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Sapa Travel Tips


SAPA TRAVEL TIPS

Visiting minority villages

  • For many people, one of the highlights of travelling in Sapa is the experience of visiting minority villages.
  • If at all possible, it’s preferable to visit the minority villages as a part of a small group, ideally four people or less, as this causes least disruption and allows for greater communication. There is a whole debate about the ethnics of cultural tourism and its negative impact on traditional ways of life.
  • Most villagers are genuinely welcoming and hospitable to foreigners, appreciating contact with Westerners and the material benefits which they bring.

Village etiquette

Behavior that we take for granted may cause offence to some Ethnic minority people; remember you are a guest. Apart from being sensitive to the situation and keeping an open mind, the following simple rules should be observed when visiting the ethnic minority areas.
  • Dress modestly, in long trousers or skirt and T-shirt or shirt.
  • Be sensitive to people’s wishes when taking photographs, particularly of older people who are suspicious of camera; always ask permission first.
  • Only go inside a house when invited and remove your shoes before entering.
  • Small gifts, such as fresh fruit from the local market, are always welcome. However, there is a view that even this can foster begging, and that you should only ever give in return for some service or as a sign of appreciation for hospitality. A compromise is to buy craftwork produced by the villagers-most communities should have some embroidery, textiles or basketry for sale.
  • As a mark of respect, learn the local term of address, either in dialect or at least in Vietnamese, such as chao ong, chao ba.
  • Try to minimize your impact on the often fragile local environment; take litter back to the towns and be sensitive to the use of wood and other scarce resources.
  • Growing and using opium is illegal in Vietnam and is punished with a fine or prison sentence; do not encourage its production by buying or smoking opium.

Trekking practicalities

Foreigners are now permitted to stay in minority villages, which has opened up to the possibility of trekking, and created a small industry focused on Sapa.
  • You can arrange a tailored individual programme through a tour agent; it is important to ask for a guide with a good level of English who is familiar with the villages and the minorities’ culture traditions.
  • Note that it’s not a good ideal to turn up at a minority’s village and expect to find accommodation; you host may find themselves in trouble with the authorities and there’s also a growing problem of petty crime, particularly around Sapa. Far better to make arrangements beforehand with someone who know the current situation. If you go with local guide, you are also less likely to cause offence and will probably have a more interesting time.
  • It is very important to ear the right clothing when walking in these mountains; strong boots with ankle support are the best footwear, though you can get away with training shoes in the dry season. Choose thin, loose clothing-long trousers offer some protection from thorns and leeches; wear a hat and sun block; take plenty of water; rain coast and carry a basic medical kit.
  • If you plan on spending the night in a village you will need warm clothing as temperatures can drop to around freezing, and you may want to take a sleeping bag, mosquito net and food, though may be provided on organized tours.
  • Finally, dogs can be a problem when entering minority villages, so it is a good ideal to carry a strong stick when trekking, and always be watchful for the poisonous snakes that are common in this area.
 

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