Access Fees for Muong Hoa Valley…
To access the valley and the minority villages that you’ll find here an access fee is collected at a SMALL HOUSE like structure along the way soon after you leave the town of Sa Pa.The building where you pay is unmistakable and in fact you really cant miss it although WE TRIED to….we were on a motorbike and were scooting on past when we were flagged down and prompted to turn around and PAY…
Getting to the valley and OUT of Sa Pa town you simply need to follow Cau May Street down the hill ….the road curves to the left as you descend and before you know it you’re on the outskirts of town and on the road to the villages of Ta Van, Ban Ho, Lao Chai and points beyond.
So….you need to pay up…and the cost to access the valley and its villages is a mere 15,000 Dong….or less than $ 1.00.
I’ve read that its obligatory to have a guide with you…in fact though this was not the case when we were here in January of 2010…all we needed to do was pay the access cost and we were in…it might be better to have a guide but we didn’t think it was necessary and as well we were moving on motorbike and were not walking…or “trekking” on foot so a guide was not a part of the plan!
So from the shack…follow the road until you see a large sign that says “Lao Chai” where you see a dirt road that turns to the right. Follow this road down and into the valley and you’re here….the Muong Hoa Valley, eventually the road passes through the small communities and the minority peoples that you’ve come here to see.
Cau May (Cloud Bridge) is the main thoroughfare for foreign tourists, and is crowded with restaurants serving western food. This street starts at the south side of the town square and terminates in a steep set of stairs lined with cheap rooms, let out by the Vietnamese who have come here to work. At the top of the stairs, you'll find one of the town's two ATMs that takes foreign cards. Word of warning though, I tried a few times to get money out but got nothing. I spoke to an English couple who said that they had tried the day before but had no joy. I managed to get some money out later that same day so I suppose it runs out quite quickly.
Is it almost Tet...Or the New Year Approaching???
In and around Sa Pa we were seeing these tree branches set up in prominent places along the streets and particularly around Quang Truong Square.It became apparent that people were buying these "tree branches" and walking off with them or transporting them on bikes or motorbikes or anyhow they could be moved.
This was the first time in our South to North journey of Vietnam that we witnessed this and we were left scratching our heads.
What we learned was that the Peach Tree blossom is used to decorate the houses of peoples homes as a part of the celebration of Tet..or Chinese New Year.The colorful blossoms add to the nature of the celebration...maybe sort of like " Christmas" lights of Western culture.
Traditionally the color of the blooms symbolizes the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.The blooms bring "good luck" to peoples homes and happiness.Unfortunately we didn't get to see the branches in full bloom but I can imagine that it would be quite spectacular.
Anyhow...if you're visiting during Tet or close to the arrival of Tet you'll see this and NOW you'll know..they're EVERYWHERE...
We stayed with a Zay family at our overnight home stay in the village of Ta Van. We got to their home stay where our beds were upstairs on the floor while they cooked our evening meal on a small open fire in the kitchen area. The food was fantastic - chicken and mushrooms, pork and mushrooms, chips!, rice and spring rolls. We also visited a second Zay home in the village.
The Tay are closely related to the Nung and the Zhuang on the Chinese side of the Vietnamese-Chinese border, and more distantly to the Thai people of Thailand and the Dai people of China.
Packing list for trekking in Sapa
Most trekking tour agents in Sapa have temporary room for trekkers to wash up on arrival or departing from/to Hanoi. Most trekkers leave their main luggages in the room and take a lighter backpack for the trek. To avoid missing out on important items, it will be a good idea to prepack your backpack ready-to-go in Hanoi as you have only about 2 hours upon arrival from the train station before you start trekking. Bring spare locks for your main lauggages and your backpack. Sleepers can be a common hall or private room, comprising foam bedding and mosquitoes net. The bedding seems clean enough, but if you are concern about bugs, a good idea is to have a silk sleep-sack to keep any crawling bugs away. I had a poncho, but did not see the need to use it. I brought mosquitoes repellant and anti-bacteria gel but didn’t notice any mosquitoes (perhaps was too cold in winter).
Essential items to have for the trek are some layers of warm & light clothing (morning can be cold but get pretty warm during the day as you trek), a torchlight, hand towel & toiletries, spare clothing and socks (I ran out of socks & clothing to change on my 3rd day as my washings couldn’t get dry in the cold and damp air. A pair of sturdy trekking shoe is essential but trekking stick is optional. December is cool and dry, which is great for trekking. Drinking water and food are widely available in villages. Homestays that I stayed have clean but basic hot shower, flush toilet with toilet roll and power socket for recharging your phone and camera. Bring your chargers for camera, handphone, Ipod etc, but bring along an adapter if your power oin is not a 2-pin power pluck. Dinners are mostly stirred fried greens, tofu, and meat and of course rice wine. I found the food delicious especially the garlic French fries. Breakfasts and lunches are light - loaves with cheese and greens or instant noodles. You may wish to bring your own food to complement what are been offered. I brought along a can of chilly tuna and several energy bars. Bottled water is availalble in villages, and your guide will provide you with one each day.