Trekking a touristy Cat Cat Village | Sapa Vietnam Trekking: Day 1

Last Updated on January 17, 2018 by Christine Kaaloa

trekking cat cat village sapa, can you hike cat cat village on your own
Trekking a touristy Cat Cat Village | Sapa Vietnam Trekking: Day 1

First day of my Sapa trekking tour started with a trek to Cat Cat Village.

It was to be a three hour hike and we were told that after we were done, we could go back to our hotels and that we’d have the rest of the day free to sightsee Sapa on our own.

 My trek in Cat Cat Village in Sapa Vietnam

Okay, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting something more like a semi-intense hilly course which took the whole day and then we’d stay somewhere in one of the villages we ended up in. But the receptionist at tour trekking central assured me that more was to come, while not coming across as very sure himself.  Frankly, by his look, it seemed that as a “solo traveling female”, he didn’t know where to put me.

We had an English speaking Vietnamese guide, who walked us down the road, letting us stop for a quick breath of tea before we continued on.

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Descending “the souvenir trail”

But on the course, I quickly determined that my  three hour hike down through Cat Cat Village to the waterfall and back was something I hardly needed a guide for. The hike is a soft trek and while the elderly couple on our tour had some difficulty walking down this cobble-stoned paved trail, I realized it can feel steep if you’re not a fit person.  And if you’re already having difficulty walking downhill,  then maybe you should consider not taking a trek at all, but sticking to the roads in town.

Cat Cat Village Sapa, trekking Cat Cat Village Sapa
Trekking Cat Cat Village Sapa
trekking Cat cat village sapa, things to know before you go
Sapa Valley in the distance

For me and the Spanish couple also on the tour, we wanted to get off the paved trail. Being on it felt like a huge of a letdown. The village felt like a staged souvenir shops. Run by hilltribe families, small houses (I think I only saw a couple) and organized crafts shops lined the walkway as mothers weaved crafts, while tending to toddlers. Stone work, wire work, textile crafts, et…

The artwork was beautiful and I know the hilltribe families need to make money to survive, but I wasn’t there for souvenir shopping. The village felt just plain inauthentic and while, some local life abounds making the trekking occasionally feel worthwhile, the overall feeling is just of it being a tourist attraction.

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(Above photo & video of the event below) Family cleans a pig for a special celebration feast.

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The waterfall area has a P.A. system, which streams traditional Vietnamese music to “enhance the atmosphere”. Okay, that’s  a bit cheesy and I felt like I was entering the movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but this is Vietnam. After seeing the waterfall, the hiking path continues, allowing you to trek back through the hills to the top.

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For lazy hikers, you can hire a motorbike ride

If you feel too tired to return, you can hire an xe oem (motorbike taxi) to give you a lift to the top! Really?!  This is what the elderly couple on our tour did and with seniors, I get it, but this a tourist’s hike. If you can’t handle this, then you are old.

Overall, it was an easy day but I had come for a real trek…

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xe oem (motorbike taxi) await at this station point to give weary trekkers a lift back to the top.

Trekking Permits & Hiking Cat Cat Village on your own

Hiking Cat Cat Village is definitely doable on your own. Just ask a local to point you in the direction of the village and you’ll see a sign letting you know you’re at the entrance.

However, unless you’re with a tour or trekking guide, you will have to pay admission tickets to enter and you’ll need to buy them in ADVANCE and not at the door. You will be disappointed  if you arrive without a permit in hand. This rule of attaining permits before trekking applies throughout all of Sapa, to any main minority village area, as well as the Radio Tower. If you plan to hike this on your own, visit the Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to pick one up first.

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entrance checkpoint: you must have tickets in advance

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  • When we were planning our Sapa, we were told not to Cat Cat Village as it’s a total fake. The village was acquired by a private company and all the villagers have left. Those so called villagers were just some dress-up local Vietnamese. The mock-up village is just there to earn from tourists.

