When we think about Sapa, we visualize infinite rice terraces with spectacular mountain views and trekking opportunities. Yes, Sapa has long been such a favorite destination in Northern Vietnam due to ideal weather and stunning landscapes for both those wishing to relax and adventure-lovers. However, when it has been promoted as a tourism city, a lot of problems and scams appear as a result. What are they and how to avoid them? Keep reading to explore it.
I. What are Sapa common scams?
1. Hotel booking scam
With the rise of tourism in Sapa, it is getting more and more difficult for the hotel/ guesthouse owners to accommodate all the tourists. There are many hotel booking websites and hotel owners that somehow allow overbooking. This means that once you get to your hotel, you will be told that there are no more free rooms.
One option you might be given is to pay a bit more for a superior room. Another option can be to accept to go to another hotel which most of the times looks worse than the one you booked (and you won’t be refunded any money).
2. Parking scams
There will be local people asking for money for parking almost anywhere. Although you cannot verify if they are authorized or not, you can definitely figure out the scam. Anytime you are being asked more than 10,000 VND for motorbike parking, it is a scam. Try and negotiate the price. Most of the times the real price is 5,000 VND.
Parking at Fansipan Mountain cable car is another kind of scam. When you will get to Mount Fansipan cable car entrance, you will first see big parking. If you park there you will have to pay for it. However, if you drive to the entrance of the Fansipan cable car, the parking is free. Moreover, you won’t have to walk one kilometer until the entrance.
3. Trekking tour scams
You can definitely trek in Sapa by yourself, without paying for any guided tours or guides. Most guesthouses have a map of the trekking routes (just ask for it). Also, you will most certainly won’t be by yourself since many people choose the popular trekking routes every day. However, it will be dangerous for sure. Think carefully before you decide whether to participate in a trekking tour or trek by yourselves.
4. Scams at Lao Cai railway station
If you wish to experience Sapa in another way, let's try traveling to Sapa by train, why not?
However, it will be slightly higher than traveling by car.
When you arrive at Lao Cai railway station early in the morning. It is dark there. Be careful.
There is some cheating at Lao Cai railway station that some guys try to see your travel voucher if you ready to arrange a trip to Sapa with a hotel or a travel agency in Hanoi. Then they talk to you that they are looking for you, invite you to the bus. When you get on the bus, they will ask you around 30 US Dollars for a seat on the bus to Sapa.
They say that: “Please pay to me now and when you arrive in Sapa, your hotel or your travel agency in Sapa will pay you the same amount back”. This is the bad person and He or She is not the person of the hotel or travel agency. So please do not pay for anybody there, and be aware of this problem.
Moreover, when arriving in the station, if you can not find your pick-up sign at the exit of Lao Cai railways station, you must contact the tour agents or the hotels where you book the trip.
For the one who traveling without a tour arranged before, please note that the price for the transfer from Lao Cai Railway station to Sapa is around 5 US Dollars/ 1 way
The train arrives at Lao Cai in the early morning. Be careful - some cheating persons try to get into the train platform or the train carriage before your arrival.
5. Be harassed by the ethnic minorities in Sapa
Adding more character to Sapa are the ethnic minorities that live in and around the town. These tribal groups are the H’mong, Dao, Tay, Giay, Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese), and Xa Pho (a denomination of Phu La). Most of these people are found in small villages scattered on the mountain terrains throughout the district. To make a living, the old members of the group make and sell interesting souvenir items, such as clothes and blankets.
With their unique colorful clothes, they have gained the hearts of many tourists. As you will first set foot in Sapa, you will be soon be surrounded by people from these ethnic minorities trying to sell you some handmade items or trekking tours.
Most of the people from these ethnic minorities used to work their land (rice terraces). However, since tourism started to be such an important part of Sapa’s economy, they have taken advantage of this emerging opportunity to make money.
People started producing and selling jewelry, embroidered fabrics or handmade bags. However, what you will notice is that most children are selling these products. Instead of getting an education, children are sent to Sapa to convince tourists to buy their products. Please do not encourage this. If you want to buy something, make sure to buy from an adult.
Although I definitely don’t blame the ethnic minorities for trying to support their families by taking advantage of tourism, I believe that there is an underlying problem. I believe that these ethnic minorities should have other alternatives for making money, with the help of a good education. Tourism will only lead to the destruction of their traditions.
II. How to avoid Sapa scams?
Consult the trusted reviews on Tripadvisor.com or from friends and relatives.
Book from a trusted website is crucial if you want to avoid these type of scams (booking.com or agoda.com for accommodation, for instance).
Always pre-book to get the best deal and avoid overcharging or full engagement.
Always get to the train station at least 45 minutes early so that you can find your train easily and without stress.
Bring only what you will need and leave your other luggage at your hotel. This is for ease of travel. There is plenty of storage on the train if you do end up bringing lots of luggage.
The cabins all have a little table, great for playing cards and other games. Some cabins do have an electrical outlet, but not all of them.
Bring some of your favorite goodies and drinks with you.
The toilets on the train are not consistent, bring some toilet paper and baby wipes just in case.
Bring earplugs if you are not an easy sleeper.
The last stop is Lao Cai so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop, someone will come and wake you up.
Finally, when you get out of the train station to keep your eyes open for a sign with the logo and your name on it.