Something is missing in Sapa Vietnam
Travel to Sapa Vietnam, located around 380 kilometers from the capital city of Hanoi, over 1,600 meters above sea level and listed as a famous Vietnamese attraction, Sapa attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year to see the colorful of national costumes and unique cultures of the ethnic groups living there.
The number of tourists is booming, which results in economic benefits for the living standards, but also has some negative impacts.
Some of the uniqueness of the ethnic people is disappearing as traditional daily life is mixed with modern activities in the highland town.
We took the trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai earlier this month. Most of the 11 people in our group had traveled to Sapa before, but while we were preparing for the trip to Cat Cat Village in Sapa, one of the major travel destinations of the town, Nguyen, our tour guide cautioned us about some of the changes we might see. For example, villagers will ask visitors for money to take photos of them and children will also follow tourists on the street for the same request.
“Please, don’t give money to the children. If you wish, you can offer candy or a small gift to them. If you do that you will help the children loose the bad habit,” he said.
Cat Cat is a beautiful village in Sapa with terraced rice fields, a romantic suspension bridge spanning the stream and dazzling white water falls near the streams. There is much to see, and many places to wander through but some visitors expressed their surprise when the ethnic woman looked down when photos were being taken. “Are they shy? No.” If the visitors want them to show their faces and smile, the photographers must give them money or buy their products.
Some children followed the group during the trip, asking for VND10,000, and the vendors in the shops around the village also charged high prices; my friend and I bough two bracelets at VND25,000 each, down from the asking price of VND35,000, but they cost only VND15,000 in the Sapa market.
Travelers will also see many modern changes in Sapa town of Vietnam. The ethnic woman who sell tho cam (ethnic fabric) and souvenirs are fluent in English and they can talk to tourists and invite them to buy their products, the men wear traditional clothes and drive fast motorbikes on the streets, and the ethnic girls still wear traditional clothes but their long hair has come from professional hands in beauty shops. These girls also have cell phones to discuss their business.
In another corner near the Sapa Market, the ethnic people even sell second-hand traditional skirts to costumers. “If you stay here until Saturday, you will see some ethnic people dancing in the bar,” Nguyen said.
It is still interesting. And this highland town is so beautiful, and romantic. However, it would be more beautiful if the ethnic people did not pester tourists to buy their products or ask for money when having their photos taken. “Some tourists often give money to the villagers when they visit the village. It creates bad habits in these people. If we do some of the things I mentioned, we can change this,” Nguyen said.