I began the day expecting to go trekking and do my own tour of some of the surrounding ethnic villages without the fee-laden help of tour guides and agencies but the steady rain that poured onto Sapa over the course of the morning changed my plan of attack. In a way it was probably for the best since my right hip had begun to ache after my recent fall in which I careened into the pavement. After some way way overpriced and unquestionably low quality pho manufactured by the hotel/guesthouse owner and I think I am a deserving judge of the subject, I was led to a mechanic that she (aka the owner of the hotel/guesthouse) recommended by my request since the oil needed to be changed, brakes needed to be checked, frame readjusted after that latest fall, and the unending chattering produced from somewhere on the bike. The guy gave me a thumbs up after checking (when I say checked it means he tapped this, touched that, without really prying into the matter) each thing I requested. Besides changing the oil, all he did was simply bend back the front of the frame to its original place which took perhaps five seconds yet he charged me 120,000d when a simple oil change costs at most 80,000d. Sure enough after riding a few minutes the noise continued but I had no desire to revert back to that mechanic. What did I pay him for? To get busy screwing me? 120,000d? That was some grade A bullshit. Oh well, life moves on. I’ve been ripped off worse before. I went riding off into the mountainous countryside to explore some of the ethnic villages near Ta Phin including the Hmong and Red Dao peoples. To even enter the area which were composed of some regular old local beat up streets, I had to pay 30,000d. What…a…joke! Since I had nothing else to do I paid the man. It is only a buck fifty in retrospect but it is the principal of the matter that gets me aggravated. I will say that I threw too much hate on Sapa undeservedly so but when you have such high expectations of a place this will happen. The area and valley are undoubtedly beautiful and likely more poetically artistic than Mu Cang Chai but the fact that is so overdone with tourism and the villagers losing themselves over the dollar deteriorates what this place should be about. On the surface it may still be the same old place but deep down inside we know it has already sold itself. I am telling right now that the views of the mountains or valley or rice terraces are inspiring on their own but one when put together they can leave anyone speechless. However, as pure as the nature can be the tourism has killed the mood for me. No matter how great it feels like it is getting shoved down my throat; I don’t care how good it may be, it leaves you with a bad aftertaste. When I pass the villagers (those living in the outskirts of sapa and apart of the various hill tribes) while I am exploring the beautiful nature they helped to create, they will do one of three things: try selling me something with their tourism perfected English, simply say ‘money!’, or look unpleased. Sometimes they look so unpleasant as if I had just punched their baby. While searching for the Red Dao village, the Red Dao women dressed in their village attire pulled me aside and showed me the way to their village. I already knew they wanted something from me but I went along with it anyways. After buttering me up with their questions about where I am from, my age, what I am doing in Vietnam, am I married, etc. the usual bit, they finally arrived to the root of their ploys and cause. They tried convincing me to take the traditional herbal bath, which is in fact a real thing, but with my cuts and bruises there was no chance in hell I was about to risk an infection. After passing the gardens and buffaloes, we arrived at one of the women’s home where they began making their pitches to get me to buy one of their “handwoven” fabrics (I am sure they are all the real McCoy and they have in fact put tireless energy into weaving each and every strand but by now I have learned to never belief anything someone says). I was already interested in buying something before I even met these ladies so I didn’t mind playing the game. One colorful handbag/purse caught my eye as a perfect gift for my sister so I asked the price. Initially I felt bad the lots that these women have drawn and how much work it must have took to make each one but that quickly subsided into hardcore bargaining. I stood mostly firm on my price. After showing the printed money to her and telling her that Ho Chi Minh (who graces every Vietnamese bill) said to accept my price, she agreed to the terms. Of course all the women wanted a piece of the action and tried selling me on each of theirs but I am afraid I can’t buy everything nor would a guy sporting a bunch of handbags create a flattering image for myself. I will admit talking with them despite their reasons for dragging me along was worth it. Their grasp of English was impressive plus learning some facts about their lives added on to the experience. In the end, it was the same old song and dance but with a different dance partner as their pleas to drag a white couple off their motorbike and along with them just as I had done before made my case. I explored more of the rice terraces but the bad blood could not be erased from my memory sadly. I do need to put things in perspective. Sapa is truly miraculously beautiful and worth the time and visit but greatly appreciated and valued my time in Mu Cang Chai more. Village people never tried to sell me on anything nor did they drag along their children as a pitiful excuse for me to buy something from them. It was sad watching them drag along their many children with babies strapped to their backs while some young boys dirty as ever curled up on popular corner streets to beg. Heck the kids in Mu Cang Chai hesitated when I even offered those lychees. I explored some more of the town and the nearby areas by foot and realized how sore my hip had turned. For dinner, I found a cheap buffet style setup that gave me a full plate of rice topped with various add-ons such as softly stir fried tomato and tofu, fish, spinach, and cabbage for under a $1.50 thank you very much. The key: get the hell out of dodge and away from the tourist center that will suck any wallet dry. Tonight was relaxed since I wanted to get an early start in my attempts to reach Ha Giang and a guaranteed hotel or guesthouse. With the time I had a picked up a couple cans of beer at the supermarket while also loading up on water to show just how cheap of a SOB that I am to squeeze out ever last penny. Hell I will bargain for every bit that it’s worth when I know the local price; out of principal alone I won’t spend a cent more than is rightly deserved. Sure enough they come around when they know I won’t play their game. Can’t finish a day and a post without another justifiable rant.
Riding Vietnam Day 185: The Famous, Yet Overrated Sapa Part 2