Sapa, The Tonkinese Alps.
Sapa the village:
Sapa or Sa Pa is a small village in the high North West of Vietnam which is rapidly growing in popularity. This is mainly due to the endless rice fields between this beautiful mountain area and the local tribes with their colorful clothing.
It is often said that you should visit Vietnam soon before it changes too much. Sapa is a good example of this. Since I was here for the first time 8 years ago, and again last month, I have seen a huge change with my own eyes. Interesting to see what tourism and prosperity have brought about. There have been three times as many hotels, as well as massage parlors. The tribes have also been given their own place to sell their souvenirs. Well protected against wind and weather, but scattered through the center in the old days was also atmospheric.
However, don't worry, because there is certainly still a lot of the Sapa magic present. There are some good ways to explore the area such as by motorbike. However, the best way is to join a walking tour with a member of the local tribes.
Walking tour with a tribe:
A walking tour is the absolute highlight of a stay in Sapa. You can walk a day tour, or a 2 day tour with an overnight stay at one of the local guesthouses. Fortunately, nowadays many Guesthouses are available for a nice stay. During the tour you will be accompanied by members of a local tribe such as the Hmong, the Dao, and the Dai.
The tour leads you through the mountains with beautiful views over the countless rice fields. In addition, you will come across many villages where the tribes live. The daily life of the tribes is beautifully visible here.
The tour is easy to book from one of the many tour companies or travel agencies. However, it often pays to arrange the tour through the Guesthouse where you are staying. We did this for a fraction of the price they usually charge. Another option is to take a walk with a member of the tribes you encounter through the center of Sapa.
Cat Cat village:
Another attraction within walking distance of Sapa is Cat Cat village. This is known for a traditional village on the outskirts of Sapa. Nowadays, however, it is a beautiful village, but mainly focused on tourism. Nevertheless, worth a visit in our opinion.
Cat Cat is easily accessible by descending the mountain on the South West side of Sapa. Most houses nowadays are geared towards tourism and sell traditional clothing. However, this is high-quality clothing, so well worth a visit. In addition, there are also countless photo spots and creative locations to see in Cat Cat. The village is small, but once at the bottom of the mountain you can easily be brought back to Sapa by a motorcycle taxi.
Explore the area on motorbike:
Sapa is becoming quite touristy these days and I expect it to continue to grow. Still, this is one of the most beautiful areas of Vietnam, so be sure to take the opportunity to explore a larger part of this area by motorbike.
After half an hour's drive you already arrive in villages where few tourists come. The village of Ban Pho, for example, is great, not touristy and takes you hundreds of years back in time.
Overall, Sapa is still a great place, so be sure to take the time to thoroughly observe the area Sapa is known for.