Hello fellow travelers,
Sapa has become one of Vietnam's premier tourist destinations. Known for its trekking, landscapes, climate, and ethnic minorities, Sapa will undoubtedly continue on a path of rapid development. The Capilano University community based tourism projects are making efforts towards a more sustainable form of tourism and development is chosen.
As tourists, you can help too! Here is some valuable information to help you along your way. Please take this opportunity read through the following information, especially as you prepare for your trip to Sapa.
We wish you the best along your journey as you travel and explore safely and responsibly this beautiful place we call Earth.
WELCOME TO SAPA!
Sapa is a beautiful place. Inspiring landscapes and colourful cultures. It is a photographer’s mecca, an explorer’s playground and many travellers’ favourite place. Sapa is renowned for its trekking and has historically been an escape from the heat and humidity of Hanoi.
The guide books and trekking options offered by tour operators have done their very best to provide for the many tourists coming to Sapa. A quick glance at a tour program or a Google search of Sapa will produce a variety of Sapa tours and possible villages to visit. Popular tourist spots include: Cat Cat village, Taphin village, Lao Chai village, Tavan village, Ban Ho village and Bac Ha market.
Booking your tour
As a trekking destination, the Sapa region offers a multitude of options. Unfortunately, not all tour companies are created equal. Some companies do not engage positively with the communities and environments that the tour guides are taking visitors to, and do not contribute meaningfully to a sustainable tourism industry.
There are several villages (see below) that are sure to offer something special for your upcoming Sapa experience. We recommend having a look at a map of the Sapa region and deciding on a trekking route that matches your desired activities, experiences and timeframe. Once you have narrowed down some ideas, you can be more prepared to meet with a travel consultant or tour operator.
Booking your tour will more than likely happen in one of three places: on the internet, in Hanoi, or in Sapa. If you are booking on the internet then you are probably looking into taking a private tour. Most of the companies will be able to coordinate a specialized package for you, based on your price requirements and taste.
If you are planning on booking your tour in Hanoi, you will have many companies to choose from. Many travellers book through their hotel front desk staff, who will then make arrangements with a local tour operator in Sapa on your behalf. Tour itineraries will be limited, but with your pre-booking research you will be much more able to ask for what you want.
If you plan to book a tour once you arrive in Sapa, you may wish to join a group tour if you are a budget traveller. Be sure to ask the tour operator or guide any questions you may have before you book in order to get the experience you hope for.
Some favourited villages
Cat Cat village is a short walk from Sapa town. It is a Hmong village with a few great photo opportunities with locals, a picturesque waterfall, and scenic backdrops. Not taking more that a half day, this village can be done independently or with a local H’mong guide organized with a responsible tour operator.
Taphin is a 20 minute drive or a 4 hour trek from Sapa. Predominantly a Red Dao village, there is a small commune of Black H’mong on the west side of the valley. Incredibly scenic and alive with an infamous moving market of Dao street sellers. Taphin has been primarily offered as a half-day trip, however, the increased zealousness of the street-sellers has made it somewhat unattractive to tour operators.
Taphin village is not to missed. The most sustainable option recommended by CBT Vietnam is a trek from Sapa and an overnight in one of the homestays. Definitely, ask your concierge or tour operator to set you up a customized tour if the option is not listed! Here is a website about Taphin for more information.
Lao Chai is a Hmong village in the descending valley southwest of Sapa. Easily accessed by a number of trekking routes, this hill tribe village can be reached in three hours by the average trekker. Most of the local Black Hmong trekking and tour guides are from this village and many are currently working with their families and the CBT Vietnam team to set up homestays. We definitely recommend doing the minimally challenging trek from Sapa to Lao Chai, via Cat Cat Village and Y Linh Ho, and spending an afternoon learning traditional batik in the village of Lao Chai. Follow this up with a night one of the great homestays already established for an amazing and authentic Hmong experience.
Tavan has become the most popular trekking destination in all of Sapa. The Giay (Day) ethnic minority has truly been entrepreneurial and industrious in retrofitting their homes to offer a place for trekkers to spend the night. It is not uncommon for Tavan to have 25 or more homestays being occupied with groups as large as 10 tourists.
