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.