Urbanist Hanoi

BackHeritage » Vietnam » [Photos] On the Cusp of a Tourism Boom, a Pristine Sapa of the 1920s

[Photos] On the Cusp of a Tourism Boom, a Pristine Sapa of the 1920s

During the last decade of the 19th century, French colonists occupying northern Vietnam (then Tonkin) decided to conduct a census survey on the region’s ethnic minorities. The first convoys reached Lao Cai Province in 1898, and in 1903, Sapa Village was put on the map of Vietnam for the first time.

The name Sapa comes from two words, “Sa Pả” of the Hmong language; for much of the time when the French were here, the tiny town was known by the title Chapa, according to how the Romance language pronounces the Hmong name.

These black-and-white photos, taken almost a century ago, capture the decade when the nascent imprint of tourism started affecting Sapa. In 1917, a tourism center was founded there, a harbinger for the town’s future as a traveler hot spot. The first hotel, the Hotel du Fansipan, was established on the town’s main road, and a few others were under construction. In 1920, the Hanoi–Lao Cai railway became a reality, and hundreds of vacation villas were peppered across town.

Old maps showing the town in 1926.

Sapa and Lao Cai have long been the home of a handful of ethnic minorities, including Hmong, Dao, Phu La and Giay. From the 1980s, the mountainous town started seeing an increase in the Kinh population, who arrived to make a living doing small-scale agriculture and tourism services. As is the case with any tourism destination in Vietnam, Sapa faces the threat of unbridled, unsustainable urbanization brought about by the tourism industry.

Last year, Lao Cai officials expressed interest in building an airport for Sapa, the first phase of which would be capable of getting 560,000 guests into town per year.

The bustling activities of a market session by local ethnic minorities.

Hotel du Fansipan on the main road across town.

An expansive hotel compound under construction.

The office of the Stein Company, which operated transportation service in and out of Lao Cai for French colonists.

[Photos via Flickr user manhhai]


Related Articles:

Lao Cai Officials Want to Build Sapa Airport

Is Over-Tourism Threatening Sapa?

[Photos] A Child Wedding of Tay Ethnic Minority in Lao Cai in 1920s


Related Articles

in Vietnam

A Meandering Photographic History of the Red River and Long Bien Bridge

Upon its completion in 1902, Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge was the second-longest of its kind in the world — it was only a few hundred meters shorter than Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. 

in Vietnam

A Rare Look Inside the Hue Imperial Court in 1895 in Watercolor

'La cour de Hue' (The court of Hue) is a series of painting done by Nguyen Van Nhan in 1895, during the reign of Thanh Thai, emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty at the time.

in Vietnam

An Ancestral History of Northern Vietnam’s Railway Construction

We often see archival images of old Hanoi, but these photos are different - they are personal. The following shots, which come from a collection of five photo albums, are the only surviving record of ...

in Vietnam

New Proposals Suggest Repairing or Replacing Nam Dinh Cathedral With Replica

Back in May, a renovation plan to replace Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province with a newly built replica angered the public.

in Vietnam

Thong Nhat to Stop Producing Iconic Matchbox Brand Starting Next Year

Founded in 1956, Thong Nhat was one of the first factories built in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

in Vietnam

[Illustrations] Everyday Life in 1923 Northern Vietnam Through 10 Rare Sketches

It was a simpler time in Vietnam 100 years ago — just people going about their life without a single phone in sight.