Thursday, 17 June 2010

Time for goodbye

It's my last day in Vietnam and to be honest I'm pleased. It's been hot. It's been hectic. It's been hassley. And I'm ready to leave. Vietnam is the most beautiful south east Asian country I've visited but there's something missing. It's taken me until my last day to put my finger on what that is.

I'm in Sapa, a hillstation in the country's north west. It's cool here (at last, a day under 30C) and absolutely beautiful: terraced rice fields slope high up the towering green mountains, their tops dipped in cloud. Soft pearlescent fingers of mist curls around the balcony in the morning and I'm sleeping under a duvet at night (bliss after 8 weeks of airconditioning).

The people here are a mix of Vietnamese and local tribes - Hmong, Dzao and Tay among others. The tribal people still wear their traditional clothes and, along with farming rice, have embraced the tourism industry with enthusiasm. They come up to you in Sapa to sell their handicrafts and to chat. They sit beside you, they ask you questions, they show you their products, they smile. It's surprisingly pleasant; good fun even.

Today I take a short, 7mile, trek through the countryside to see their villages. I walk down the thin irrigation lanes that line the rice paddies, past muddy water buffalo, up steep hills, along river banks and beside cascading waterfalls.

The tribal women follow along, chatting with me, telling me about their lives and finding out about mine. They are warm, welcoming and very sweet. And this, I think, is what's been missing for me in the rest of Vietnam.

It's naive to think that people see tourists as anything but a walking ATM. These women are seriously good salespeople - I am now in possession of two bracelets, a bag and a purse that I really don't need and have no room for in my bag. But selling is only a part of the game. They are also interested, warm and funny. Ready to laugh at themselves and me.

One girl (on the right in the picture) asks me why I don't have children. I shrug, 'It wasn't meant to happen,' I offer as an explanation. She tells me about her family and proudly tells me of her daughter's first day at school. Just 26, she has an 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter. 'I was very young when I first had children,' she says. 'But now I know all about it and I'm not having any more! My mother had eight but two is enough.' She's laughing but I sense she means it.

When we say goodbye later in the afternoon she runs off and comes back with a gift for me, a handmade cushion cover. 'For you my friend,' she says, then hugs me very tight and wishes me well. I'm really touched.

In the rest of the country the voracious desire to rid me of every last penny has not been the slightest bit softened by any warmth or interaction. The sale is pursued, made (or not) and that's that. There is no culture of smiling, no culture of service and no effort made to disguise their motives and at times their contempt.

Naturally I've met lovely people along the way but they stand out in my memory as exceptions. Perhaps with the distance of time I'll come to think more warmly of the country but for now I'm moving forward. Tomorrow I'm off to China...


  1. Sounds like you're ready to move on! Looking forward to hearing about China. My blog seems to have been hijacked by Chinese people posting seditious comments...! Take care and enjoy! xx

  2. Hey Trish,
    Really enjoying your blog! I feel like I'm talking to you over a beer hearing all about it... well, to be fair, I am having a beer while I read it! :)
    Looking forward to hearing about China.
    Take care.