The old hill station of Sa Pa sits high on the edge of a plateau surrounded by spectacular scenery and the Hoang Lien Mountains, which boast Vietnam's highest peak, Fan Si Pan. Sa Pa functions as a market town and a gathering spot for local tribes who come into town to trade every weekend. The market is excellent for buying handicrafts and for watching the passing parade of a fascinating blend of people. Colourful tunics of the Dao and Giay people mix with the black and blue clothing and silver ornamentation of the Black Hmong tribe, while bright red scarves cover the heads of the Red Hmong who carry large woven baskets on their backs brimming with goods.
Vietnam is a country full of photographic opportunities. The landscape is diverse and includes a very long and beautiful coastline, karstic rock formations, and mountains. Because Vietnam is just doing its first steps in the modern world (unlike Thailand or China which are much more developed) there are still plenty of opportunities to observe traditional lifestyles and traditions. People have an amazing ethnic diversity and most like to be photographed. There is also interesting architecture all around the country, although it is not as spectacular as in other countries of South-East Asia such as Cambodia or Myanmar.
Now is a good time to visit Vietnam. Vietnam opened itself to tourism in the late 80s. At the beginning there were still a lot of red tape and travel restrictions, and the tourist infrastructure was quite poor. In the late 90s I found it easy to travel in Vietnam. The country is industrializing extremely quickly to meet the needs of its dense population. Things are changing very fast, in a few years, the traditional way of life might be gone, and uncontrolled development might have spoiled some of the finest scenery.