"Sapa, all the world's a stage..." Top 5 Page for this destination Sapa by bpwarne

Sapa Travel Guide: 184 reviews and 818 photos

Hi ho, hi ho, a trekking we will go...

Be sure to bring dongs with you if you intend to 'trek' outside of town as you will need them to pay for your entrance into the local nearby 'ethnic' villages (or even to travel on the roads to them).

Sapa....Truly Remarkabe

What is truly remarkable is the amount of hype and press Sapa has received over the last couple of years, especially from the backpacker crowd on the popular internet forums and the many travel guides oriented towards this particular group. My experience was not so much one of the highly anticipated raw untouched beauty referenced by so many, but more of a highly developed, well seasoned, tourist attraction. One calculated to extract as much money from the tourists as absolutely possible.
From the moment of my arrival one morning at 7:30AM, I was constantly bombarded by touts pushing everything from "see my hotel, please look my hotel first" to "where you go? you go walking/trekking? I can guide you" to "see my baby... we are very poor, please buy from me. Why not? You buy from me later?....You promise? Promise me. I very poor".
It 's very difficult to feel sorry for this poor, backward, little lady, carrying her child around on her back all day, begging you to buy from her or hire her as your "trekking" guide, once you have seen her in full "ethnic" dress, sans baby, riding around on the back of a motorbike the evening prior with a cell phone glued to her ear.
This place is so overrun with tourists (mostly European), touts, overpriced hotels, overpriced restaurants, overpriced motobike rentals, overpriced tour guides, overpriced...well, overpriced everything it seemed, right down to the Russian "jeep" tours. It has the feel of Main Street, Disneyland...but not the attractions.
Sapa is the only place I have been in Vietnam where it is actually difficult to find a local beer for under $1USD or for even anything near $1USD.
While the scenery is truly great and the more remote ethnic villages well worth the trip, Sapa itself and the immediate villages surrounding it are one big disappointment. Get a moto and head out of town, on your own, without the 'ethnic' guide. You will experience much more 'real country life' while retaining more of your dongs.
If you prefer a staged overpriced show though, Sapa may just be the place for you.

emails/notes to edit and incorporate:

Hiked or trekked to Cat Cat village from Sapa today. Very nice, fantastic scenery. Took a moto back for 20000 Dong ($1.25USD)
Sapa, the town itself, has got to be THE most overrated town in all of Vietnam. While there are many cheap (less than $15) hotels, they are all in very bad condition. Any thing nice is $50+ with one exception and that is the Cat Cat View hotel with rooms for $20, $25, and $30 dollars. It is the only true value I have come across and if I stay another night I will move in there. It is in excellent condition, some of it newly opened in Jan of 08. Many of the even crappy hotels here are commanding high prices ($40+), I assume simply because they are so highly rated by Lonely Planet, which really seems more and more to be an almost totally useless guide. I say almost because obviously if you take their recommendations and avoid them, you will more often than not be ahead.
This place is out of control and you cant blame this one on the Americans (sic; Californians), as there just are not many of them here.
Hotel rooms over one hundred a night, local beer, small bottles $1.25 - $2.00 in many of the restaurants. Hamburgers $4+. Whenever prices approach those of San Francisco in a third world country....you have to wonder why you are even there.
The minorities, the ethnic people are the reason I guess, but that seems quite staged to me. You cant even leave Sapa to go to one of the smaller Ethnic villages with out going through a toll station and paying a fee. Yes the minorities are in Sapa, but it appears they commute here to parade the streets in their 'traditional ethnic clothing' costumes and collect money from the tourists, either by sales of crap (which you gotta wonder if it is even really loacally made or some Chinese knockoff thats been imported to maximize return) or by simply begging (you know: " you buy for me, I very poor, must feed family now). They have made a fine art form of putting their children on display and having them beg for money. Not exactly what you come here for, but after all, when all is said and done......It's all about the money....even in a communist state I guess.

Many third world country places we go to to get cheaper the longer we are there. You learn which touts to avoid, how to negotiate a better rate, where the better hotels and restaurants that are not so heavily frequented by tourists are. Not the case in Sapa. The longer I stay, the more confusing the high prices are. Yes, there are a lot of tourists, I guess that is what's driving it so high. But it is not maxed out, there are plenty of rooms availale, restaurants never seem that full, touts are very aggressive, some of the worse I've ever encountered.
I met a couple who were all equipped to 'trek'...nice backpacks, hiking boots, everything. They paid $40USD/ea for a overnight trek to a ethnic village, including a homestay w/breakfast and lunch. When I asked how far they were going to trek they said 1.2km.
Russian jeep tours seem to be a popular excursion with the European tourists here. When I enquired about them I was quoted prices of $100/person for a one day tour. I lost interest rather quickly and rented a moto for $4.50/day. There is a place to buy Vietnam Air tickets directly in Sapa and so avoid the commission that many of the hotels/tourist agencies are charging, typically only a few dollars in Vietnam, but for some reason most are asking at least $10 and some as much as $20/ticket in Sapa.
I bought my Hanoi - Dien Bien Phu ticket there.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Fantastic scenery
  • Cons:Overrun w/tourists, overpriced, ethnic tourism bit overstaged
  • In a nutshell:Scenery makes it worth the visit, town itself is disappointing
  • Last visit to Sapa: Apr 2008
  • Intro Updated Jun 28, 2008
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Reviews (10)

Comments (2)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Oct 22, 2008 at 3:10 AM

    This is the worst Hotel I have ever stayed in, and they charged me double to what you paid.

  • dancinbudgie's Profile Photo
    Aug 27, 2008 at 7:25 PM

    Hi Bob and Patty! Great tips and pics! Nice to get some comparisons on where to stay on the one page. Tracey

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