Sa Pa has become one of Viet Nam’s premier tourist destinations. Known for its trekking, landscapes, climate, and ethnic minorities, Sa Pa will undoubtedly continue on a path of rapid development. The Capilano University Community Based Tourism project is making efforts to see that a more sustainable option of development is chosen. As tourists, you can help too. Here is some valuable information to help you along your way.
From Booking Your Tour in Ha Noi or on the internet, to Sa Pa Trekking and village hopping, to Things to Ask When Booking Your Tour, to Sa Pa Tour Guides, to After Your Tour, please take this opportunity read through what is provided.
Booking your tour
As a trekking destination the region offers a multitude of options. Alas, it appears, when searching for possibly trekking tours, that there are few options. Furthermore, some of the options have not honestly met travellers’ expectations, nor have they contributed in a way that is sustainable to the communities and environments they guide tourists to.
On the Tours in Sapa page we have listed a variety of villages that ususally define your tour option for your Sa Pa trip. Your best next step is to take a look at a map of Sa Pa and decide on a route that matches what you want to see and your schedule. Once you have made some decisions you can advise and recommend your travel consultant or tour operator to design a tour for you.
Booking your tour will more than likely happen in one of three places: on the internet, in Ha Noi, or in Sa Pa. If you are booking on the internet you are probably looking into a private tour. Most of the companies you will deal with will be able to coordinate anything you decide.
If you are planning on booking your tour in Ha Noi you will have a multitude of companies to check out. Most people book through their hotel, who will then book with a tour operator in Sa Pa. Tours will be limited, but with the information you will now have on the Sa Pa region you will be able to conduct a little added research to ensure you get what you want.
If you plan to book in Sa Pa, and are a budget traveller, the option offered to you may be to join in on a group. Be sure to ask all kinds of questions before you start your tour to be sure that you get exactly what you want.
When you finally decide on a tour and / or arrive in Sa Pa, be sure that you have organized an extra free day. The free day will be extremely beneficial for getting acclimatized, 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 aquainted 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 to your routes and destinations. 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. Can you insure that you buy a little something from every ethnic minority, and it is possible that you spread out where you buy simple things like your bottled water from. All of this will be helpful in creating a more equitable tourism economy.
Here a few thoughtful questions to include when booking your tour or when on your tour to help you on your way:
1. What is the current weather in Sa Pa? Do I have the right footwear? Can I buy rubber boots in Sa Pa the weather is wet?
2. Will the tour be led by a local ethnic guide? Can I request a guide from the village I am staying in? What is the ethnic minorities I will be meeting? Will I be able to interact with my homestay hosts? What minority are they?
3. What are some cross-cultural considerations I should be aware of? (eg: wearing white) Should I bring gifts with me for my tour guide, my tour guide’s family, my host family? (Eg: wine, school supplies, tools)
4. 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? (Eg: buying brocade products or beverages)
The Sa Pa tour guides are great! There is an incredible ethnic mix of young, talented, enthusiastic guides including Kinh, Black Hmong, Red Dao, and Giay. Many of the Kinh (Vietnamese) have University degrees in tour guiding or at least some education, and the ethnic minorities guides, have little formal education but have a lifetime of knowledge from the village.
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!
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 Sa Pa are pretty incredible, and believe it or not, if you returned, they will remember your face. It has happened time and time, over and over.
When you are in the villages write down some addresses and some emails. 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.
Please visit our Tourists’ Code of Ethics page and commit to a form of travel that will be better for everyone!