"Watching clouds rolling by in Sapa" Top 5 Page for this destination Sapa by Oda_

Sapa Travel Guide: 184 reviews and 818 photos

My Sapa

As i lived in Sapa for two months before deciding to move my research to Chiang Rai (loooong story) the way I see Sapa might be a bit different from the version portrayed by the occasional backpacker or middle aged french couples. No offence!

Most peple that come to Sapa are on 2-3 days package-trips arranged by tourist agencies in Hanoi or other places in Vietnam. They arrive on the night train from Hanoi, get on their vaiting busses and are transported to their hotel in Sapa. Activities in Sapa are planned to the smallets detail, leaving little if no time for self-exploring. They all go the same places and see the same things, taking the same photos and bying the same souvenirs. This even applies to most of the so-called backpackers, even though they do not want to admit it. Then they sit in the heated restaurants complaining about how cold it is outside and that Sapa is not that "authentic" that they were told, and ranting about how annoying the local people are allways trying to sell them something. Call me a cynic, but I've eaten enough lonely dinners in every restaurant in Sapa making it extremely easy to listen inn to other people's conversations..

So, ironically they (mainly the backpackers) complain about how Sapa is not that "traditional" and "secluded" as they were told from friends or travel agencies, while at the same time fully enjoying the amenities of "modern life" such as internet and hot showers. They go on their pre-arranged trips, and do not actively pursue the "authenticity" they claim as the focal point of their backpacking ways. Forgetting that traveling around in their eastern hippie clothes (as I like to call them. You've all seen the fishermen pants and the baggy cotton/linen trousers) does not hide the fact that compared to local standards they are rich! Complaining about the "annoying local people trying to sell them their handicraft", totally ignoring the fact that these wonderfull women (at least the majority of them) has made these products themselves, carefully embroidering for days just displays their arrogance. These products are sold for as little as 1, 2, 3 dollars or whatever. The average income of a person in Lao Cai province is 20 000 to 30 000 dong a day. The same as the average price of a fruitshake or beer. So think about that!

Thank you for your attention!

Where heaven touches the earth

The main attraction of Sapa is the amazing mountain views (on a clear day that is ) and the people who recide here. 85% of the people living in and around Sapa are ethnic groups suchs as the H'mong, Dao and Giay. The Kinh (majority Vietnamese aka the people who owns and run things) consists of only 15 %, making the ethnic people of the region an attractive sight for foreign tourist. Popular activities are hence trekking to nearby villages, preferably with a locally trained guide, getting a glimpse of the everyday life of the different groups, and bying localy produced souvenirs in the form of handicrafts. Those with courage and determination might also climb the tallest mountain in Vietnam called Fan Xi Pang.

Other sights are the Sapa Market where you can sample local dishes, fruits and maybe som herbal medicine. The key words for Sapa is then Nature and People.

Some words of advice

In regards of my previous expression of frustration towards some of the visitors to Sapa, I have to make clear that is was only a generealization based on my own observations of tourism in Sapa. I've met several people that do not fit this discription, people that are independent travelers and who truly tried to experience Sapa at its own terms. I also do understand that most traveleres have a limited time in each place on their itinerary, and my purpose is not to judge, just make som pointers to how Sapa best can be experienced and seen.

1) Package deals are easy and relatively cheap, and I understand why travelers with limited time chose this obtion. But train tickets from Hanoi to Lao Cai (you have to catch a minivan from here to Sapa) can easily be purchased at the trainstation in Hanoi. I paid 300 000 dong ( about 17 dollars)for a bed in a 4 people iron compartment. Bying the same ticket at a travel agency cost about 25-30 dollars. Do keep in mind that trains might be full, especially on weekends. But if you're planing to go to Sapa, why not buy your tickets say, before you go to Halong Bay.

There are PLENTY of hotels and guesthouses in Sapa, suiting every budget. So if you do not have any preferances of exactly where you want to stay, find one when you get here. Again, Sapa in the weekends get flooded by tourist meaning that the prices of accomodation also inflates.

2) Do make time for a homestay in one of the villages around Sapa. It is the best way to meet the local people and learn about their way of life. However, these can be difficult to arrange on your own as the local government wishes to regulate such activities. So shop around in the different travel agencies and hotels for a homestay that suits your preferences and wallet.

3) Do go trekking to the sourrounding villages either as a daytrip or in combination with a homestay. Walking is the best way to experience the local way of life and the amazing nature and mountain views. If you get tired you can always take a motorbike back to Sapa. If you travel independently you can decide for yourself where and when to go, and in concern to guiding there are always people willing to show you around, and most of them have learned english solely for this purpose. Keep in mind that these women do have the intention of selling you their handicrafts, but after walking with you for 5 hours, why not buy from them if you're planning on buying anyways?

4) If you have limited time or just not the trekking kind, an easy way of getting around Sapa is to hire a motorbike for the day and getting a map of the area. Prices start at 6 dollars, and you supply gas yourself from the local gas station. Not expensive by far! Tip: Some australian guys I met observed that they did not use as much gas as the person renting the bikes had told them. So when returning to Sapa, they asked for the gas to be given them so they could use it the next day. A good tip if you're cheap! But do fill up, as you don't want to run out of gas " in the middle of nowhere".

5) Do talk with the local people in the streets or at the market even if you do not intend to buy anything. Most of them are happy to talk with you and are interested in your ways of life back home and your family. At the same time they can practice their english, which many of them are happy to. As I have observed, these women are far from shy. And many of them have interesting personal stories.

6) Do ask permission before taking anyone's photo. It's common courtesy! Many are simply tired of being photographed all the time, while others don't mind at all.

7) Refrain from showing affection in public as this might be offensive to some people who do not share the same views as you.

8) Again, simple courtesy: Take your trash with you or use the many garbage bins at least in the villages.

9) You may encounter language barriers, but being polite and smiling gets you a long way.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Amazing nature and people and in the summer a pleaseant climate compared to the lowlands
  • Cons:The only thing I can thing of is the fact that everything seems to close here at 10 pm. And in Januray it is quite cold and foggy! So be prepared!
  • In a nutshell:Sapa has so much more to offer than the 3days/2 nights package deals. Dare to be independent!
  • Last visit to Sapa: Mar 2009
  • Intro Updated Mar 16, 2009
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Reviews (5)

Comments (3)

  • Greggor58's Profile Photo
    Aug 1, 2009 at 6:00 AM

    Greetings Oda...I would really like to read more about YOUR interpretations of Sapa..GREAT photos Oda...Love the picture of the Hmong women on the "Road to Cat Cat"...is there more you could post? Thanks for sharing

  • DSwede's Profile Photo
    May 4, 2009 at 1:17 AM

    Great page! I share many of your opinions regarding traveler's attitudes towards amenities, giving back to the local artisans, etc. Reading up on it, I don't have time to visit properly, so it will go on my list for next time!

  • Oda_'s Profile Photo
    Mar 17, 2009 at 1:05 AM

    More tips will come soon! It would made the process so much easier if the tips didn't keep erasing themselves after I try uploading pictures....

Oda_ Used To Live Here!

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