Sapa Ethical Travel: 7 Reasons You Should Book With an Independent Guide

Planning a trip to Vietnam, and wondering if Sapa is an ethical travel destination? You are in the right place!

When I was planning my Vietnam itinerary, trekking and homestay in Sapa with a local Hmong hill tribe were at the top of my bucket list. But my very first question was how ethical or responsible it was, and how I could not only have an authentic experience but also give back to the local community.

I had an amazing experience not only visiting Sapa and spending time at a homestay with a Black Hmong family, but also, becoming close friends with them, and being able to help them through my blog. Now I am here to share my top 7 reasons you should book with an independent local guide, and have the most ethical and responsible travel experience.

Ethical travel is all about creating better places to live and better places to visit – So, if you are here now, it seems that we have a lot of things in common and that you are a responsible traveler and care about our Planet and want to create a positive impact on the local’s life.

So without any ados, let’s review this complete article about Sapa ethical travel!

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Sapa Ethical Travel: My love note to you!

Before we jump into the 7 reasons why I recommend you to book a tour in Sapa with a local independent guide, I would love to share this love note with you!

We, travelers, are generally curious people and we all have plenty of questions, especially when it comes to ethical tourism. I learn as I go, and many destinations and activities I have participated in give me the chance to learn something new.

As visiting Sapa has become a very touristy destination, how to make sure you are choosing and supporting ethical and responsible tourism, and not getting into tourism traps and supporting any kind of “human zoo” or exploitation of the local communities of the places you visit?

Sapa has loads of travel companies offering tours, and trekking with homestays…. and the choice you make can drastically alter your experience – from tour operators taking advantage of the local hill tribes to over-tourism.

It is our responsibility to do our research and make sure we are choosing the best option for the most authentic experience, but also, that we are giving back to the local community that uses trekking and homestay as their only income.

Sapa ethical travel

And if you are questioning: HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT GUIDE IN SAPA?

I did a lot of research prior to my trip to Sapa, and luckily I found my guide on one of the blogs I read. I requested her contact from the bloggers and booked in advance directly with her using WhatsApp. You can contact me if you are interested in my guide, as I am not sharing her contact here to protect her from any harassment from the big tour operators.

Another option is upon your arrival at the Sapa train or bus station, you will be welcomed by many local ladies (from different tribes) who will offer you trekking and homestay. You can read more here about All you need to know on how to do an authentic homestay in Sapa.

Keep traveling, and keep giving back to the local communities. Together, we can make a difference on the Planet and in someone’s else life!

Sapa Ethical Travel: 7 Reasons You Should Book with a Local Hill Tribe

1. Give back to the local communities in Sapa

By going direct, the families and community benefit directly from the money you spend rather than a small portion coming from a tour company. You can also find ways to contribute to the tribes financially or by spreading the word about your experience to attract more ethical travelers to visit this beautiful region and experience the amazing culture.

You can pre-book with a local guide from a tribe, or make arrangements upon your arrival to Sapa Town. There are many ladies that meet the bus as it arrives, looking for tourists to guide.

If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message here and I will share her contact information.

Sapa Ethical Travel
Local Hmong ladies in Sapa wearing traditional clothes

Sapa Ethical Travel
The beautiful handmade clothes made by my Black Hmong guide Bau

2. Avoid organized tours whenever is possible

During my research prior to the trek in Sapa, I read that some of the local tour companies do not do fair business with the ladies they hire to take tourists on the tour.

While I was there, I confirmed that they charge the tourists full price, and only pay a very small commission (much less than half) to the ladies who do ALL the work guiding tourist groups. If you hire the guides directly, the money will help clothe the children, buy supplies for their school, invest in their houses, and go back into the community.


3. Homestay is the best option – Cheaper & More Authentic

The best and most ethical way to go is to stay in a homestay. Aside from the experience of a lifetime, you will be giving back to the community. The family will charge you a fair price, and this money helps the family to improve their houses and support their kids in school. The money goes directly to the family, not to a tour company.

It is also the best opportunity to live and experience the essence of the places I visit. The more I research, learn and interact with local people and immerse in the local culture, the more fulfilling my experience will be.

It is also the most economical option – To stay with a local family, and experience a homestay is a cheaper option compared to the organized tour agencies and hotels. You can read more about prices and options in this article.

More authentic – If you are like me, and like to skip the touristy, crowded places this is the best option. The local ladies will take you to their villages and nearby villages and introduce you to their families, friends, local market, culture, etc. You will eat with the family and get a true cultural immersion. This IS NOT a visit to a human zoo; this is a unique chance to be an active observer and contribute positively to your hosts. You can read more about trekking and homestay in Sapa, and find a whole itinerary and what to expect.

