Lao Cai is one of the several provinces situated on the Sino-Vietnamese borderline. It is in the northwestern part of the country. Apart from the Kinh people, the province has several ethnic minority groups including the H'mong, the Tay, the Dao and the Thai peoples.
The province is endowed with both tropical and moderate climatic conditions. Average temperature in high mountainous areas is recorded at between 18 degree Celsius and 28 degree Celsius. It is between 20 degree Celsius and 22 degree Celsius in the lowland. In such high mountain slopes such as Sapa temperature can drop to 0 degree Celsius and even snow flakes.
Topography of Lao Cai is very diversified with rivers, high mountain peaks, steep and high mountain passes, deep streams and wide valleys.
Lao Cai is home to some vast expanse of primeval forests with several kinds of rare timber plants such as po mu ( fukiena), lat hoa (chukrasia tabularis), and cho chi. It is also the habitat of many kinds of medicinal herbs and rare animals including deer, wild boar, tigers and others. Apart from forest products, Lao Cai is regionally reputed for its mineral resources. Lao Cai is accessible by road, water and rail routes.
The province is endowed with many places of natural beauty. Visitors to the mountain province may enjoy a rice terraced fields crawling on high mountain slopes in summer. When winter comes European people visiting Lao Cai may feel a bit nostalgia while enjoying picturesque sights of snow-capped mountain peaks. Yet, ones may feel light hearted when the spring comes with many white-flower peach trees in blossom. Then in summer visitors can go to Sapa, the most regionally famous mountain resort town in northern Vietnam.
Location: Bac Ha Market is in Bac Ha District, Lao Cai Province; about 80km from downtown Sapa.
Characteristics: Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is a trading centre and meeting place for couples, friends, and relatives, and it is a typical weekly activity for the H'Mong and other minority groups living in the locality. Local products for sale or barter are carried on horseback.
Location: Fansipan Mountain is located 9km south-west of Sapa Townlet in the Hoang Lien Mountain Range.
Characteristics: The topography of Fansipan is varied. Muong Hoa Valley, at the lowest altitude (950-1,000m), is created by a narrow strip of land at the base on the east side of the mountain.
Geologists say the Hoang Lien Mountain Range, with Fansipan as its highest peak, did not emerge in the mountainous North West of Vietnam until the neozoic period (circ. 100 million years ago). Fansipan, a rough pronunciation of the local name "Hua Xi Pan" means "the tottery giant rock". The French came to Vietnam and in 1905 planted a landmark telling Fansipan's height of 3,143m and branded it "the Roof of Indochina". Very few people climbed to the top of Fansipan at the time. Then came the long years of war and Fansipan was left deserted for hunting and savaging. The trail blazed by the French was quickly overgrown by the underbrush.
It takes six or seven days to reach the 3,143m summit, the highest peak of the Indochina Peninsula.
In 1991, Nguyen Thien Hung, an army man returned to the district town and decided to conquer Fansipan. Only on the 13th attempt did Hung, with a H'Mong boy as his guide, conquer the high peak by following the foot steps of the mountain goats. Scaling the height was meant to satisfy his eager will and aspiration to conquer the mountain without expecting that his name would be put down in the travel guidebook. After that a travel agency in Sapa started a new package tour there. It seemed the Fansipan Tour was meant only for those who wished to test their muscular power.
The summit of Fansipan is accessible all year round, but the best time to make the ascent is from mid-October to mid-November, and again in March.
Foreigners like best to book Fansipan tours between October and December, as this period is more often than not free from the heavy rains that obstruct the jaunt. But the Vietnamese prefer their tours to the peak of the mountain from February to April, as it is not so cold then. However, the best time for the trek to the mountain is from the end of February to the start of March, when the flowers all flourish and the climbers may behold the carpets of brilliant blossoms, violets and orchids, rhododendrons and aglaias.
Location: In center of Sapa Townlet, Sapa District, Lao Cai District; 33km from Lao Cai City.
Characteristics: Legend has it that in the distance past, all animals lived together in a chaotic environment. One day, Jade Emperor gave an order that every species of animal had to find for them an area to live. Having heard the order, they scrambled for a place to reside. The three brothers of dragon who were living in a large lake hurriedly ran to the east but could not find any place; they then ran to the west. The two older brothers ran fast and came to the destination first. The youngest brother ran slowly and strayed into the crowds of lions, tigers and big cats. Fearing that these animals would attack it, the dragon opened its mouth to defense itself. At that time, the order of Jade Emperor was no longer available, so the three dragons petrified. The two older dragons, which were waiting for their brother, face Lao Cai City, and the youngest one raising its head and opening mouth faces the Hoang Lien Mountain Range. So the mountain is named Ham Rong (Jaw of Dragon).
Visitors to Ham Rong have chances to climb up the San May (Cloud Yard) to enjoy the panorama of Sapa Townlet, visit the orchid gardens with beautiful and colorful flowers. In addition, Ham Rong Mountain has numerous caves and stones in extraordinary shapes.
Location: Sapa Ancient Rock Field is in Muong Hoa Valley, Hau Thao Commune, Sapa District, Lao Cai Province.
Characteristic: Sapa Ancient Rock Field is between the terraced rice paddies of ethnic minority groups. The first exploration research, in 1925, recorded that there were 200 stones of various dimensions concentrated in the area. Hon Bo, which is 15m long and 6m high, is the biggest of theses rocks. The engravings on the surfaces of the stone are either pictographic or decorative. Remarkably, among the engravings are drawings of humans, stilt-houses of the ethnic minorities and symbols believed to be a primitive form of writing. But their meaning has not yet been deciphered.
In addition, impressive images include a da chong (the husband stone), da vo (the wife stone), as well as stones that look like tigers and a stela with an incantation written on it by the carver to help his people defeat the tigers. The da chong and da vo tell the story of faithful love between a couple who overcame all difficulties to be together; even though they turned to stone, they are still dedicated to each other.
Archaeologists have proven that this area has been inhabited since ancient times. These fascinating Viet remains have drawn the attention of scientists and tourists.
Location: Sapa Market is in Sapa Town, Sapa District, Lao Cai Province.
Characteristics: When the sun goes down, the H'Mong and Red Dao boys and girls cluster together in groups of five to ten. Looking and smiling at each other, they sit side by side in the dim yellow light and sing and talk through the night. When they have met their soul mate, they exchange gifts and make plans to see each other again the following week.
This cultural activity has a long history and is still significant in the modern life of the minority people. The Sapa Market is an attractive place for visitors who are keen on exploring traditional cultures.