Welcome to Sapa

By McKayla

     As our bus pulled in to the beautiful mountain town, we were swarmed. Every street we drove down turned heads and the feet shuffled immediately after us. When we came to a stop, 30 or so hilltribe women were around us. I could see them out the window, hear the murmur of voices get louder as each passenger got off the bus. 

      When we came to the door, looming 3 steps above the crowd, it was hard to ignore how cute they are: dressed in bright colors, scarves on their heads and fabric wound around their legs, standing not even 5 feet tall. How could tiny little mountain women be so intimidating? Maybe the shear numbers. I took a breadth and made for the luggage area below the bus. As Nate rummaged for our packs, three stood around me, echoing the same questions.

      “Hello… where you from? You go on hike tomorrow? Where you staying?”

      I turned from person to person, firing off answers to each. When our packs were finally on, we darted in the direction we knew our hotel to be in. But we were followed. One 20-year-old girl attached to me and one to Nate. Drilling us with questions nicely then pressing me to commit to hiring her to take us to her village. She held out a note pad, wanting me to write down our information. We had just arrived, I wanted to get to know the area before I committed to hiring this girl. We couldn’t shake them after three blocks so we ducked in to a cafe for coffee and hot chicken noodle soup. 

      The air was crisp, clouds hung low, like crowns around the mountain peaks. I could see my breadth in the open air cafe. It felt good to be cold. It felt like home. 

      Thirty minutes later, we got our packs back on and continued toward our hotel. The two little girls were still there, waiting for us. We chose to try to avoid them and stayed on the opposite side of the street.  

       “They are following us. They waited for us and now they’re going to follow us to our hotel,” I told Nate. 

      “No way! Really? If they cross to our side of the street then we’ll know they’re following us.”

      A few steps later, they crossed. So we crossed, too, making an X with our paths. It was hard not to laugh at our predicament. We were being tailed by two adorable little H’mong ladies. We thought about ducking into a different hotel and pretending that was ours so they couldn’t stake us out during our whole stay, but we decided against it. 

      We finally walked up to the Golden Plaza Inn and marched right up to the front counter. The gal working peaked around us and saw our little shadows waiting right outside the door.

      “Did you just get off the bus?”

       When we confirmed, she gave a knowing smile and took us to our room. We unpacked then peaked out the window. Sure enough, they were still out there, waiting for us. We turned on the TV and watched a cartoon or two. After another 40 minutes, they gave up and left. 

      They were nice and spoke English well. I laughed at the situation all night. You gotta give it to them for their persistence. Maybe we would hire them eventually, but we wanted to get our bearings first. 

      Later, when we walked the town, we found a large sign with town rules. On it was one that asked to please not buy anything or any services from street vendors. They want patrons to use guides from established companies and to buy goods from the market in order to keep the town a pleasant place to visit. 

       I guess that solves that. 

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