    We managed to find a local group who does community work among the minorities and we went to the mountainous hike with a Hmong lady to the actual Hmomg village.

    Their life is really hard. Hardly have enough to eat and by going there, it brings a decent meal to the family.

    The group is called Ethos. When we were at the officie/home, they were caring for a young girl with bone infection and has no access to proper medical care.

  • Nirmala De Soyza
    October 14, 2018 4:55 pm

    Why is it that Westerners traveling in the rest of the world feel this entitlement to ‘authenticity’, which in reality is a desire to invade privacy? Tourists should only be allowed in designated areas. After all, what would be your reaction to Asian tourists walking around your backyard and in to your home for a taste of ‘authenticity’? Change your mindset people, and do try at least to realize that travel should not be another form of colonialism. The locals should always call the shots – not you.

    • Nirmala- you’re contradicting yourself. You’re not defending anti-colonialism in your statement; you’re supporting it.

      Firstly, there’s more than just “Asian tourists” and if you traveled you’d know the world was round rather than racist. Your choice of wording says a lot about you and your basic lack of respect for cultures.

      Secondly, I have “tourists in my backyard”. I live in Hawaii, one of the TOP U.S. destinations for tourists from U.S., Asia, Australia and Canada. I work and interact with tourist clients regularly.

      But we are a state bent on PRESERVING OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE (Yes, “authenticity”) and our tourism boards are currently fighting for good sustainable tourism which strengthens our cultural pride, cultural recognition and preservation of who we are amidst the daily influx of tourists, who want to experience comfort, ease, a vacation. We’ve seen other cultures like this one, destroy their natural heritage for the sake of commerce and Hawaii knows we are not far off.

      You’re pointing at “colonialism” while condoning cultural suicide, gentrification, white-washing, cultural prostitution.. ? Small or large communities lookin to make a quick buck from tourists by resorting to all forms of anything from cultural whitewashing, animal tourism, natural resource depletion and destruction of ecosystems … has a great impact on the community and those around it.

      This type of solution does more harm in the long run than it does benefit the local culture.

  • Thanks for article! I think with different in the culture, so food is diferent. Vietnam’s food is meat and vegetable. I want to say that, eat meat is normal with vietnamese. Sorry my english is not good. But i hope you return to việt nam.:)

  • Jimmy Cracks Capricorn
    November 11, 2011 12:23 pm

    My parents made my brother and I butcher live rabbits in the backyard of our upper middle class home in a big city. We were the Beverly Hillbillies, just with less millions. But red necks through and through. I hated it. i prefer to shoot and kill my meat from a distance, knifing one down on the spot is not for the faint at heart. But I do loves me some pig…!!! Thanks for keeping it reals, and I am solo traveling Ha Noi and Sapa today (fly from HCM City in couple hours) and your blog helped me. Thanks.

    • @Jimmy: Glad the blog and photos could be of help! Not sure if they’ll let you take your rifle or butcher knife along, but enjoy Vietnam! Ha ha… Sapa was my personal favorite. Actually our family used to have a farm and my grandfather used to own a pig farm. I’ve seen my share of closeup killings. Could attribute to my being mostly vegetarian these days. 😉

  • This post is not for the queasy of stomach, is it? I swear, if I had to kill my own animals to eat meat, I’d become a vegetarian instantly.

    • @Gray: Sorry- perhaps I should post a head’s up warning… Ironically, I think Korea prepared me. Though the food in Korea isn’t nearly as visually jarring, the difference was that in Vietnam, I knew what animal it was vs. “what the hell is that?!” (as in Korea). For me, the latter has been so much more scarier. But culturally, when you place these photos in the context of a mountain/minority tribe survival/lifestyle it actually feels natural. Placed in the context of a privileged western culture, where we have more options (and “middle men”) this kind of life feels primitive. But yes, there’s a few reasons why I don’t eat meat.

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