The mountain town of Sa Pa in northwest Vietnam is over glamorized and thus you can see that everything is very touristy here with food that caters to the soft palate of the tourists, the ever increasing prices for the fat tourist wallet (or at least that’s what the locals think) and tours aligned for the tourist mentality. But, if you stay a bit away from this hustle and bustle, you can find some of the best mountain hikes in Vietnam that takes you to tribal villages with the most humble people.
You should be able to find these humble tribal people in Sa Pa town itself. Rather, they will find you and you will know you found them when they reach out to you with ‘shopping’ requests. Sapa is more or less like that. The place has become so popular with tourists that the hill town itself has forcefully morphed into a tourist town where everything revolves around the tourists.
Take for example the Cat Cat village that is a tribal village with tribal artifacts created for the tourists. Or the nearby evening dance shows and dinner for the people visiting Sapa. Or the long line of restaurants that sell a variety of fare from a multitude of global cuisines. Or the shops selling tribal handicrafts, tickets or tours. It feels like you are in a tourist street, but effectively this is the entire Sapa town.
But, do not take me wrong, the landscapes around are fabulous with the Mount Fansipan providing some stunning sights in the early morning hours. The best way to enjoy this terrain is by donning a pair of good hiking shoes, putting on some sun block, carrying a thin fleece jacket, a bottle of water and lots of positive energy. If you are prepared with all of these, you can explore any of its many trails that either meander down to the various hill streams or up to temples or view points. And then somewhere in between are the remote tribal villages surrounded by terraced slopes of paddy.
Many people opt for staying overnight or many nights in these tribal villages. These are the smart people who get to enjoy the true Sapa nature and the true tribal culture. Waking up to a rooster call in the early hours of the morning or sipping a cup of hot tea while gazing at the starlight sky in the nippy and thin mountain air are some of the added perks.
If you cannot stay overnight at one of these tribal villages, then do ensure you do a hike that takes you here. The hike might be easy, medium or tough, but the experience will always be great. This is what I did too. Just pick up a direction and start walking. Everywhere around Sapa is tons of natural beauty. You would be so happy that you would not want to return to your room in the Sapa town.