Sapa is a beautiful, mountainous town in northern Vietnam along the border with China.
Located in Vietnam's remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. Sapa is an incredibly picturesque village that lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps". Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. However, as a result of a recent surge in popularity Sapa has rapidly become a tourist hotspot where money is the new drug of choice. Don't be put off by the rush, your explorations of the surrounding countryside will be worth the trouble.
Many ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong and the Dao, live in and around Sapa. Many older women in particular make items such as ethnic-style clothes and blankets, to sell to tourists. Striking up a conversation with them can be very rewarding. Sadly, however, doing this in Sapa town itself will sometimes lead to a scrum as a multitude of vendors taste a potential sale.
Children from these ethnic minorities begin to earn a living as soon as they are five years old. They often peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and they walk for about 3 hours from their villages to reach. Some of the "richer" ethnic women sometimes take a one-hour motorbike ride back to their villages at the end of the day.
Girls as young as ten years old can get married and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. This is especially the case for the more beautiful ones. Poverty has led to a majority of girls who leave their villages each day to go to Sapa town and to have only one meal per day.
In winter, the weather in Sapa often gets cold, wet and foggy (temperatures can drop to nearly freezing). Travellers have rolled into town on a glorious clear day and proceed to spend a week trapped in impenetrable fog. In winter, bring along warm clothes or prepare to be cold and miserable, as many hotels do not have efficient heating in their rooms. During that time, more upmarket hotels that do have heating fill up quickly, so make advance reservations if you can afford not to freeze. (Or don't go there in winter time).
It rains very often during the month of August, especially in the mornings.
Bear in mind that some of the minorities do not wish to have photos taken of them. Ask permission beforehand.
Bring along a poncho. You can also buy a cheap one in the many shops around.
Rubber boots and trekking shoes can be rented from some shops or perhaps at the hotel you are staying in. However, do bear in mind that they have limited sizes.
Do buy some items from the ethnic minorities, especially if you have enjoyed a good conversation or received help from them. Though they do charge slightly more than the shops, bear in mind that the majority of them are very poor and depend on tourist money to survive.