The village of Tavan is in a stage of rapid development. The tourism industry there is flourishing and the impacts are clearly visible. With tourist numbers always increasing the future of this area as a destination might be in hands of the tourist. We offer numerous resources on this site to learn how you can contribute to a more sustainable tourism industry in Tavan, such as the Code of Ethics.
Sapa Trekking and Village Hopping
When you finally decide on a tour and/or arrive in Sapa, be sure that you have arranged for an extra 'free' day. The free day will be extremely beneficial for getting acclimatized (to the town and to the altitude), getting sufficient rest after the night train, and adjusting to the weather. Take some of this time to meet with some of the people from the different ethnic minorities (Red Dao and Black Hmong to start), and to get acquainted with the geography.
Your best bet is to get a map, track out your trekking routes and look into some possible extra little jaunts and explorations to some neighboring villages along your route. You might even be able to talk to your guide and adjust your route!
As you trek and village-hop it is recommended that you reflect on where your money is going. Even small decisions such as where you purchase bottled water can make a big difference and spread the economic benefits out amongst the villagers. Additionally, try and purchase souvenirs from a member of every ethnic minority. These steps can help create a more equitable tourism economy and ensure that you are doing your part to be a respectful and sustainable visitor.
Things to Ask When Booking Your Tour
Here a few thoughtful questions to ask when booking your tour, or when on your tour to help you on your way:
1. Will the tour be led by a local ethnic minority guide? Can I request a guide from the village I am staying in? What are the ethnic minorities I will be meeting? Will I be able to interact with my homestay hosts? What minority are they?
2. What are some cross-cultural considerations I should be aware of? (E.g.: wearing white) Should I bring gifts with me for my tour guide, my tour guide's family, my host family? (E.g.: wine, school supplies, household tools)
3. What proportion of the tour price is going to the guides and/or the homestay family? What are some ways I can increase these amounts? (E.g.: buying brocade/batik products or beverages)
4. What is the current weather in Sapa? Do I have the right footwear? Can I buy rubber boots in Sapa if the weather is wet?
Sapa Tour Guides
The Sapa tour guides are fantastic! There is an incredible ethnic mix of young, talented, enthusiastic guides including Black Hmong, Red Dao, Kinh, and Giay. The Black Hmong are known to have a great sense of humour and excellent English skills and the Red Dao have incredibly warm personalities. Many of the Kinh (Vietnamese) guides have University degrees in tour guiding, while ethnic minority guides have a lifetime of knowledge from their villages and the surrounding mountains. Both the Kinh and ethnic minorities have their advantages and the perspectives from them are both quite valuable. Take full advantage of whomever leads you with lots of insightful questions or activity requests.
Finally, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. The culture of the area does not usually ask you to come help with things like the cooking or the daily chores of feeding the animals and working in the field. You will have to be the one to wake up a little earlier and take the initiative. It will be well worth it!
After Your Tour
When your tour is said and done, and you are at home reflecting on your memories and sharing your pictures, don't forget that there are people who have built an incredible relationship with you. The people of Sapa are pretty incredible, and believe it or not, if you returned, they will remember your face, and maybe even your name. We have seen this happened time and time again.
When you are in the villages write down some addresses and emails, or connect with someone via Facebook. When you find the time mail a photo or two to your guide and homestay families. They will be sure to include it in their many photo albums, or possibly even pin it up on their wall as a memory of the great time you shared together.
TOURISM & ETHICS
Tourism – like many other international industries – has grown to stretch the planet. In scope it has effectively touched almost all corners of our world. With this growth has come some tremendous benefits, but just as quickly have come some staggering negative impacts. Our desire and curiosity to explore is innate and alive in all of us!
As we venture out to satisfy this curiosity, we must also recognize that each and every one of us as travelers has the opportunity to lessen the negative effect associated with tourism and more accurately has the human responsibility to do so. Ergo, we must dutifully endeavor to seek out more ethical and sustainable means to facilitate our travels.
We have developed a Tourist Code of Ethics designed by Canadian and Vietnamese tourism students from Capilano University and Hanoi Open University. It is hoped that a band of ethical tourists can be formed who, through their commitment and actions will minimize the harmful effects of tourism and as a growing body of committed travelers, force the tourism industry all over the world to change.
Safe and happy travels!