After Angkor Wat, my parents and I headed to our next destination: Sapa. Located in northwest Vietnam, Sapa is a mountain town and is one of the only regions in Vietnam that has distinct seasons. It actually gets cold during the winter! With a population of approximately 36,000, the area is home to a number of ethnic minority groups. The Hmong are the largest miniority group in Sapa and make up a little over half of the population. In addition to the Hmong, there are four other minority groups that reside in Sapa (spellings vary): the Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people.
Most of the minority groups work in the mountains growing rice and corn. In addition to farming, the minority groups in Sapa make money by selling homemade products such as clothing, jewelery, bags, fabrics, etc to tourists. As soon as you step off the bus, you are immediately surrounded by swarms of women trying to sell you things. It was definitely a little overwhelming having people constantly trying to talk to you and sell you things, but it’s important to remember that they are just trying to make a living. However, even though begging and selling to tourists is so prominent, our tour guide explained to us that we shouldn’t buy from any of the children. By giving them money, it is only encouraging them to beg more instead of spending their time studying at school.
So the actual town of Sapa is a little hectic. Like I mentioned, you can’t walk down the street without being approached by groups of minority women. It has also become a pretty developed tourist hub, so the town is lined with hotels and restaurants that cater toward foreigners. Although the view from town is nice, Sapa is best enjoyed by trekking through the rice fields. Along with a guide, my parents and I completed a 12K trek through rice fields and the Hmong and Dao villages. Our guide took us on less traveled routes and we completed our trek without running into any other tour groups. We were able to see how the rice is grown and learned about the everyday lives of the minority peoples. The trek also provided stunning views of the mountainside in Sapa.
The only downside about Sapa is it’s a little inconvienent to get to. You have to take a 10 hour train ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then from Lao Cai it’s another 1 hr 30 min busride to get to Sapa. However, most people take the night train from Hanoi so you don’t actually lose much time traveling. There is public transportation that you can take from Lao Cai to Sapa, but honestly I think it’s worth it to pay the extra money and plan ahead of time for a private bus or van. For a few extra dollars, I think it’s definitely worth it.
The next entry will be about the Bac Ha Market which is a 3hr drive from Sapa. Crazy things for sale!!!