Trek and homestay in Sapa
Inside the homestay – they cook using a fire pit

Sapa homestay typical with Black H'mong
Traditional Black Hmong home in Sapa


4. The local guides discourage kids from working in tourism

Many of the ladies also have children, and they are aware of the bad practices around local tourism. Never forget, don’t give money to children or buy from them.

I saw many small children, dirty and poorly dressed in Sapa Town (the main city where you arrive), begging and selling small things.

When I left Sapa Town following my guide up the path into the mountain, a boy of about 10 followed us. After a while, I asked my guide who the boy was. Bau said she did not know him. We walked for 4-5 hours to get to my guide’s village with the boy in tow.

Bau suspected that he was following us to learn the different mountain paths so that he could work as a guide. While I could not help but admire this boy’s spirit (walking in the rain, ascending mountain paths in flip-flops, following closely but not too closely, being ever respectful, etc.), it was also heartbreaking that he was taking this path in life, and not getting an education.

When we stopped in a village for lunch, he seemed to know some of the people there and stayed with them as we continued on. I suppose it was a chance for him to warm up and take some of the chills off.


5. The local ladies in Sapa do a phenomenal job

My guide Bau is a young lady, married with 3 beautiful children. Her sweet mom, “Momma Lily”, lives with them and helps to take care of the kids. Bau works very hard and is dedicated to providing a better life for herself and her family.

During the summertime, the family plants rice on the steppes of the mountain surrounding her village and during the low season, she gives tours to provide the family income. Just like the majority of the women in Sapa, they are expected to work and help care for and provide for the family. 

They will take great care of you. They will hold your hand whenever the rain comes and the mountain’s path gets muddy and slippery. They will cook from scratch amazing meals. They will wake up before you to prepare the best breakfast before a long day of trekking and they will share everything they have with you…their home, their families, and even their clothes and shoes. 


6. The locals in Sapa want to interact, and also, learn from us

Our host was so curious about my life and culture. It was incredible to exchange our life experiences.

When we were done trekking for the day, we just sat around the fire interacting, entertaining, and learning from our host family. We simply talked, shared ourselves, and appreciated the little things more than ever.

The kids are so curious about us and they pay close attention to our cultural behavior. They want to interact with you and they are extremely happy to share their house and playtime. I brought crayons and coloring books for the kids, and it was amazing to watch them color. They were so appreciative and they treated all the crayons and coloring books like precious treasures. They asked me to color with them, it was so much fun.

Sapa- Complete Ethical Travel Guide
The kids were fascinated by the drone


7. Life Lessons are the Best Part of Sapa Ethical Travel

Last, but not least on this list of Sapa ethical travel, is the opportunity to be back to basics!

It was amazing to hike among the gorgeous misty mountains. At the end of a long day of hiking in Sapa and learning everything Bau had to teach us about the area and the Black Hmong, we stopped to buy fresh ingredients in a village market.

When we arrived back at the house, Bau cooked the most delicious meal in the fire pit in the middle of the kitchen floor. While she cooked, I just spent time playing with the kids. I am surrounded by smartphones, tablets, TVs, and computers in my day-to-day life, and it was refreshing to see kids play together without the modern devices we so often cling to in the “modern world”.

Truly being there, living, and experiencing such a different life created memories (of moments and people) that are so vivid and profound. This was not something that I saw through a car window, passed by on the street, or watched on TV.

The abstract became real and I could see, touch, feel, smell and taste…I was in real life! SO ALIVE, doing what I love!

Everything you should know about Sapa
Sharing a meal and drinks with the bride and groom at their wedding party

Sapa - everything you should know about trekking and homestay
Hmong ladies in Sapa

Sapa- Complete Ethical Travel Guide

About my Guide and Friend, Bau

Bau lives a simple life, with limited options compared to my life. It was very profound for me to ponder this, and to wonder if simple is better. It is really a life-changer experience.

Bau’s English is excellent. She learned by herself and working with tourists is how she practices and improves. I remembered she couldn’t read or write in English beyond a few basic phrases, but since I gave her a Vietnamese/English dictionary and she has been practicing, now she can also write and read in English. She just amazes me!

Based on our conversations, she impressed me as not only a strong, intelligent woman but also an entrepreneur. Her dream was to build a bigger house so she could accommodate her guests in more comfort, without losing the experience of a homestay, and not long after I visit her, she was able to build her dream home. And guess what! After 3 years since I met Bau and her family, she has built a beautiful home – all with ethical tourism!

