'Helpful' Trekking Companions Will Demand Payment
When we were trekking with our guide through the mountains around Sa Pa, before very long we were joined by three or four women, one with a baby on her back - very delightful. Our guide was not too impressed, said nothing, but his body language was negative.
The local women, in traditional dress, made conversation with us - where you from, I be your friend, how old are you, I walk with you...
As we walked the path (which was clay, wet and quite slippery) became quite steep and it took a fair amount of attention to walk it because it was slippery. The friendly walkers suddenly started to grab our hands, to assist us on the slippery path. Without wanting to be rude to them, I tried to say no, no I was fine and could manage. They kept taking my hand, which put me off balance and annoyed me - I like to do things myself and if I get a muddy bum I don't care...! It was tricky because we did not want to be insolent or rude. I asked the guide to tell them to let me walk on my own and he did - but they hung around. he said afterwards they said they didn't know what he meant...
At the end of this first leg, which was probably the first 2km, the guide said they would go, as the path was no longer the slippery clay. But before they went they stridently demanded payment. The Guide was not impressed as he said, we had not asked for their help nor contracted for the service. We did pay them something because they had helped our daughters...but if we'd had some sticks to walk with, no help would have been necessary.
The guide said that some trekkers like to have the locals provide this service and others don't - so I guess it puts him in an awkward place, not knowing whether to tell the women to go or let them stay. He said that it shouldn't be a surprise demand for payment at the end. Well, to be honest it wasn't that much of a surprise to us - we had a fair idea after a short period of time, what the deal was - but it was fairly hard to get a message across that the help was not required or wanted!
Unique Suggestions: Either enjoy the attention, take the assistance and be happy to pay them a small amount - this was in fact what we did because our daughters did in the end appreciate the help.
Let your guide know early and firmly, that you prefer to walk without assistance. And keep backing it up directly with no thank you, no thank you, no thank you - while smiling, smiling, smiling.
Fun Alternatives: Be aware from the start that a good solid trekking stick is pretty helpful in walking on the paths at Sa Pa to give you extra purchase as you walk (not to beat off the helpers!!) - it doesn't have to be anything elaborate but something that will just give some assistance with balance - a bit of extra stability.
Wear good boots.
Enjoy the locals, by all means, but be alert that they aren't coming along for nothing.
Not another blanket...
The first thing you'll encounter in Sapa will be the numerous Hmong women trying to sell handicrafts. If Vietnamese people are gifted in convincing tourists to buy stuff from them, it's nothing against the Hmong! They will easily follow you half of your trek to present their goods - blankets, bracelets, necklaces and so on...
While this is their only way to profit from the tourists' visit to Sapa, it is highly annoying. The women, especially the younger ones, are fluent in English and they never ever give up until they sold what they intended to sell. I was followed by a girl for 3.5km until she eventually managed to sell me that blanket!
Unique Suggestions: Quick way: Buy something and flee as fast as possible! - Disadvantage: Others who see you buying stuff will attempt to sell you theirs, too.
Slow way: Go on trekking and start haggling! This is quite likely to ruin your trek as you will hardly be able to enjoy nature anymore, but you might manage to get a good price.
Fun Alternatives: There is no real alternative - the only way might be to go where only the elder women go: Their English skills are generally not as good so that they give up earlier...
PS: Read the story of Nghu, the Hmong girl seen on the picture, in my travelogue!
- Arts and Culture
- Hiking and Walking
Bac ha markets
Do not book this tour through the Pinochio hotel. A large group went on this tour from the hotel. On the way to the market, our driver was on the phone a lot. Lots of tourist buses were coming back. When we were 25kms from Bac Ha, he informed us that the road wasn't passable, so we couldn't go to the markets. Another tour group there, were arranging a cruise, ours, did nothing, dropped us back at lao cai at mid day to wait 9hours for the overnight train. I learnt from a tourist with another group, travelling about 10mins behind us, that they Knew the road was impassable when were were at lao cai in the morning. The tour group this person was with, went to another market. Our group didn't see any of the local people because of the disorganization, and we all thought the fact that they took us so far was so they wouldn't have to refund our money.
Unique Suggestions: Do not book with the Pincochio hotel
Fun Alternatives: Use a local travel agent.
