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“A cold day in foggy, soggy Sapa” 2 of 5 stars
Review of Sapa

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Singapore, Singapore
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
5 helpful votes 5 helpful votes
“A cold day in foggy, soggy Sapa”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed December 26, 2010

Pictures speak louder than words. So here is a link to our visual memories of Sapa.


I first heard of Sapa in 1994, during my first trip to Hanoi on a project. However, it took 16 years for me to have the opportunity to visit it, after so many friends, knowing my photography interests, all told me to go there and that I will never regret it.

We took the overnight train on a Friday from Hanoi to Lao Cai. The train ride took nine hours. We shared a 4-berth cabin with two young brothers, one of whom is a national boxer and the other, a very friendly tourist guide from Danang who speaks fluent Russian and Korean. So we felt quite safe in their company. They were also visiting Sapa for the first time.

We arrived at Lao Cai train station at 5.30 a.m. From here, it took over one hour to reach Sapa. Unfortunately, Sapa on that Saturday was cold, foggy and soggy.

After checking in to our hotel and breakfast, we joined a trekking tour group. Our guide was a H'mong girl called Cu. She looked like a first year secondary school student. I was surprised to learn that she was already 17. She spoke good English, thanks to the internet.

Cu led us through Cat Cat village and to a landmark waterfall, after one and a half hours. Because of the rain, the paths were muddy and slippery. We went up and down the pathways, some parts were paved with stones but for the most part, were just solid earth or mud. Many of the steps were too narrow and I had to climb with my feet sideways.

At the waterfall, we met again our train cabin-mates and had a reunion photo.

City folks and senior citizens like us soon grew tired from the trekking. We were practically breathless after every 5 minutes. After reaching the waterfall, which was the highlight of the trek, we decided to take a taxi motorbike up to our hotel, saving more than an hour of torturous trek back. We were glad we did not opt for the overnight homestay to visit other villages, as it would have involved much longer trekking.

In the afternoon, we went to the town market in Sapa. The visibility had gotten worse and for the most part, my few shots were disappointing.

Fortunately, we came across a hotpot restaurant near our hotel. We had a super delicious and healthy dinner and the service was very good and up to international restaurant standards.

Will we go back to Sapa?

We didn't enjoy the train ride. Although we took the soft sleeper option, it was really uncomfortable and we could hardly sleep as the cabin was continuously shaking. The dangerous condition of the trek paths in wet weather was also a negative factor.

However, I believe that there is a season during the year when Sapa is dry and the trekking not so dangerous. That's when the scenic Sapa truly comes to life.

The villagers are generally hospitable. I could still realise my dream of photographing them in a posed setting, unlike the all-candid shots I could muster during this first visit to Sapa.

I am a great fan of Steve McCurry, who is best known for his photo of the Afghan Girl. I hope to be able to shoot in his style and I know, deep in my bones, that somewhere in Sapa is a similar girl waiting for me to be photographed.

So, in the words of the late Gen. MacArthur, "I shall return".

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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Adelaide, Australia
Senior Reviewer
7 reviews 7 reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Treking in Sapa for half day was great with Cafe of Smiles Trekking”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 30, 2010

If you only have time for a half day trek from Sapa, I thoroughly recommend doing the Lao Chai to Ta Van trek with, Cafe of Smiles Trekking-Adventure, with tour guide Mee or, "little tree" ,(you will understand this nickname when you meet her). The trek was inexpensive at US$30 and included the tour guide, transport from Sapa to Lao Chai and from Ta Van back to Sapa. The tour guide was smart, easy going, friendly, spoke perfect English and gave us a deep insight into the culture, customs and family life of the Mong and Giay mountain people. She also spoke from first hand experience, as she is a Mong herself and still lives at home with her family in a local village. This was the highlight of our trip to Sapa.

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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Hanoi, Vietnam
1 review
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Most beauty place in Vietnam”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed May 11, 2010

Sapa a little town in frost ,cool in summer time and great to see scenery in valley of rice field . Rich culture of minority people are H'mong,Zao,Zay,Tay...

