Vietnam News

Excitement turns to frustration in Sa Pa after 20 years

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Sloppy landscapes, streets full of trash, vendors constantly bothering tourists… I was incredibly disappointed when I returned to Sa Pa.

There has been a question as to why Vietnam, with so many scenic spots, so much beautiful nature and so much rich cuisine, can’t become an ideal destination for international tourists. I believe my own experience can provide an answer to this question.

I live in southern Vietnam. I traveled to Sa Pa for the first time in 2000 for my honeymoon with my husband. Back then, my impression of Sa Pa was a charming, romantic, and pristine land. Those images were forever carved inside my head, making me yearn to one day return to this place.

Two weeks ago, I went on a business trip to Hanoi. As I accompanied my foreign boss, I invited her to go to Sa Pa with me for two days. Needless to say, I was extremely excited and full of confidence to show my foreign guest around Sa Pa because I was still under the impression that the beauty of Sa Pa would be enough to conquer the heart of even the most fastidious tourist.

However, the feelings that remained in me after two days of experiencing Sa Pa for the second time could only be encapsulated in one word: disappointment. Nowadays, visitors have to pay for each and every single service Sa Pa has to offer, and the entrance ticket price is sky-high. And what did we get in return?

What we got in exchange was a sloppy landscape with roads that were full of garbage and mud. This place has not been maintained nor restored. There were very few trees and flowers, and even though we were right in the middle of town, not even the streetlights were fully working. The cold weather and dense fog made everyone feel worried for their own safety even just trying to walk down the darkened streets. My foreign boss told me: “Even you feel scared, let alone me.”

Another point of frustration for tourists is the persistent vendors who cling to you until you give in and buy their goods. My group had three people, but we had a group of four people pestering us to buy their stuff. After we stopped to ask a little girl for directions, she also kept following us. We had to give her money or buy goods from her before she would let us go.

Honestly, after this trip, all my good memories of Sa Pa have disappeared and have instead been replaced by disappointment, discomfort and embarrassment in front of my foreign guest. Perhaps I will never come back to Sa Pa again if this place does not undergo comprehensive changes.

A few years ago, I also had the opportunity to visit the Huong Pagoda. While sitting on a boat, the boatman blatantly asked me for tips. Of course, if the service had been good, I wouldn’t have hesitated to pay. But the reality was that I had been sitting on a boat surrounded by waters that were 6 meters deep without a single life jacket. His audacity to ask for more money made me so frustrated.

I’m a Vietnamese myself, but I still can’t accept the way we do domestic tourism in our country. It’s not surprising that foreign tourists aren’t willing to come back to Vietnam for a second time.

By Xuan Hoa Nguyen – – January 9, 2023

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