Monday, December 7, 2009

Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa is a town in the northern hills of Vietnam, surrounded by hill tribes. This town is very touristy and the biggest moneymaker are trekking tours to the tribal villages. I originally wanted to take a train there and arrange for my own tour to the villages, but decided that it was worth a few extra dollars to start the tour in Hanoi, as I was spending too much time comparing and bargaining for tours.

The overnight soft sleeper train to Lao Cai was very comfortable. However, once I got to Lao Cai, I had to take a minibus to Sapa. Everyone on the bus waited 45 minutes as the bus driver would not head to Sapa until ever seat was taken. What an inefficient and third world practice!

Sapa itself is not a very attractive town. It’s just a smaller version of Hanoi with honking and touts everywhere. Just like Hanoi, there is no architectural uniformity. Unfortunately, the attractive buildings are covered up with huge, ugly signs.

The tour I signed up for was a 2 day/1 night home-stay and trekking tour. I enjoyed the food, the scenery and the walks. I saw plenty of rice terraces, villagers in traditional attire and water buffalo. This was great despite the misty and overcast conditions.

However, there were certain aspects that could be improved. First, I felt that there was no value for money. We only trekked for 3 hours the first day and 2 hours the second day. I should have signed up for the 1 day tour! The guide simply wanted us to hurry along so that she could have free time. Second, the guide did not explain much about the various tribal customs and lifestyle. The walks were designed so that women in colorful attire would walk with us and then harass us to buy their crafts until we would cave in. Third, there was no interaction with the family at the home-stay. In fact, it felt more like a hostel. Hence, I am quite disappointed. I am never a person to join tours, but I realize that it would be difficult to find my way back from the villages if I did not.

1 comment: