Just Desserts

Sapa Travel Blog

 › entry 69 of 115 › view all entries
Ok - I know this is a horror of a shot - however, just bear in mind a few things: It was late at night on a sleeper train; I'm not fondling myself - honest; the photographer was not the finest (hence appearance of finger).
The mountain town of Sapa turns out to be a microcosm of my month-long trawl through Vietnam. It's pleasant and at times the scenery is stunning, but it is also marred by a volume of tourists and sellers that reduces any sense of an authentic travel experience to more or less zero. The women of local tribes, clad in traditional costumes, line the streets flogging the usual handicraft standards: brightly coloured bags, lighters, wickerwork, ornaments, t-shirts, hand embroidered sheets and the like. Their kids meanwhile pursue you down the street, cajoling, pressing, demanding (all in pretty decent English) that you should decide to buy something and if/when you do, then it should be from them.
Sapa from the park bit near the centre.

I blame myself somewhat for the lack of genuine experiences I've had in Vietnam. My indolence led me to the easiest and cheapest route from South to North and, despite warnings, I followed it, eyes half closed like a tourist zombie. I was overly-concerned about the budget all the way through and as I lurched my way north passing the occasional highlight (Dalat, Hoi An, Hanoi) I failed to stump up for a genuine taste of Vietnam. I should have avoided the cheap tourist buses, should have paid up for a 3 or 4 day motorbike tour with one of the Easy Riders around the mountainous midsection of the country. I did not and hold my hands up; I will feed you no excuses - I took the easy, tourist-heavy way and received my just desserts.      
This notwithstanding, I am not entirely culpable for Vietnam occupying possibly the lowest rung of enjoyment so far on this journey of mine.
Sapa scenery taken from near my guest house.
The other major reason was the cash hungry character of the majority of Vietnamese that I encountered. Before I continue I want to qualify that statement by saying that of course I met some nice Vietnamese people and I cannot judge the whole population because I obviously didn't meet them all. However my experience as a tourist was of almost constant hassle to buy something, anything, everything. I won't even go into the jokers who lie in wait to scam the unwary - they're there though; some easier to spot than others. 

Upon crossing the border, it takes all of about two seconds to realise that the People's Republic status of Vietnam is completely fatuous; the country is about as communist as Canary Wharf. Everyone is out to make a buck, or three if they can - and you, Mr/Mrs/Ms tourist, are target numero uno.
A grain pounding device. It's powered by water running down the hill through a local village. Ingenious and tourist-focussed.
Perhaps the best example I can give you is of the many times I passed by a shop or stall displaying a jumble of consumables - toothpaste, soap, chocolate, drinks etc. and, without my having shown so much as the merest smidgeon of interest, the owner simply said unsmiling: "You buy something?" and gestures to his random collection of wares. I said, all politeness "No thank you" and the routine would recur like a broken record as I walked past nearly every shop on the street.    

If you want a more intimate view of the people of Vietnam, I can heartily recommend Andrew X Pham's brilliant memoir Catfish and Mandala, a searingly honest story of a Vietnamese-American who returns for a bike trip through the country of his childhood. Pham pulls no punches about the character of the modern Vietnamese. He meets many individuals who help him on his tough journey on two wheels. However, the overall impression you are left with, upon finishing the final page, is of a hardened population who are, above all, grasping for survival via the medium of cold hard cash. In this respect, Pham's experience matches my own.

I know that many people in Vietnam are very poor and struggle to feed their families, but the same situation occurs across the developing world and I have yet to encounter a people so aggressive in their pursuit of money as the Vietnamese. Pham suggests that the country's bloody history and its people's constant scramble for survival has led to the current mindset. This could be close to the truth but, whatever the cause, it is a shame that time spent in a country that has so much to offer is often spoiled by entrepeneurial aggression.       
As I leave Sapa and set off for the town of Dien Bien Phu and a little-used border crossing into Laos, it's with a lightened heart. I'm more than happy to be leaving Vietnam behind. Laos has a reputation for laid back, friendly people who don't just see you as a walking wallet; Let It Be, as some old Scouse giffer once said.       
mybu84 says:
ug, sorry i thought it didnt load first time:(:):)
Posted on: Aug 25, 2008
mybu84 says:
it is weird how many time i have heard exctly the same... overall, i am sorry to say that 99%of people have negative experience with the country. It was deffinately the least enjoyable. so , looking on the bright side, it will only get better!:):0
Posted on: Aug 25, 2008
mybu84 says:
i agree with you about Vietnam. 99% of people we met had more negative then positive experience in the country and i am sorry to say that vietnamese are not the ones i am gonna miss. I am sure Laos will be better. Good luck:):):)
Posted on: Aug 25, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Ok - I know this is a horror of a …
Ok - I know this is a horror of a…
Sapa from the park bit near the ce…
Sapa from the park bit near the c…
Sapa scenery taken from near my gu…
Sapa scenery taken from near my g…
A grain pounding device. Its powe…
A grain pounding device. It's pow…
photo by: Paulovic