“Buy from me! No! Not the same as one you already have. Same-same but different!”
Sapa is a small town so high in the mountains that the streets are perpetually covered in a sheen of mist and cloud. The entire region, when you can see through the clouds, is simply stunning. Miles of soaring mountains surround small villages where local hill people tend to the scaffolded rice terraces that were created by their ancestors over 2,000 years ago. It’s magical.
Sapa is also a huge tourist magnet and the local people have learned exactly how to rid you of your American dollar.
From the minute you step into town, local H’Mong and Red Zdao women try their best to coerce you to buy their handicrafts. They follow you down the street, escorting you to a restaurant as they pitch their story, “I get married at 15! I have three babies!” The ladies compete with each other, shoving earrings and bracelets towards you shouting, “Buy from meeeeee!” They run after tour buses and stand in doorways, waiting for unsuspecting visitors to exit before attacking them with embroidered pillowcases and purses. These gorgeous women are rapacious!
While many people take a tour bus to the villages, we headed off to explore the countryside on our own. Suddenly it wasn’t just the two of us – we had attracted the attention of three local woman and they began quietly following in our footsteps. The silence was broken when women began to talk, asking the same questions over and over and over.
“Where you from!? How old are you! You no look so old! How many babies you have!”
It was clear that the H’Mong women were going to stick with us for the entire day, hoping to sell some handicrafts at the end. Our own private sherpas…
The women led us down the mountain, easily maneuvering the wet landscape in flimsy jelly shoes while carrying huge bamboo baskets of handicrafts. It was only slightly embarrassing to see local people nimbly run past us as we slipped and fell through into huge puddles of standing water. It became obvious that I was not in peak physical condition when tiny woman with a child on her back pushed me up a steep, rocky hill.
After several hours of hiking we reached the village where we introduced to relatives, visited wood homes and negotiated a fair price for the handmade goods that we were destined to purchase.
The same thing happened every day as we explored the surrounding villages. Each time we would set off on our own, and suddenly a flock of women would surround us, asking us the same questions, showing off the same handmade goods, inviting us into their homes. The local people may come from different tribes, but they all have the same sales method!
We came to Sapa hoping to visit the hill people and instead found ourselves on private tours – personally escorted by from village to village by entrepreneurial women whose beauty rivaled that of the Sapa hillside . We visited the homes of local people, met their children and petted their pigs. How could we not spend a little money in exchange for such an experience?
Hopefully my loved ones won’t mind the matching blue purses and exact same “hand embroidered” pillowcases that I plan to offload on them.