A friend and are going to Vietnam for a week and a half in December. We are flying in and out of Hanoi, and plan to stay in Northern Vietnam the whole time.
As of now, we're thinking Hanoi and Halong Bay. My friend really wants to go to Sapa, but I am torn. I've heard that the scenery is nothing short of stunning, but is it worth it? I want to see it with my own eyes, and I realize that one person boycotting Sapa is no solution to the exploitation that goes on there, but I hate being a part of the problem. I've read that Bac Ha is more traditional and less visited, but is it any better to go there, when the situation of Sapa may soon become the situation of Bac Ha??? Are their any legitimate sustainable tourism options in either place?
I'd love to hear any feedback or advice, on Sapa, Bac Ha, or anywhere else you might suggest we visit in these 10 days.
I have never been to Bac Ha, so I cannot tell. But I have been to Sa Pa, Ha Noi, and Ha Long Bay. In my opinion, Sa Pa, Ha Noi, and Ha Long Bay have their own uniqueness which can't be compared with one another.
The two icons of Sa Pa are the terrace fields and the ethnic minorities dressed in colorful costumes. It was May 2010 when I went there. Hopefully within these 2 years, Sa Pa has changed for the better. At that time, it was to me a land of no privacy. Every I went, the minority people was always present. They offered me their hand crafts. A moment to be just with myself enjoying Vietnam coffee by the side of Sa Pa Lake was a luxury.
Yes indeed the view of Sa Pa was immaculate, if only the minority could respect my privacy better. I have written a post "Sapa Trekking Highlites" on my personal blog. Maybe you can get the picture. Sa Pa is also a perfect place if you are into trekking and hiking. You can climb Mount Fansipan. I've read several interesting stories and seen fascinating pictures of it. My regret on those privacy-breaking minority people, I wrote in The Beautiful Land of No Privacy. That's the details of how bothered I felt.
I don't know where you come from and where you have been to. But there are other places with the same view like Sa Pa. In my home country, Indonesia, scenes like Sa Pa are common. So is it with some parts of South China. Other countries in Southeast Asia are very likely to have equal. I think there are some other places too within Vietnam herself.
Although this is the capital city of Vietnam, it's not as vibrant as Ho Chi Minh City. In spite of the hectic motorcycles, you can still feel the old days here. Ha Noi is a good place to get the feel of Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay
Although this is the "must-to-see" of Vietnam, there aren't bothering vendors like in Sa Pa. Like Sa Pa also, Ha Long Bay is not the only place that own such a majestically scene. There are some in South China and Thailand. However, Ha Long Bay's scenery is not as common as Sa Pa.
If I have to choose between Sa Pa and Ha Long Bay, I'll go for Ha Long Bay with no hesitation.
Other places in Vietnam, if you ask me, I'd suggest Nha Trang and Da Lat. The sand dunes of Mui Ne is also unique -- pretty unique for a Southeast Asian country.
Enjoy Vietnam! I've traveled to Vietnam six times, but still want more!
Sapa brings in peace in a fine, rugged scenery and cultural diversity. You will have opportunities to discover the unique customs of the local residents. Local markets are typically cultural elements of ethnic groups.There are some markets in the week :
Cao Son market- on Wednesday
Trip to Cao Son Market by a van or car and it takes 2 hours from Lao Cai to get there.
Can Cau market- on Saturday
from Laocai Train Station, after 2 hour drive long the border with China, passing wonderful andscape, and going up and down via Bacha Town and you are in Can Cau Market (20 km from Bac Ha) Can Cau is a special market, smaller and is not as busy as Bacha Market but it is not touristy
Bac Ha Market - on Sunday
You can arrange with your tour program to visit one of them.
Enjoy your trip in Vietnam!
The other comment about SaPa is the weather.
If it is at all cloudy, you will see nothing, and without the view it is not a "must see" at all. When we were there, we arrived from China late morning in glorious weather. Had lunch and watched as the cloud moved in, and that afternoon and next 2 days were so cloudy that we gave up and continued into Hanoi.
But the bits we did see were stunning, and i would love to go back and do some wandering/trekking in clear weather.
Years ago I was in HaNoi during Tet. I was thinking of going to SaPa as well. I checked with a few travel shops and was told to expect rain in that area for the next 5 days. I then got lucky and met a couple that had just been trekking in SaPa. They told me that if I liked trudging around in the mud, go for it. I passed. I went to HaLong Bay instead. It was raining there as well, but no mud!
I agree with 'Gelli' in post # 4. Decided once you are there. Good luck.
First of all, It's not easy or cheap to get to Bac Ha, whereas it's both easy and cheap to get to Sapa - both are definitely worth it and unique in their own right. If you're in N. VN, then by all means go to one of VN's most beautiful areas (I suggest both if you have the time and money).
For me, Halong Bay is the place that I question. Yes, I'm sure it's beautiful, but HB has it's own set of problems - overcast skies and smog, water pollution, boat pilots that pilot their craft the same as they drive on the roads, etc. Luckily, only 5 people died in HB waters this week!
Go and find out for yourself. Asking questions on the net only gives you mostly biased answers.
Halong is a nice place if you like beach but you should choose cruise carefully in case risk
Sapa is famous for a nice scenery with hightest mountain and full of flower speices here
Thanks so much, everybody, for your enthusiastic and helpful advice! I am new to TP and I have to say that I am blown away by the detail of your responses. You all are great!