Onto the overnight sleeper train we go on our way to Sapa in northern Vietnam. We made friends with the couple in our booth on the train and they shared a drink and some food with us. We booked a trekking tour from Hanoi which included the return train trip to Sapa, two days of trekking and an overnight stay in a hill tribe village. This meant we didn’t really see much of Sapa which is unforunate because it seemed like a very pleasant city set in the beautiful Vietnam highlands with cooler temperatures compared to the low lands further south. The trekking was through some of the most stunning scenery we’ve scene in Asia with rugged mountains dotted with villages, deep valleys, rivers and vast areas of terraced slopes for growing rice. One disappointment were the hill tribe children trying to sell stuff. Usually in our trekking adventures in other countries in Asia the children would want to practice their english with you and be all smiles and would continue playing with their friends whilst you walk through. On this trek through Vietnamese highlands all the children repeated “you buy from me” in a depressing flat voice as they tried to sell small handicrafts. Try to engage in friendly conversation and you are seen as a potential sale with many children surrounding you repeating the same mantra.
Excluding the train, our tour cost about AUD$35 each and there were around 8 people in our group, so total revenue was about $280. We learnt that the guides earn about $10 for their two 14 hour days they work guiding the treks. That’s $5 a day or 36 cents an hour. Much of the remaining $270 we assume goes to the pimp who organizes the tours. Our guide showed us her house. She lives in a rickety old wooden shack with dirt floors and no furniture. Makes you feel a bit guilty like you are exploiting these poor people for a bit of fun whilst the rich get richer.
After the trekking we had an hour or two to walk around Sapa and have a quick drink with some people we met on the trek before heading back down the mountain and jumping on the overnight train back to Hanoi. We arrived in Hanoi very early in the morning so we walked from the train station to town to kill some time. We tried to get breakfast on the side of the road but Sharni was very grumpy and wouldn’t tolerate getting ripped off. So instead we went straight to our hostel ready to check in as soon as the doors opened. We stayed the night in Hanoi and then went on another tour, this time a couple of days tour through Halong Bay.