Mountain View Hotel, Sapa (Vietnam)

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Sapa is chilly. I’ve been unable to find a thermometer but there’s a definite chill in the air, if a breeze blows I get goose bumps. It’s probably only 20 degrees, but after having about 30 degrees for the last 2 and a bit months you notice the change. I decided to check out how high it actually is using the GPS. It gave me 1433±12m ASL, the reason why the error’s so big is that I was only able to get 5 or 6 satellites, not the usual 9 or 12. Amazingly the barometer was only 1m off! There is a dense cloud today and visibility is poor. It’s drizzling so I didn’t go for a stroll with my camera this morning like I’d planned.

Sapa is nice, but I’m not sure if I agree with it, it’s one of those places that tourism has destroyed. Outside each hotel about 4 tribal women sit on the steps dressed in their eye-catching colourful garb. They are waiting until a tourist comes out of the hotel and then they try to get them to buy a weaving or silver trinket. It’s degrading and sad to see. You can’t walk 10m from your hotel without a local (non-tribal) asking you if you want to hire a motorbike for the day. There is an endless procession of minibuses back to Lao Cai or going on day tours honking their horn at people in the street. They’re usually 17 seat Transit vans with air conditioning. I fear Luang Prabang, Sam Neua and Chang Mai will be like this soon. Chang Mai is, it’s just diluted by the large city population. Strangely it’s Laos that is leading the way with 'Eco-Friendly', low impact trekking - but I fear it’s not enough, it’s still happening, just slower. In a few years there’ll be no such thing as a tribal village that doesn’t make most of it’s money from tourism. It’s like a Darwinian diagram of the evolution of man from chimps, they are in different stages but the end result will still be the same. There’s no turning back for them.

You also need to look behind the scenes. It’s the women and children out begging for tourists to buy stuff - the men are back in the village sitting in a circle drinking and smoking (usually marijuana) together. That’s the harsh reality. The kids start begging as young as 4 years old and by the time they’re 14 they’re usually prostitutes (if they’re in a big city like Vientiane or Hanoi) as it pays well. This is what happens when you have no social infrastructure and tourists flaunt/dispense money for the merest whim. There’s no hope, in my eyes.