Sa Pa is a fairly small town surrounded by mountains near the Vietnamese border. Leaving China was a bit shocking, even though there were many similar minority groups it felt very different. The Vietnamese and Chinese majorities act and treat foreigners very differently. A much larger amount of people spoke English as soon as I crossed over into Vietnam. Surprisingly, the minority groups spoke the most English which is their third language after their own and Vietnamese. Many of the children spoke enough English to carry on a conversation but admitted to only knowing a few words in Vietnamese. These were the people selling bracelets and embroidered materials in the street so they were the most industrious at learning anything that would help them make money. The children from the Blue and Black H?Mong tribes spent their days in Sa Pa selling bracelets and earrings to foreigners but they still seemed to enjoy themselves. Even if you didn?t buy anything they wanted to talk to you and ask questions about your life. This was in stark contrast to the Chinese peddlers who could be fairly rude if you didn?t buy from them. I spent a lot of time with two girls in particular, Sue and Dong, who showed me how they do their hair and talked to me about school and Dong?s boyfriend (which she denied to have).
Although it?s known for being a beautiful town Sa Pa is surrounded by mountains which causes it to be covered in fog the majority of the time. I spent one day hiking down from town (and away from the fog) through the rice patties and minority villages. My guide was a local Black H?mong girl just shy of her 18th birthday. She spoke nearly fluent English and was able to support her family by being a guide. Although most girls in the area get married by 14 or 15 she wants to wait until she?s in her early twenties. It?s obvious that the recent outside contact with Westerners has affected the tribes people. I am not sure what the town will be like in five years but it will definitely be more crowded–we saw the new road being blasted above us on our hike.