Sapa is sharply stratified — almost all the businesses in town are owned and staffed by Viet Kinh, and the only trade the tribes do is on the streets in the form of handicrafts, fruits and vegetables.
The fact that the tribes continue to live a very basic existence is partly economic and partly cultural. To them, a rice field, a garden, some cattle and a stilt house are all the prosperity they ever hoped for, going back countless generations. Homestays in these same stilt houses are very popular, of course, though some villages are more ‘authentic’ than others. The most-easily accessed destinations feel more like ‘theme resorts’ for tourists, where they get to rough it local-style, though technically they are real villages. But if you venture to the more remote hamlets, they offer fascinating glimpses of lifestyles seemingly stolen from history
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