Far from the chaos and madness of Hanoi’s roads the town of Sa Pa offers quite a welcoming contrast, furthers north-west capital of Sa Pa District and close to the border with the country’s biggest and most influential neighbour, China. The location is one Vietnam’s main attractions, popular with trekking, its hand sculpted hillside paddy fields are a wondrous sight. One sad aspect of the time I spent in this area was witnessing how quickly the local tribes people, and there are several different tribes, have taken to the growing numbers of tourists and the ways and means of extracting their money. From noisy good natured street bartering for locally produced clothing and souvenirs to the not so appealing haranguing and chasing of tourists, who more often or not buy something, anything to be rid of the bother. Not that such things bother the local Montagnards, some have grown rich on the pickings. But Sa Pa has many redeeming features, the hill tribes peoples the H’Mong and Dzao who come into town to sell their produce, every day of the week there is a market of some sort with a couple of main days when it seems every one in town is selling something. While the locals have not enjoyed the fruits of what we in the West know as a formal education, these people have quickly learnt the circumvention of a cash economy, and are no one’s fools. Lots of people, especially amongst the young have more than a few sentences of English, and of course there lingers the impact of French colonialism with the French language commonly heard in conversation.
If possible and the time is available, getting out to the more remote villages of the area, where tourism has yet get a foothold, gives a more, genuine insight and experience of the local culture. Can’t really finish with this region without mentioning visits to Cat Cat and Sin Chai, surrounded by seemingly vertical paddy fields that defy logic and should defy human ability.
Thac Bac waterfall at over 100m high along this same route was as breathtaking as it was spectacular.