‘You buy from me? You buy from me…’
That phrase has entered our vocabulary since my photographer-husband, Gordon and I, made a recent trip to Sapa in the far north of Vietnam.
There is a ‘frontier town’ feel to the place. You can be shopping for the finest silk dresses or heritage silver jewellery, then step outside and see water buffalos strolling up the centre of the steep main street, with the traffic simply making way for them to pass.
The town has a wide range of restaurants and cafes, some serving Italian fare, catering for what has become a major industry here – tourism. It’s like a ski village without the snow, although the climate is a little cooler because of the elevation – around 1600 metres.
Actually it’s more like a ski-village without the snow but with touts, as you can hardly move for women in colourful local dress, each laden with a basket on her back, crammed with handcraft. Often there’s a baby wrapped on to them too. They are so intent on selling their cross-stitched, hand-loomed goods that I bought a cushion cover from one after much persistence (hers). Later, when I looked carefully I discovered it was uneven and smelled strongly of the open fire by which she must have stitched it during the long cold evenings.
On our second day in the hill country we hiked to a local village. While the distance was only a few kilometres, the trail was greasy and slippery as we descended into the valley (OK, I admit, I did some of it skidding on my backside). At every turn there was yet another view of rice paddies and terraces, misting away into the distance.
We clambered over log bridges, skirted a quarry and for a while walked with a band of little children who chanted over and over: ‘You buy from me? You buy from me….’, the last word descending downwards, developing into a little pout. They wanted to sell us bookmarks and bracelets, anything we would take, and were relentless in their sales pitch.
They needn’t have worried, though – after all, we’d already ‘bought’ the whole concept of this scenic slice of another age and culture.
What is the most remote place you have visited?
Check out more of Sally’s travel writing here.