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Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

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Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

We are travelling to Vietnam in June, and have planned a 2 day/1 night trek.

I have heard horror stories about the local women "helping" you along the way, and then very high pressure to buy their highly priced products.

To be clear, I don't mind supporting the local people/local economy and I do understand that tourists are their livelihood. But I'm worried that we will be harassed by many people expecting us to buy things after their assistance on our walk. I've been told that it may not just be one helper per adult in our group, but potentially many more hangers on.

I really dislike conflict and pressure and would just like to enjoy the countryside without feeling uncomfortable. I would pay substantially more for the trek to not have to worry about this!! So much so that I'm wondering if we should not go to Sapa and go elsewhere instead.

I would like to know how people have got on with this, what was your experience? Did you feel harassed by multiple people? Were they pleasant or aggressive? How much did you end up buying from them? Was it Ok to say no thank you to their help?

Cologne, Germany
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1. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

I have not been to Sapa but it's the same in many very touristic places all over the world. Tell them friendly you don't need help and you are not interested in buying anything. If this is not accepted, ignore them.

Maybe go with a guide, he will know the way and how to handle the situation.

rural West Aussie
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for Perth
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2. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

Whatever you do, do NOT say anything along the lines of "maybe tomorrow" or "maybe another time". They WILL remember you and they WILL remind you of what they consider a promise.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
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3. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

I found it very uncomfortable to be followed in my footsteps. Back then I spoke virtually no Vietnamese and the silence and the not knowing what was expected was unsettling. I am not seeking to repeat my trip to Sa Pa anytime soon.

Hanoi, Vietnam
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4. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

People attempt to "help" tourists in many places in Vietnam - worst of all are those helpers in train stations. The least of these problems are in Sapa, in my opinion. You have to realize that there are damn few jobs available to these people, and they are so kind and smiling in Sapa, that I leave feeling a little guilty that I couldn't help a little more. Basically, not a problem at all.

Munich, Germany
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5. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

We were followed by a small group if Hmong ladies on our 8km trek in Sapa. The path was steep and slippery. Many of us incl me slipped a few times but the ladies helped us a lot. They gave me a hand when it was slippery or when we had to cross the river.

They were so cute talking to us and even made us hearts (out of the grass). They accompanied us for the whole tour of 3-4 h and when we departed they asked whether we want to support them.

Its not much.Maybe a bag for 100.000 vnd (less than 5€!!!) or bracelets for 1 €...

I bought them because they helped me but it was disappointing to see how cheap other were. They were helped and didnt want to support the helpers. Reminder: Hmong are very poor and dont have any other jobs than selling handcrafts.

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6. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

We found it quite a strange experience but still a good one. We too were followed for a good few miles but as above, when the path was steep or slippery they helped us and were genuinely kind which was in a way a privilege to engage with people so closely who live such a different life to my own. As already said, don't promise anything like "maybe later" as they do take that as a sign to hang on. On onetrip we said those famous words and the next day got shouted at in the market as we had bought an item from a stall and the lady saw us and ran across saying we had promised her and were bad people! In my view, it's all part of the Sapa experience, some people don't like it. If you do go, take time to talk to the ladies who walk with you, and don't take it too seriously. If you really feel it will bother you, then maybe Sapa is t the place for you. Having said that we have been followed, and harassed in lots of places, including Vietnam but we are polite, we smile, we as no thank you and have never felt threatened. Occasionally it has been annoying but when it is I remind myself of how hard these people have to work to earn a few dollars and remember that they have far more right to be there than I do. Just my opinion.

Toronto, Canada
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7. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

I was there about 2 weeks ago.

Met a different group of women (about 8 - 10) each day as we took different routes. These women make the walk into Sapa and accompany groups till they reach their village. Other than a few of them asking what my name and where I was from, they pretty much stuck to themselves unless we were crossing a more difficult part of the trail whereas they would split up and provided a hand if needed.

The first day, even though the distance was longer (15 km), it was fairly easy so we had little interaction or help. Until our lunch stop whereby we were surrounded at our tables as they were hoping we'd buy something so they could go home and have lunch themselves. It was uncomfortable. Some of us bought, others just turned away.

I also think that most of us were happy to be at lunch finally (2:30 pm) and was just beginning to relax, so being suddenly surrounded took us by surprise and could explain the irritation that some in our group had. If you say in a kind way, "No, thank you", they did not push. You could tell the disappointment because they would have walked a long way that day. Nothing they were selling were expensive (150K).

The second day (7 km) was far more challenging due to elevation changes and all of us at some point appreciated a hand. More people from our group did buy, not necessarily because we needed anything, more as a gesture of thanks. Because there is sometimes a significant language barrier, the way they may come across might seem harsh i.e. I helped you/walked with you so you help me/buy from me.

Personally what bothered me the most were the groups of children from villages or rest stops that would run after you with bracelets and would moan and whine the same sentence over and over again. That can be overwhelming. Our guide just said it was "normal" and that the children aren't in school because they make more money begging. He discouraged us from buying from them.

Should I return, I would not purchase my package through a Hanoi hotel but through privately run enterprises like Sapa O'Chau or Sapa Sisters so that the fees go directly to the local people. No guarantee you won't be followed though.

I enjoyed Sapa, the town, the crazy train ride, especially the treks and would go back.

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8. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

I`ve just returned from Sapa with my girlfriend and was not overly impressed with the experience overall. With regard to being hassled/followed on the trek, we had heard about this previously and told our guide that we are happy to talk to any of the locals but would not buy anything. When they were told this they immediately left and moved on to another group. This allowed us to enjoy the trek more so than otherwise would be the case. We also asked to go on the harder trek which is less popular and thus less hawkers. We rarely saw others on the trek on our first day.

We did a home stay but wouldn't necessarily reccomend it. While in the end we had a good time over dinner and rice wine with the host family (note: the only child did not live there as was studying at a school in town), initially we were not made to feel overly welcome and there was very little to do from when you arrive at the home stay around 2pm until dinner. We did a private tour but I think a slightly larger tour would be good for additional company and to help deflect hawkers.

9. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

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10. Re: Sapa... local people "helping" on trek

Hello. Besides the challenges of the Sapa women selling things why were you not "wowed"by Sapa? I've heard it's very pretty but far. I chose Mai Chau Valley but was thinking of Sapa for my next trip.

Thank you