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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Christchurch, New Zealand
12 reviews 12 reviews
Reviews in 5 cities Reviews in 5 cities
48 helpful votes 48 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 15, 2010

Sa Pa was delightful. Tourists are encouraged to travel to Lao Cai via the sleeper train, are picked up in buses, and transported to Sa Pa. Thus, it’s a tourist town. Even so, the Vietnamese government has been encouraging the hill tribe people to partake in tourism rather than opium (or at least the west has been forcing Vietnam to address the opium matter). The predominant hill tribes in Sa Pa were Black H'Mong, White H'Mong, Red Dzao, and some Tai. The hill tribe women have been encouraged to 'sell' their handiwork; scarves, pillow cases, etc. In reality, the goods on offer are mass produced in China, and the hill tribe women target tourists to buy these 'handiworks'. The prices are outrageous, but that's the dilemma. These people are really poor for being sidelined by their own culture from the 'progress' of capitalism and located in a far flung corner of the nation and having cultural ties that are more Chinese than Vietnamese and a focus of 'ethno tourism': where westerners come to geek and giggle, but do little if anything to engage and understand!!. Do we continue the charade of buying crap at high prices to assist their income, or do something else. We chose the latter. We 'befriended' some Black H'Mong and arranged to visit their hamlet.

As the hill tribe peoples live in the 'rural' areas, they must walk for 2 - 3 hours to get to Sa Pa to 'sell' their 'handicrafts'. We felt that if we could get a carload of them into the 4WD, we could take them home (a treat) and see 1st hand their situation. The 4WD traveled only about 20 minutes before we all alighted and began walking on dirt track to their village. After 40 minutes along the steep track, we arrived at the hamlet. The 'house' was but 2 rooms, a dirt floor, an open fireplace, and a 2" plastic garden hose type pipe for water (and that was when the creek flowed, much of the year it was a bucket brigade along a steep 5 minute path).

While these villagers sell imported crap, they still wear homespun clothes. The 'traditional' material is hemp (ie. marijuana - grows like a weed everywhere) dyed in indigo (a plant that, when soaked in water, releases a very dark blue coloring). In fact, blue jeans were the French 'fashion' result of using indigo dye, coupled to the American cotton Moleskins. So, all adults have dark blue stained hands. This hemp cloth is used as the base for other fibers to be applied. All their clothes are so so heavy - and the climate is so so hot, and they have to travel up so so many steep hills, etc. Mmmm- karma!

We couldn't get our heads around the fact that these people are ALWAYS happy and cheerful. Very quietly spoken, nearly always with a smile, nothing seems to change their cheerful disposition.

Our feelings (but especially Lisa's heart) were everywhere - here was mum with 4 kids - oldest 12, youngest 8 months and still being breastfed. As soon as mum appeared, the grandmum 'delivered' the youngest for a feed. For Lisa, it wasn't the food, it was the lack of bonding time while mum had to go into town to try and supplement the family income. How could 'we' live as we do while these beautiful people not only incur great hardships, but are all smiles all of the time. Rather than buy 'artifacts', we left a large donation.

Was this review helpful? Yes 7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
sonoma county, ca
Senior Contributor
30 reviews 30 reviews
Reviews in 16 cities Reviews in 16 cities
11 helpful votes 11 helpful votes
“Don't miss Sapa”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 21, 2009

We loved Sapa and environs--largely because of the (1)wonderful guide services we received from the Auberge Hotel and (2) because of the hotel where we stayed, Cat Cat View. We also heard good things about guiding out of the Cat Cat View, but our great experience was guiding through the Auberge--good advice, strong knowledge of the area and possibilities, fair price and a lovely guide named Mi. It's a great area of the world and the area markets surrounding the town are brilliant, energetic and fun. Be sure to give Sapa enough time in your planning

Was this review helpful? Yes 3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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