life!

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