Persistent Vendors in Sa Pa
Sa Pa is becoming a bit of a mecca for tourists, if it not already this, and the locals certainly make the most of it. Tourists really do stand out. They flock around tourists, with small bracelets and embroidered bits and pieces, even wanting to sell you their old clothes (which are their traditional dress).
They ask your name, they ask where you are from, they ask you to promise that you will buy from them. And they are very very persistent.
Unique Suggestions: If you buy - definitely don't in the first hour you are there.
Have a look around and get a feel for what's about. Look through the Markets area and the stores and have a good look at what is being offered by the vendors. You'll get a relative impression of what's on offer and the quality and prices.
Be aware that these cute and bold children are excellent sales tools...
But most importantly - enjoy the whole thing and take it in your stride. The bracelets are pretty cheap (don't expect them to last) and part of the experience of being there. They're trying to make a living and no one forces you to buy anything you don't want to in the end!!
Fun Alternatives: I thought that there was much better quality materials and workmanship inside the stores - for sure they are a lot more expensive too, but you get what you pay for.
The rugs and items being offered by individuals on the street were pretty thin and roughly put together. The clothes they tried to sell me were none too clean.
Can Cau Market tour
Do not book this trip through the Pinochio hotel. A german man booked the tour for himself, the cost $70 for himself & the driver and van. I Joined, so the price should have nearly halved, it didn't, I paid $60. We went to the markets, we were meant to be shown around Bac ha town, we weren't, we were meant to see the Chinese border at Lao Cai, begrudgingly they took us, only because of a phone call complaining about not seeing what we were supposed to.
Unique Suggestions: Book through a travel agent, or go on an organized tour.
- Road Trip
Sapa - A Tourist Trap
After spending about a week in Hanoi, Vietnam, I decided to take a short trip north to the town of Sapa. An overnight trip by train brings you to Lao Cai, a town about an hour from Sapa by van. Ominously the parking lot was full of tourists vans.
Sapa is known for its terraced rice fields that are tended by the local natives who still wear their traditional costumes. At least that is what is advertised. The truth is that the area felt to me as real as a Walt Disney street, Mickey Mouse and all. At the start of one of the trails, not far from the center of town, is Hamrong Mountain, where you will actually get to see an oversized figure of the Disney icon, together with Tom, of Tom and Jerry fame, the cartoon characters. The trail gradually goes up to a lookout point, but is often lined with vendors inviting you to buy their wares.
Another trail, which can be reached by a long hike or by motorbike, goes to the small village of Cat Cat inhabited by the H'mong people. After paying an entrance fee, one is again met by various vendors along the way selling “authentic” souvenirs. The views of the rice fields are quite nice, but one is constantly distracted by the merchants and their wares. In addition there are unemployed men standing by their motorbikes continually calling you to use their services. It is true that one sees the locals wearing their native costumes, but I could not help but wonder if this was for the benefit of the tourists, rather than a personal preference.
The town itself is mainly lined with stores selling souvenirs, a few cafes, and lots of hotels. Whatever historical buildings once existed here were apparently destroyed by war.
All in all one gets the feeling of being in a gigantic Kmart, without the benefit of the Blue-light special. By definition the town is a tourist trap, and I would not recommend that you go out of your way to see it like I unfortunately did. Thumbs down for Sapa.
Vietnam Impressive Travel - Simply the Worse!
Vietnam Impressive Travel @ HOAN KIEM DISTR - Simply the WORSE! VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL travel agency located at 32 Ta Hien St Hanoi, Managing Director/Tour Manager (Mr.Tony Anh) shameful and deceitful method of manipulating its ranking on TripAdvisor.
Below is the review rated terrible we repeatedly post on TripAdvisor but is continually being deleted.
Went with my wife and 2 teenage daughters from Singapore on a 3D/2N Sapa Treble Markets & Walking Travel Package booked through VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL tour agency at 32 TA HIEN ST Hanoi (Tour Booking Ticket Nos: 0001807).
