Date: 01/06/2007 | Author: Gabby

I had really mixed feelings leaving Sapa - a hill town close to the Chinese border that is the premier tourist destination in North West Vietnam.
It's surroundings are incredibly beautiful - the terraced rice fields carved in the steep mountain side look like a work of art and the views are stunning. We had a lovely time there and did some great walks through the local villages with their friendly and diminutive H'Mong and colourful Dzao people. It was wonderful to escape from the oppressive heat in Hanoi.
The girls made great friends with 2 H'Mong girls, Chu (who said she was 6 and, although she was small, seemed older) and Ha (who at 15 said Chu didn't really know how old she was). Both of them spoke great English (learnt from tourists - Vietnamese is the language they learn at school - if they go). Ella and Florence had a lot of fun playing games with these girls and their other friends in the courtyard in front of our hotel.
The kids all appeared to be happy and were incredibly shrewd. Their ruthless selling prowess was well beyond their years. Still, I couldn't help but judge their lives by my own western standards and found it upsetting that someone as little as Chu (and she certainly wasn't any more than 8 or 9) spent days at a time not at home with her Mum and Dad. Her village was less than 10km from Sapa, but in the whole time we were there, she never went home. Instead she spent the nights sleeping in a room in town with Ha, waking early each morning to try and sell her cloth bracelets and other ethnic trinkets to the tourists. I just wanted to take her to our room and give her a good bath!
The H'Mong, Dzao and other minority tribes in this part of Vietnam definitely supply the colour in Sapa but their constant bawl of 'You buy from me, you buy from me' while amusing at first became a little bit grating after a while. And if we didn't buy from them (and we didn't because they had nothing we wanted to buy) they'd often be furious!
So, as we left the hill town and waved goodbye to Ella's and Florence's new found friends, I couldn't help feel mixed emotions at the effect tourism is having on the locals. I know it's progression and I'm sure the tourist dollar is improving the lives of many of the villagers, I just hope that the kids lives don't suffer in the process.

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