Love & Hate in Sapa

Hmong in Sapa-1

Hmong in Sapa-3

Hmong in Sapa-2

There is really no arguing that the villages and environs surrounding Sapa are all well deserving of their reputation as having some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in all of Vietnam. And that the Hmong, Dzao and Thai ethnic groups that comprise a large portion of the regional makeup are among the friendliest and most striking people in all of the nation. Even from the first ascent, some 40 kilometers swirling up the mountainside, one has the sense that they are somewhere special. You move quite literally into the clouds. I remember vividly my first trip to Sapa five years ago. The excitement hasn’t ebbed since.

Though it should be said that it’s different now. There have always been touts and hawkers and relentless women selling their wares on the streets and in the central square, but these days it’s getting more and more difficult to escape it, to find a single place for a moment’s respite. At every turn, you’re bombarded with someone trying to sell you something. Want to have a nice cup of coffee outside while looking over the grandeur and beauty of the little mountain town? Fine, but you’ll spend half your time telling people you don’t want any trinkets or pantaloons or blankets or bracelets or mouth harps. Fancy a bite to eat at an open air restaurant? There are several, but I hope you like your food with a few dashes of “You buy from me?” every two to five minutes.

It never stops. I understand why it happens. I know the yearly earnings of a rice farmer in this region. But I don’t know. Something about it still irks me. Maybe if I could just have a meal in peace it would be alright. More coherent thoughts on all this later. Plus the questionable authenticity of trekking to villages and spending the night in “local houses” in the countryside.

12 thoughts on “Love & Hate in Sapa

  1. Beautiful and vibrant photographs! I love the expressions. I can understand your feelings on not having a moments respite. That would ruin a visit for me.

  2. I agree that the photographs are gorgeous. And I understand the love hate thing, too. Not to compare Tijuana with Vietnam, but the incessant hawking of wares sounds similar. I don’t think anything can be done about it, but it does turn me off to a place and makes me think twice about visiting again. Sometimes you just want to chill and enjoy and not engage in never-ending verbal sparring.

  3. I could not agree more with the sentiments expressed in this post. I was in Vietnam not too long ago and someone actually told us not to go to Sapa if we didn’t want to encounter the non-stop hawking of “indigenous” crafts by the locals. It’s hard to say no to someone when they have a daily income that wouldn’t buy you a pack of gum in America. I’ve never felt so simultaneously guilty and empathetic, yet annoyed in my life as I did in Southeast Asia, particularly near Angkor.

    On a more positive note, I absolutely love your photographs.

  4. Beautiful photos. Thank you for posting them. I’ve never been to Sapa but my mother, who grew up in Hanoi used to spend her holidays there. I’ll go there some day for sure.

  5. Thank you everyone for the comments. It’s nice to know I’m not losing my mind, and that other people feel similarly. I still had a wonderful time, and I still think Sapa is one of the most beautiful places in all of Vietnam, it’s just that I would be remiss not to point out these (very) annoying aspects of visiting the town.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s