On the first day ( 24 October 2014) after trekking in the rain, wet and covered with mud we were told at the 3 Stars Sapa Elite Hotel that there was no bookings done DESPITE THE FACT that we paid our deposit (23 September 2014) and confirmed our booking with VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL ONE MONTH IN ADVANCE. We were downgraded to rooms at the 2 Stars Grand View Sapa Hotel, which we quickly rejected before being transferred to another hotel. Our hope of a hot bath and rest came only after nearly 3 hours of unnecessary travelling and shivering in the cold environment due to VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL incompetence service. We were not informed of any hotel booking problem when we paid our balance payment (19 October 2014) to Mr.Tony Anh at his office on arrival in Hanoi. When my wife called and complained to him about the discomfort and inconveniences, he insulted her with “IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY, DON’T GO ON HOLIDAY WITH US!” before hanging up the phone.
Things deteriorate from Bad to Worse the next day when our Vietnamese “Tour Guide from Hell” provided by VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL, 23 yrs old Mr.Gia cancelled our itinerary stated 5 km mountain path trekking to Ban Pho village without providing any reason. Thereafter, he harassed us to visit places not stated in the itinerary and to pay exorbitant transport prices. We end up walking around town with our trekking trip canceled, as we were unwilling to give in to this kind of “Tourist Scam”.
Next morning after breakfast at 8.00a.m we were informed by Mr.Gia that lunch will be served at 10.00a.m. After lunch, we must depart Bac Ha town and travel DIRECTLY BACK to Lao Cai town reaching there at about 1.00p.m and thereafter wait approximately 6 hours for our 7.35p.m train back to Hanoi. Again, this is contrary to the itinerary which states that after our 12.00p.m lunch we will take a walking trip to Ban Pho Village and thereafter a boat trip on the Chay River before we reach Lao Cai town at 6.00p.m for our dinner. We believe he is getting bolder after being able to get away successfully with the unauthorized cancelling of our 5 km trekking yesterday afternoon. When we insisted on going for the Chay river cruise, his answer was “the river water level is presently too low for boats to travel”. As we could smell a strong liquor odor from him, we deliberately asked if he has been drinking and he even have the audacity to reply that he is suffering an alcohol hangover from yesterday night drinking.
During lunch at Ngan Nga Hotel in Bac Ha we were served with rotten Vietnamese spring rolls and upon complaining to VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL tour guide Mr.Gia, his answer after checking with the cook was “the spring rolls were freshly made this morning BUT unfortunately the ingredients were decayed”. Thereafter, there was neither an apology nor substitute food but just a smile from him before walking away. A few hours later, 2 out of 4 persons (my wife and teenage daughter) fell sick with abdominal pain and diarrhea.
After our numerous complaints, we were finally brought to Chay River and as expected, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the water level and many boats were cruising around.
Overall, what was supposed to be our Dream Sapa holidays was transformed into a Nightmare Journey by the incompetence, uncaring and deceitful tour guide provided by VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL who harassed and stressed us out. We strongly believe that VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL has to bear a greater part of the responsibility.
Instead of confirming the genuineness of customer complaints and thereafter take remedy actions, Mr. Tony Anh of VIETNAMESE IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL simply scolded my wife for complaining, then they DELETE our TripAdvisor review rated TERRIBLE. When we continue complaining, they started to bully and intimidate us with threats. They shamefully undermine disgruntled customers “right to give their fair comment if a tour did not meet their expectations“ with their shocking and deplorable business practices.
WARNING: Muppets are running VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL tour agency at 32 TA HIEN ST Hanoi in Vietnam.
We sincerely hope the Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, Vietnam Competition Authority, Vietnam Tourism Association, Vietnam Society of Travel Agents and The Hanoi Department of Planning and Investment whom we are complaining to will take the necessary effective actions to stop Vietnam Impressive Travel from damaging the tourism business and good reputation of Vietnam.
To validate the bad review of our awful experience, attached is a copy of our tour booking receipt from VIETNAM IMPRESSIVE TRAVEL.
- Hiking and Walking
- Family Travel
Absolutely agree with dawgon, above. That does sound steep. There are many travel agencies or traveler's cafes in Hanoi that offer a 3NIGHT/2DAY trip up to Sapa and you'd save quite a bit with them but you do need to choose wisely which agency you go with because there are quite a few that skimp on services with such things as claiming to deliver a good train berth/sleeping compartment and then claim at the last minute that sleeping berths weren't available, etc.
With regards to Vietnam, sometimes you get what you pay for so if it seems too inexpensive to be true, then . . .
One agency that gets good reviews consistenly is Handspan. They charge more but they've got the infrastructure with their own vans, boats, etc. (not train) and usually deliver on service.
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