I loved Sapa at first sight. I have always loved it since the very first day I set foot in Sapa 5 years ago. Just something so pleasant about it that makes me want to get to know the place, what really lies deep beneath it.

Sapa is very famous for its mountainous landscape and hill tribes. The scenery is absolutely breath-taking. I can still imagine myself driving around the endless bumpy roads, mountains, and forests on the sides. It’s a sense of utter freedom.

Not only do I love the landscape but I also love the ethnic minority people and their culture. The majority of the people I met and worked with is Hmong people. Among themselves, there are several branches of Hmong: flower Hmong, black Hmong, white Hmong, etc. They are very nice, honest and friendly people that lead simple, modest lives.

I often walked around town and talked to locals. I made friends with a group of little girls who sometimes followed their moms at the weekend to town to sell handicrafts. They all were about 8,9 years old with bright eyes and beautiful smiles. Some of them were quite shy in the first place but once they got to know me, they asked me to play with them and gave me handmade bracelets.

The more I talked, the more I felt attached to them. One little beautiful shy girl named Su sat for hours next to me and talked about her family. Her dad is drunken. “He often beats me and my mom but I don’t understand why.” – she said.

Born in a family of 5 kids, they all have to work to support their family and the drunken dad. It was 7,8 in the evening and it was freezing cold. They were all walking on bare feet and wearing just one jumper. I asked Su whether or not she had dinner. She said: “No, we will after we get back home.”

Turned out, they walked to town early in the morning and just brought lunch along. At night, they would walk back to their village which is 2 hours away. She said: “All my friends, their fathers brought food for them and then drove them home. My mother and I have to walk back.” The other kids around were whispering: “That girl! The only thing her dad knows is to get drunk!”. Later, I bought some boiled eggs and sticky rice for them, hopefully, it was enough to cope with the cold.

That same day, I met another young girl, she was so beautiful. One of the most beautiful Hmong girls I’ve ever met. She was carrying a baby boy behind her back. At the age of 20, she had 3 kids already. But somehow she lost the oldest boy.

The youngest one with her was only 11 months old. Her husband left her so now she’s living with her parents. She said: “I really want to learn English but my child is still so small.” Late that night, the image of a little girl with a baby in the back, walking on the dark path in silence kept haunting me.

Sapa has become a great tourist attraction and last time I visited Sapa, it’s become so touristy. However, it is sad to see that the ethnic minority people still face great discriminations and judgments from the majority Vietnamese, the Kinh group.

Minority people still mostly live in poverty, earning a living by farming, selling stuff to tourists. Many kids drop out of schools early either because they have to earn money to support their families, they get married at an early age as their cultures allow it, or they can’t afford to walk miles every day just to get to school.

However, as Sapa is developing so fast as a tourist place, many youngsters now try to learn English to become tour guides or work in tourism and service industries, hotels, restaurants, etc. Yet, many people still look down on minority people and it is upsetting. I truly hope that more and more young people of ethnic minority origin will start to see the value of education and try to break out of the poverty circle.

I really hope that more and more young people of ethnic minority origin will start to see the value of education and try to break out of the poverty circle. I personally know many great talented Hmong kids that I hold dear to my heart who are studying hard day and night to change their futures and make the lives of their families, their communities better. I truly believe those will be the ones who lead and empower their minority communities.

All pictures are credited to me. All rights reserved.

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Posted by:Hanh Lam

I am a young Vietnamese woman with a passion for development work and social change, a desire to explore the world and a love for storytelling.

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