Cat Cat was formed in the 19th century, after various ethnic H’Mong and Dao families came together from other mountainous regions of northern Vietnam. Despite the city being heavily influenced by tourists in recent times, Cat Cat is a place that has still retained its ancient traditions, giving you a glimpse into what life is like for a local in the region.
From Sapa town, it’s a bit of a hike to get to Cat Cat
Before anything, you’ll need to get to Sapa. Hanoi to Sapa can be easily done via flight, train, bus, car or motorbike. All these options have pros and cons, and you should choose depending on your budget,time and level of desired adventure.
Once you are in the city, getting to the village from Sapa town is not difficult. It is nestled at the bottom of Muong Hoa Valley, known for its spectacular terraced rice paddies, cool streams and tall peaks that run parallel to it. To reach Cat Cat is a short 3 kilometer hike.
You will have to follow one of the main Sapa roads until the trail begins. This trail is actually the hardest of the three that leads to the peak of Mt. Fansipan. Luckily for you, getting to the village isn’t as difficult, as you will mostly come across paved paths and steps, but often at steep inclines.
At some point on the road, you will come across a ticket center for Cat Cat Village, and here you will have to shell out 70,000 VND (USD $3.00). The money goes towards the families residing in the village who have opened up their homes for you to explore their culture, and also for maintenance. At the entrance, you will also be handed a map of the trail around the village and beyond.
Pro tip: You can also get a taxi to Cat Cat village or drive a bike, but where’s the fun in that?
Get a glimpse of how the villagers make a living
The residents of Cat Cat are extremely talented. They cultivate rice and corn to make various edible products which they sell at the markets around the region. They also weave fabric and create handicrafts to get by. They are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen, and are known for creating intricate designs on clothes. The villagers use hemp, cotton and linen collected from the forests nearby to create these items. Silk is collected from silkworms bred for the purpose, and this is used in creating exquisite embroidery work.
Cat Cat is also known for its dyeing technique and the colors are also made naturally! Yellow from turmeric, black from a local leaf, red brown from the rind of local leaves and blue from indigo leaves. You will come across many “shops” around the village – usually the porch of a villager’s home. You will even see colorful pieces of brocade being stitched then and there, so if you get curious, make sure you strike up a conversation and ask some questions. Some stores also offer you the opportunity to rent an ethnic outfit and take some pictures around the village area. It’ll cost you about 50,000 – 100,000 VND to do so and this is a great way to support locals.
Moreover, many residents of Cat Cat Village are also skilled at creating gold and silver jewelry. These are sold around Sapa town as well and make great souvenirs to take home. Please remember when you are buying handicrafts, try not to haggle down a simple dollar. These items take a lot of time, effort and skill to make, so pay appropriately.
Do some sightseeing
The entire town is extremely cute and picturesque. The stunning views of terraced rice fields are hard to miss. They are painted in a lush green coat from April to the end of May, and around September, a bright yellow color takes over.
As you carry on through the trail, you will come across elaborate bamboo water wheels. These are powered by flowing water and are used to pound rice. Beyond that, you will come across Tien Sa waterfall – one of the most popular attractions in Cat Cat village. You can dip your feet in the cool water. There are a few cafes here where you can enjoy a relaxing coffee at a cafe nearby – some have outdoor benches and hammocks.
You can also wander into some of the houses that are open for display. These exhibition houses are not at all museums, but the aim is the same: to collect materials of cultural significance and display them to tourists. Some have entrance fees but won’t cost you more than a dollar or two.
Don’t head back the same way
There’s so much to see in Cat Cat and you can continue your sightseeing on your way out if you choose Gate 2. Heading back to the main gate would be a little tiring and perhaps repetitive, so heading out from Gate 2 will give you something new to look at.
You’ll come across cool streams, little children playing about, and tribes people just going about their day. You’ll pass some terraced rice paddies and peaceful water buffaloes grazing, giving you a sense of calm. To get to Gate 2, head to Cat Cat bridge first and then follow the instructions given on the map.
Cat Cat village gives you a glimpse into the daily lives of the local people. Find yourself a tour guide who is willing to show you around the region for a fair fee – perhaps VND 200,000 for the whole tour would suffice.
Finding a guide is not difficult. There are plenty around town who will just approach you. Bear in mind, you do not need to take a guide, but going with a guide who knows the area will allow you to gain more knowledge about the customs and culture, and also not miss anything important.