Many travellers had warned me on the way: “be careful in Vietnam, the locals are really unfriendly and dishonnest!”. At some stage I even considered skipping Vietnam alltogether and going straight from Laos to China. But finally, I thought I wouldn’t pay too much attention and give Vietnam a chance.
The first surprise came at the border town of Dien Bien Phu, when I ordered my first Vietnamese coffee and saw the owner of the bar arrive with a big smile, a cup of coffee and… a microphone! Before I knew it, I found myself singing Hotel California surrounded by delighted locals! That was certainly not a bad start! And as if that wasn’t enough, the owner of the cafe took me on his motorbike and took me around town proudly showing me all the local attractions.
The highlight of my two weeks in Northern Vietnam turned out not to be the world famous Halong Bay or the frenetic city of Hanoi, but the week I spent in Sapa. A new record of slowness was broken when entering Vietnam, my bus took 8 hours to cover less than a 100km ( a lot of it on a dirt road). The previous record was in Indonesia where it took 7 hours to cover 130 km, on a very good road that time but with an impressive amount of stops! However during these 8 hours I met a cool French guy, Remi, who lives in Sapa and proposed me to stay at his house.
Not only were Remi and his friends Nico, Flo and Claudio great fun, they also introduced me to plenty of local people of different ethnic minorities. These people are definitely what make Sapa so interesting. The whole town and mountains around it are filled with people from 5 different tribes dressed in their splendid traditional costumes.
They recommended me to take Mo as a guide for my three day trek, known by many as the most knowledgeable guide in town. Before leaving I insisted that she would take me to some more remote areas, not visited by the big tour groups. This three day trek will certainly remain as a highlight of my trip. The beauty of the local people and of the landscapes is unique. Unfortunately I’m not sure how long it will remain this way. The government is starting to build a huge dam and the damage that is already caused by these works is considerable. Whole mountains have been stripped of all their vegetation. Let’s hope that it is only temporary!
To sum up, this was a good lesson for me that people’s opinions can differ a lot. Sure Vietnam is very touristic and there must be a lot of dishonnest tourist touts. But what a contrast this is with the adorable yet proud Vietnamese people!
My next destination is China, all the way from the south of Yunnan to Kashgar near the Kyrgyz border, crossing the Himalayas and Tibetan areas on the way.
Check out all my pictures in the Vietnam gallery!