Located in Vietnam's remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity.
Sapa is an incredibly picturesque village that lies in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps".
Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam. However, as a result of a recent surge in popularity Sapa has rapidly become a tourist hotspot where money is the new drug of choice. Don't be put off by the rush, your explorations of the surrounding countryside will be worth the trouble.
Many ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong and the Dao, live in and around Sapa. Many older women in particular make items such as ethnic-style clothes and blankets, to sell to tourists. Striking up a conversation with them can be very rewarding. Sadly, however, doing this in Sapa town itself will sometimes lead to a scrum as a multitude of vendors taste a potential sale.
Children from these ethnic minorities begin to earn a living as soon as they are five years old. They often peddle small metal or silver trinkets, embroidered pillow cases and friendship bands in the main town, and they walk for about 3 hours from their villages to reach. Some of the "richer" ethnic women sometimes take a one-hour motorbike ride back to their villages at the end of the day.
Girls as young as ten years old can get married and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. This is especially the case for the more beautiful ones. Poverty has led to a majority of girls who leave their villages each day to go to Sapa town and to have only one meal per day.
Bear in mind that some of the minorities do not wish to have photos taken of them. Ask permission beforehand.
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