In the north of Vietnam lies Sapa, a small village nestled in the steep Muong Hoa Valley of the Hoang Lien Mountains. This area is home to distinctive hill tribes operating perhaps the most stunning rice terraces in Southeast Asia, cut into the mountainside and covered in mist for about half of the year. Much like the rest of the country, tourism is a huge moneymaker here and has noticeably influenced the landscape.
Tour the Rice Fields
Undoubtedly, the thing to do in Sapa, aside from look at the view on every corner, is to tour the rice terraces. You can book a trekking guide directly from one of the eight hill tribes living in the surrounding area and, depending on your package, you can get a lengthy, rugged trek through villages. Survey the fantastic display of agricultural engineering, watch local craft making such as silk weaving, and stay overnight with a family in their village if you feel adventurous.
This can be a fantastic, eye-opening experience into the lives of communities living off the rice crop, but it can also be too much about the effects of tourism. There is no expat community here, visitors don’t stay long, and interactions with locals come at a price. Keep in mind that after the trek, you’ll receive a hard sell on local souvenirs by several village women, and tips are greatly appreciated.
The landscape in Sapa is gorgeous, and that alone can satisfy a couple of nights stay. You can reach Sapa by train or bus from Hanoi, roughly a 9 hour journey, and in many ways Sapa typifies tourism in Vietnam which alone is reason enough for visiting. It’s possible the insight you gain will significantly influence future travel, and a break from the heat in misty mountains doesn’t hurt either.