My first day in Sapa was a total bust. Heavy rain, fog, and cold temperatures in the 40’s do not make for a “chipper jsun” in a hotel room with no heat. I prayed to the rain gods to allow us one non-rainy day to properly see Sapa which is known for it’s breathtaking mountains and endless cascading rice paddy terraces carved into the mountains (pic to come later b/c having issues posting it now). Sapa is also quite commercialized and touristy and every other store sells knock-off Northface parkas for a fraction of the cost. They must make a killing b/c every tourist I know buys these knock offs b/c it is so cold. I was elated to wake up to no rain b/c I signed up for day trek to see the hill tribes and by foot is the best way to see them. The hotel lent me rubber boots which saved me b/c it is muddy trekking and you wade through rice paddies and mud paths. I have conflicting feelings about Sapa. The landscape is gorgeous and the rice paddies delivered in terms of beauty (in the sun they must look stunning) but the trek was hardly a leisurely “one with nature” type of affair. From the start, you are deluged with a group of hill tribe women who follow you the entire trek which is several kilometers. The ratio is about 2:1 hill tribe women to tourist. They are friendly and ask where you are from and your name but you keep waiting for the ball to drop and for the “hard sell.” And believe me, it comes.These women can sell and know every tactic in the book. It is a lose lose situation. You feel like a jerk if you ignore their attempt at engaging you in conversation but you also also are never going to be able to appease all of them in terms of buying. There are just too many of them! We arrived at the first Black Hmong village for lunch and then the very aggressive hard sell kicked in. The woman who had been tracking me the entire time and conversing with me turned to me and said “Now, you buy from me so I can go home with my baby (she had a baby on her back) and eat lunch.” And you feel bad but then you remember you never asked them to follow you the last 6km. I bought a silver bracelet from her for $11 but then you are swarmed by more local women demanding you buy from them and growing indignant when you don’t. You eat lunch and a new group of women follow you until the next Lao Chai village another few km away urging you to buy from them, telling you how far they walked, and I couldn’t help but grow a tad annoyed. I bought a pair of earrings from one for $2 to make her scram but I felt weary when I ended the trek and it had little to do with the actual walking. It was the constant barrage to buy, buy, buy that wore me out. It tests your patience and these vendors are everywhere! In fact, one is staring at me with her forehead pressed against the hotel window as I type this on the computer in the lobby asking me to buy a scarf. I’m glad I got to see Sapa. The surrounding landscape and rice paddies are really amazing. Every tourist who steps foot in Sapa will get the “full Sapa treatment” and it is an inevitable part of coming here. I didn’t find it a very comfortable experience but some people are better humored about these things. I just prefer the hill tribe trekking in Laos where you are mostly left alone and it feels like a more organic experience. I head back to Hanoi tonight by night train and head out to Halong Bay tomorrow morning.