No one told me there would be leeches in Sapa???

RTW: 2007-2008, Southeast Asia, Vietnam — By on September 28, 2008 2:30 AM

Nicole and I decided to escape from hectic Hanoi and spend a few days in the highlands of Sapa. We figured taking break from the loud and insanely hot city to enjoy cooler temperatures, beautiful mountains, rice terraces, and friendly village people would be just the doctor ordered.

How little did we know!

To get to Sapa we took an overnight train and splurged on a private cabin as we couldn’t be bothered to share such a small confined space with two strangers! To our dismay, we discovered our door lock was broken, but being the clever girls we are we were able to MacGyver our own locking system. Once I knew I was safe and secure in the cabin, I slept just fine as I can sleep anywhere, anytime! We arrived at the Lao Cai train station at 6 am, which is only 3 km from the border of China.

There was suppose to be a guy waiting for us outside the train station holding a sign with our names on it. Unfortunately he was 30 minutes late meaning we were harassed by the local taxi driver until he arrived. It was WAY too early for that game! Our driver finally arrived and we were shuttled an hour away to Sapa. As we came to a stop, our bus was immediately surrounded by the local ladies who made it difficult to exit the bus as they pounced on us and tried to sell us their stuff. I thought…OH GREAT, not here too!

We checked into our guest house, which turned out to have amazing views but no hot water (so Nicole and I didn’t bother to shower for the next 2 days)!

The first day we took a walk down to Cat Cat Village, home to the Black Hmong people. Nicole and I felt like the village was less authentic and more like Epcot Center at Disney World with the paved walkways and the villagers in costumes that we doubt they normally would wear if it weren’t for huge tourism industry in town. The tour did not feel authentic; however, the views made up for much of our disappointments.

The following day turned out to a more intense trek with even more beautiful views to be seen! Again, somewhat tarnished by the HUGE posse of village women that intercepted us as we climbed out of the van and followed up for the ENTIRE 6 hour trek! When I saw the huge group of women (there were 6 people on our tour and about 30 village women meaning each of us were surrounded by 5 of them at a time)! I seriously considered getting back in the van as I knew it was going to be annoying. And annoying it was. They stuck with us the entire trek, touching you, starring at you, begging you to buy stuff. I felt a little bad about ignoring them, but I knew from experience that the minute I started talking to one of them it would turn into a discussion of buying stuff and that is not why I was in Sapa! I came to Sapa to trek through the hills and valleys and see beautiful rice terraces and hopefully observe villagers from a distance as they went about their daily lives. I did not come to Sapa to be accosted by local women and pestered nonstop! I was very annoyed and decided the only way I would make it through the day was to put in my iPod and try to tune out everyone around me and try my best to enjoy the views. And such AMAZING VIEWS were all around to be seen!

My leech is looking back at me smiling…

We saw women dying fabrics in indigo…

We saw really cool rice terraces…

And cute little girls…

But MAN did these women make it hard to truly be one with nature! They were freaking relentless! It didn’t matter if I had in my headphones, they would pull on my arm and reach into my pockets. The worst was “my leech”, an older woman about 4 feet tall who attached herself too me early on and as Nicole said “she was on me like white on rice”! There was no respecting of personal space and boundaries! She was all up in my space and I couldn’t lose her no matter how hard I tried! I tried to run away from her and she ran after me. I stopped dead in my tracks and she stopped too. She was seriously like a little kid copying your every move, it drove me bananas! I even tripped on her one time as she got under my feet! Nicole found the whole thing to be very funny, easy for her to laugh as she didn’t have a leech! My leech kept trying to grab my hand or arm and help me climb over rocks. I made it clear I didn’t need or want her help but she never gave up. And I knew at the end of the day she was only helping me because she would later demand that I buy something from her. It was an exhausting game that I could never win and I just gave up and accepted that this little lady was going to be my leech for the rest of the day. Fun times.

I was very conflicted about the situation as I felt bad for the women as I know they were only trying to make a living and the tourism industry have totally exploited them. But I also felt that the constant harassment in town and on treks really took away from the experience and the beauty of the land. It really was quite a shame.

As our trek came to an end I was relieved to loose my leech as I got into the van. She remained outside the van starring at me and lifting up her bracelets and bags to the window for me to see. She was persistent, I will give her that!

It was very hot and I was tired from our six hour trek. We drove about five minutes down the road and realized we had a flat tire. We all had to get out of the van and chill on the side of the road until the tire could be repaired. I put on my iPod and rested my head on my knees. Then along some the women selling stuff again. One of the ladies started pulling on my arm and I looked up and told her “No thank you” and put my head down. She then proceeded to start to yank on my hat to pull my head back up. That was the last straw for me and I pushed her hands off of me. It was really just too much!

I couldn’t decide which was worse…HECTIC Hanoi or ANNOYING Sapa? I hated the feeling of anger and irritation that was building up inside of me from the month I had spent in Vietnam. I also developed a new love and appreciation for Laos. Laos is so much less touristy than Vietnam and everything is Laos goes at a slow pace and the people are so much friendlier than the people I met in Vietnam! Perhaps I had again hit that travelers wall or perhaps I had become jaded to the constant in your face selling of goods, attempts to rip you off, and lack of respect for personal boundaries.

Regardless…I decided it was time for me to leave Vietnam. The question was…where to go next???

To see my photos from Sapa CLICK HERE.

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  1. Lori says:

    Wow! It’s sounds like you were very polite and tolerant. I don’t know how I would have handled a situation like that. I consider that to be an excellent show of character and strength. And again, you are being a valuable teacher. lol

    good luck on your next adventure. I think I will probably never go to Vietnam, but your pictures were BEAUTIFUL!

  2. Dan says:

    You know, a can of mace can go a long way. I’m just sayin’…

  3. Dasha says:

    Oh man. I want to go to Sapa, but 1. It’s supposed to be super cold there this time of year and I am not wardrobe ready, and 2. That just sounds annoying! I wonder if there is somewhere else I could go to see beautiful views without harassment?? Any idea?

    But day 1 in Vietnam has been wonderful…

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