Sa Pa is an interesting pocket of Vietnam. Located high up in the mountains, it has a very different climate and feel to the rest of Vietnam.
Most people that live here are part of minority villages and still live in a traditional way. While it was neat to see how these minority groups were embraced in Vietnam, I struggled with how their culture and lifestyle has been commodified. Many of the women from these tribes left their traditional roles to go into Sa Pa, wearing traditional clothes trying to sell treks, tours to their villages and souvenirs. There’s just something that tugged at me about this so I didn’t engage in any tours or treks.
I did massively enjoy the scenery in this region though. Since I visited during the rainy season, it did rain every day but not enough to dampen the views. What did dampen the experience a bit was the sheer size of tourism in this area. Restaurants and accommodations littered the streets. I made the mistake of sitting on the patio for a meal once, and was hustled every 10 minutes by someone trying to sell something to me.
To get to Sa Pa, many go through the city of Lao Cai which is about an hours drive away. It’s a steep and windy climb the entire way. However, the traffic is way worse. Take extra caution when taking this route, as the many mini buses and trucks all seem to think they’re the only ones on the road. I’ve encountered so many other travellers with scary stories driving on this road.