The ethnic minorities in the Sapa region are often looked down upon by the main Vietnamese population, well that's the distinct impression we got from our own observations and comments from our personal tour guide.
But despite, or perhaps because of, the harsher living conditions and social isolation these minority groups were often classically attired and well groomed. Whether the reasons for their efforts were to impress tourists in hope of a small donation or craft sale or whether it was out of sheer pride and tradition one can't deny their honourable efforts to etch out a modest living in one of the poorer regions of the world.
The lady with her child in the image above was sitting and waiting at a known rest stop along a trekking trail in the Sapa mountains.
Our guide asked permission (on our behalf) if she didn't mind us taking a picture of her and her baby – the woman readily agreed to the photo.
Nevertheless, this was not a photo opportunity for money as some people would assume, in fact, the lady requested we instead buy some refreshments from her small esky sized box stall as a gesture of goodwill. So we purchased a couple of snack bars before we continued on our trek.
Moments like this can easily be glossed over, especially by the bumbling tourist (like me) happy snapping their way through the third world like some exotic social theatre all put on for our entertainment, however, I do try to make a conscious effort when I travel like this to at least imagine what life is really like for others in the places I visit.
And this woman could have easily accepted (or even demanded) a small fee in return for a memorable image, for us anyway, but instead, she negotiated a sale of a tangible product and provided the "experience" for free. I think that is admirable…
Sustainability to me can mean many things and the way these ethnic minorities survive in Sapa Vietnam through maintaining and marketing aspects of their own culture is quite remarkable. Ok, I admit they aren't the only ones in the world showcasing their culture for a kickback and I'm not naively creating this post with that mindset but what they do does work and it is sustainable.
These types of experiences and the lessons in life it teaches me are more than enough reason to love travelling.
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UK – Check out the huge Orbitz Travel Website big in UK and USA for booking vacations.