Sapa Trekking Highlites

Sapa, May 14th 2010
Sapa bright morning sun pierced into my room. For the first time in all my travels I did not care much about sunrise. The day before I arrived, I checked my compass and was confirmed that I was standing right facing east. So actually I did not have to go anywhere so far to meet sunrise. Just get up and open the curtains. That morning, either the mountains in front of my window were too tall, or the clouds were covering the bright-sun-to-be, or I was too late, I could not get a sunrise view. So I went back to sleep and got up at 8:00. Cozy soft bed and warm sunshine. They almost made me cancel my trekking tour, because I simply was so reluctant to get out of bed.

On our trekking journey, we visited a local primary school. A huge photograph of Uncle Ho was hanging on the front wall of the school.

Apparently there were many tourists gathering at the school yard watching a children performance. I am wondering how could all groups of tourists gathered there at the same time and how did the kids know that there were tourists coming? Weren't they studying in class? Did their teachers tell them to got out at once and perform when they saw tourists coming? Was it a coincidence? Or had a certain tourist group ask them to perform? For sure, I wasn't told that we would visit a school. It was never mentioned in our itinerary.
Anyway, I was grateful for the chance. It was somewhat like a surprise. I loved to see the happy faces of these kids.
There was a charity box laid next to them.
The tourists, one by one, stepped forward to fill in the charity box.
I stepped forward also, to capture the kids' laughter...
before imitating the other tourists' act.

 Jumping rope. Who invented this game? It's exactly the same game I used to play when I was their age.

... and, with the tight company of the local tribes, we walked on.

It's me with the local tribe who walked side by side with me from the start. Surprisingly, she spoke fluent English compared to most of the Vietnamese I have met in all my first, second, and third trip to Vietnam. I asked her how come she could speak English that fluent. She answered that she learned it in school. I wonder what school was that? I think, all Vietnamese should go to her school. Especially those who are going to work in tourism industry.

I enjoyed our conversation along the way. She told me about her family and showed me her handwork consisting of handbags and bracelets. She started to knit since she was a small kid. But at that time her mom helped choose the colors for her.

At one point, she said that her house was several meters away. "Oh. So are we going to your house?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I will go home."

"Oh, I thought you were going to accompany us until the end of our trekking tour."

"No, we won't." She meant, she and her other friends. Each of us had a local tribe walking next to us.

"Oh, okay. Yeah, you must go home. Your son (she has a baby boy) might be looking for you," I said.

"Since we won't meet again," she said, "would buy these from me?" She handled out some stuffs of her handwork.

As I am not a tourist shopper, I rarely spend money on buying stuffs. But she seemed to insist strongly that I buy some items from her. So at last I went for a pouch and silver bracelet for the price of 40.000 dongs. It was a pouch to put in a cell phone which can be hung around the neck. Of course it won't be me buying anything without bargaining seriously. That 40.000 dongs was a price I had bargained until half the price she had offered me in the beginning. She seemed not so pleased when I delivered the money. I almost thought that I had underpaid her. But later on, several meters away, I found a local shop selling local souvenirs like these local tribes brought with them. I spotted a silver bracelet exactly like the one I had bought. I asked how much it was and the shopkeeper said, 20.000 dongs. I sighed to relief. I had paid for the right price.

Having the transaction done, she left my side. Then came her friends approaching me. "Buy from me, too," they said.

My Australian tourist friend approached a wiser (but more costly, I have to say...) way. He negotiated to buy one same item from each of the local tribe but... with a "suitable price". Coming to this "suitable price" seemed to turned into a long bargaining negotiation. 

Aha...! That's my chance to capture them all... Gotcha!

Scenery speaking, no difference with my country, I would say.
However, cleanliness speaking, I am impressed.

The path we walked was glittering under the bright sunshine of that day. We were walking on marble stones scattered along the way. I regret I forgot to bring one piece home. When I was a kid, I had one which I picked up on the road during my tour in Sumatra. The stones here were exactly the same.

Here's the famous rice terraces of Sapa.
To my Indonesian-getting-old eyes, this is actually nothing so special.
However, as I've described in my previous post:
it might have been the people from this land who brought the culture to Indonesia, my country,
long, long, long time ago.
Thus, similarity is no coincidence.

Plowing the land with the help of a buffalo was nothing new to me either. Buffalo has never been in my want-to-shoot list.  It has never appealed to me to capture a buffalo standing in the fields.

Oh ya, unlike the previous local tours I had joint in Vietnam, this time I was the only Asian tourist. It was very, very, interesting for me to see the Westerners being so excited about the buffalo. Many tourists from other groups that were trekking there asked their friends to take their picture next to a buffalo. One Western lady half knelt beside the buffalo to get her face next to the buffalo's face. She looked up excitedly to a pocket camera held by her friend. "Did you get it? Did you get it?" she asked over and over as if she would never meet a buffalo again in her life.

Back in Indonesia, I told this story to my friends and they laughed. I think no Indonesian would ever think to have a picture of their face next to a buffalo's face. This is one of the many reasons why I prefer to join a local tour in a foreign country instead of joining an Indonesian tour. Being with all Indonesians in one group of tour, I would miss such an experience. If I were with a group of Indonesians, we would probably just walked pass the buffalo. After seeing how excited the Westerners were with the buffalo, I suddenly realized that in spite of the abundant buffaloes I have in my country, I actually have no single photograph of a buffalo.

My embarrassing thing to admit as an Indonesian photographer:
The first time I shot a buffalo was in Vietnam.


  1. I like your article, I hope you will come back to vietnam

  2. Thanks, Tinh. Yeah, I wish so much that I'll have the opportunity to visit Vietnam again. There're still other places in Vietnam I wish to visit.