Sapa is a fascinating part of North Vietnam that is rich in agricultural land, tea plantations and lush hills that make it a superb destination for tourists, especially those interested in a trekking adventure. Beyond its natural beauty, Sapa is a great place to appreciate the lives of the local ethnic minority people. Many of the people open up their homes for guests and also sell a wide variety of hand-made gifts. For tourists on the Vietnam holiday in search of a homestay experience, this town is certain to be one of the most appealing options.
Staying at a family run homestay is certain to make a refreshing change to the more traditional hotel or guest house that involves minimal interaction. A homestay makes it possible to get fully immersed in the local culture and see first-hand how the locals go about their day-to-day lives. Also, there may even be the option to learn to cook a regional dish or simply help your homestay family with sourcing ingredients for a meal.
Let's take a look at a few of the different options for choosing a homestay in Sapa:
There are plenty of tour agents in Hanoi and Sapa offering dedicated tour packages to Sapa with trekking and homestay opportunities.
Using a tour agent to make a booking for a homestay/trekking adventure means there is very little chance of any misunderstands or other difficulties. A structured tour can be personally tailored to match the specific needs. The majority of respected tour agencies can provide complete support and in-depth information about each stage of the travel journey.
Use a NGO (non-profit organization)
There are plenty of social enterprises and NGO’s set up in and around Sapa who have the ability to offer a stay in a homestay for the night, as well as an organized trekking adventure. A few of the organisations include Sapa O’Chau, Ethos – Spirit of Community and Sapa Sisters that help to provide beneficial opportunities to the local people and community. Most of these organisations also invest time on other initiatives and developments that benefit the community in the region.
A great advantage of this method to organise the Sapa homestay on the package holidays to Vietnam is that more of the money paid will go towards helping the local community and support its people. Also, the major organisations have the ability to provide well planned and professional tours that can be created to specific need the needs of the tourists for the most authentic experience.
However, this type of Sapa homestay experience is likely to be more expensive than alternative options, and often at a rate that goes beyond the backpacker budget. Plus, the treks are generally in large groups which aren’t likely to appeal to those that prefer the more relaxed and private treks. While it is possible to book a private trek through these organisations, it is certain to cost even more.
Book with a local
Many tourists that first arrive in Sapa on the Vietnam tours will be met by local women who try to offer a variety of tour packages. A typical tour offered includes a 1-2 day trek with overnight accommodation in a homestay which is all-inclusive of food and drink. The cost is very reasonable for the local booking. A typical cost is likely to be in the region of $20-$25 per day/per person.
Travellers that make use of this type of Sapa homestay experience are likely to have a very authentic time with fair prices and the money going directly to the locals.
However, there is no guarantee on the quality of service received because there are no regulations in place. The entire stay is solely based on a short discussion with your would-be host. Some of the Sapa hosts are a lot more efficient at providing a fun and welcoming tour service than others. Also, it is worth noting that a local guide who does not work for a domestic or international licensed company is likely to be operating illegally, which impacts both the guests and guide in the event of being caught.
Beyond the traditional Sapa homestays that include staying with a local family, there are also a few homestay options that can be booked online via HostelWorld or Booking.com. However, most of these places are at a larger scale and can easily be described as something midway between a guest-house and a homestay. They aren't able to give the most authentic stay, but there is the option to stay in a local home that is relatively traditional and includes a few extra comforts.
A major benefit of this type of accommodation is the extra comforts. Most of the homestays are solely intended for tourists so there is a high chance of having a bar, a restaurant, and a western toilet. This is certain to appeal to the travellers that are looking for the Vietnam luxury tours experience. Many of the traditional homestays that give the authentic experience include a squat toilet and a bucket shower.
Also, there are a few other dedicated sites that aim to match up tourists with locals in need of guests for their homestays.
Now that you know the various options to organise a stay in Sapa, it shouldn't be too difficult to book something that gives a truly enjoyable and authentic experience. For the travellers that like to get everything organized well in advance of arriving in Sapa, the locally based tour agents in Hanoi are very likely to be an attractive option. However, for the more relaxed travellers on the Vietnam travel packages, there is always the option to book a place to stay on arrival, but the options may be limited, especially if travelling during the peak tourist season.