Bau and I became friends and we communicate every day, and even on a very stressful and busy day, she can help me to slow down for a few minutes and to put a big smile on my face anytime when I get the message “Paula, I miss you…when am I going to see you again?”

Until next time my friend…until next time 🙂

Everything you should know about Sapa

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Sapa Ethical Travel Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this article about Sapa ethical travel and have found the information you are looking for. Yes, it is possible to visit Sapa and help the local families, and actually, they need the job as a guide to help to provide for their families.

After my experience with my Black Hmong family in Sapa, I adopted the family, and even during the pandemic, when they didn’t have any source of income, I was blessed to be able to help to provide for them. Now that Vietnam opened its doors for tourists again, I am so happy to be able to share my experience and to help to send tourists again to have the amazing experience of trekking and homestay in Sapa.

I really recommend you to read all you need to know before you go on a homestay in Sapa, as you will learn exactly what you need before you go, and complete the 3-day hiking in Sapa article I wrote to help you to understand the itinerary.

If you are interested to hire Bau as your guide, please leave a message here and I will share her contact information – Also, after you go on your Sapa trekking and homestay,m I would love to hear about your experience too!

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20 thoughts on “Sapa Ethical Travel: 7 Reasons You Should Book With an Independent Guide”

  1. Hi!
    I would like to get in touch with Bau. I know all too well how important it is to hire a local guide directly. I am a tour director and know how little of the fees we pay trickles down to the locals.
    Thank you!
    Best regards
    Sonja
    FB: sonja on tour

    Reply
    • Hi Sonja – Thanks for reading my article and for your interest on my friend Bau, she is a great guide and I hope you have an experience of a lifetime in Sapa!

      Reply
  2. Hello ! I’m interested in doing a one day trek here in sapa. Can you please provide me with contact information for Bau ?

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Hello Kelita – thanks for contacting me. I am sending you Bau’s contact, she is a great guide and a very kind person. I wish you safe travels!

      Reply
  3. Hi Paula! I am interested in connecting with Bau for a 3 day 2 night tour, would you be able to give me her contact information? Thank you in advance. I also want to thank you for writing such detailed posts about traveling in Sapa, I’ve read a couple of them already and they’re all so helpful!

    Reply
    • Hello Hualy. Thank you and I am glad you found the information helpful. Hopefully you will also have an amazing time in Sapa with Bau and her family.

      Reply
  4. Hi Paula. I would love to do a tour with Bau can you please send me her contact details. Really enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hello Richard – Absolutely I can share it with you and I am so happy you enjoyed the post. I hope you have a phenomenal time in Vietnam, and enjoy your trip to Sapa. Say hi to all my friends there, please.

      Reply
  5. Hello Paula! Thanks for sharing your experience in Sapa, it’s been really really usefull. Could you please share with me her contact? Thanks in advance!!

    Reply
  6. Hola Paula, felicidades por el Blog y por explicar con tanto detalle tu experiencia. Vamos a ir en setiembre a Sapa y me gustaría saber si me podrías facilitar el contado Bau u otras personas de allí para la experiencia. ¡Muchas gracias!

    Reply
    • I am glad you found my email and that you are interested on go hiking with Bau. She is amazing and will show you the best of Sapa. I sent you an email with her information.

      Reply
  7. Hi Paula! I would love to do a tour with Bau on my honeymoon. Can you please send me her contact details. Really enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Hi Paula, enjoy reading your post and thank you very much the information. I would like to contact Bau for my trip to Sapa in Sept.

    Reply
    • Hi Agnes – I am so glad to hear you found my article and it is helpful for you to plan your trip to Sapa. I sent you all the information to your email. Let me know if you need anything else. Safe travels!

      Reply
  9. Hello, thank you very much for sharing your experience, it is very helpful for those who are going there next!
    In my case, we’ll take the night bus and will arrive at Sapa at 6am, we will stay there the whole day and will leave the following day by 2pm, so 1 day and a half in total.
    Do you think this is enough time to do a trekking and book a homestay with a local lady? If so, can you share Bau’s contact with me?
    thank you

    Reply
    • Hello Judith – I am glad you found my article helpful. I think it would too short for you to hike and do homestay at a village, considering the hike there will take a half day, and the hike back to Sapa town another half day. What you could do is to hike to the homestay, spend the night to have the real experience of living with a Black Hmong tribe, and try to find some locals who could take you back to Sapa town by motorbike. If you do this, it would allow enough time for your hike and one night experience at a homestay. I will send Bau’s contact by email.

      Reply

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