Sapa, with an elevation of 1500 meters has been a cool retreat from the heat and humidity of Hanoi and the surrounding area since the early 1900’s.
Military and missionaries arrived in the late 1800’s then the first French civilian took permanent residence in 1909.
Inhabitants of the Sapa region date back hundreds of years with little known of the first civilization other than hundreds of petroglyphs they left behind. Then came the hill tribes, Hmong, ZDao, and others.
Today those hill tribes are still seen everywhere around Sapa dressed in their traditional clothing.
Because Sapa is a tourist center and the people of the hill tribes are relatively poor they are constantly seen around the village selling textiles, trinkets, bracelets, as well as their own vegetables, bamboo and other goods including knives they forge themselves. Sellers, mostly women, are aged anywhere from 2 to 85.
On my most recent trip I spent a few days around Sapa getting to know the area and the people of the region.
If anything I’ve learned in my years as a passionate prolific traveler, it’s to be empathetic. I’m not a master but with every journey I believe I get better.
The hill tribe women will come off as being very aggressive and will follow you sometimes as you walk around the town pleading with you to buy something. It’s quite easy to feel pestered and ultimately frustrated and annoyed. Keep in mind that they are not trying to get money from you to make a car payment, buy a nice bottle of wine, or a new pair of designer shoes. They’re trying to put food on the table for their family. To buy the essential needs for survival.
It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone that comes to Sapa buy something from everyone they meet. But when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment the annoyed and frustrated feeling tends to fade away.
I’ve found that a smile, a compliment, some respect, and maybe even sharing a laugh goes along way to create a much more pleasant environment between myself and local people and also allows me to say no without them losing dignity. And yes, occasionally I will buy something. But I can’t say yes to everyone either.
Can you imagine though, having to go out walking around your town everyday with a bag of goods, hoping you can sell enough to buy your kids some food or clothing. Or sending your 3 or 4 year old daughter out into the streets to sell bracelets so she can do the same.
Join me in this two part series of walks throughout the village from previous live streaming broadcasts of my recent trip to Sapa, Vietnam.
I am a broadcaster, photographer, writer and videographer with a passion for travel throughout Asia. I love making connections and engaging with people. I am spiritual and seek adventure wherever I go.
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