The Women of Sapa

February 17, 2016 // Words by Katie, Photos by Kevin

Recently Kevin and I were sitting in bed when he turned to me and said “…women really are smarter than men.” After swooning a bit, I agreed. Indeed they are, Kevin. Indeed they are.

THE END.

Just kidding.

Truth be told, there was context to his comment, and it stemmed from our recent trip to Sapa, Vietnam. We had just spent three days trekking around the terrace fields of northern Vietnam, taking in the stunning views, enjoying homestays with the local people, and hanging out with our lovely guide named Su Linh, who no doubt prompted Kevin’s BRILLIANT insight.

Meet Su Linh!

You see, Su wasn’t just your average tour guide. Like many other women in the town, she had taken to guiding when the industry started to boom in her village, learned english thanks to a great program set up to employ and empower locals, but then set herself apart by starting her own touring gig thanks to her impeccable language skills, popularity, hard work, and ingenuity. Su Linh still can’t read english, but some inspired guests made her a website, and she’s able to answer emails with the help of her aunt, or by handing her phone to her guests to respond to inquiries. She’s booked constantly, and has taken on other employees to fill gaps when she can’t tour herself.

All this, while the men of Sapa aren’t necessary doing nothing, but aren’t doing a whole lot. Truly, 90% of the people we saw in Sapa that were hustling — selling goods, cooking, guiding, etc. — were women, while our interactions with men involved mostly drinking. Seriously: at one point, Su Linh’s husband couldn’t perform his only task of the day — which was delivering our bag to the homestay — because he was too drunk.

And of course, while it’s easy to puff my feminist chest with these anecdotal victories, the idleness of the men in Sapa isn’t entirely their fault. Farming, which used to be the main form of livelihood in Sapa, has shifted drastically as altering weather patterns and the booming tourism industry is reprioritizing Sapa’s economy and land use. So while farming is still important, it doesn’t support the masses as readily as tourism, meaning the learning curve has been hard — particularly for men and their shattered traditions. Many men have taken to building and other businesses, but the bottoms line is: the women of Sapa — who have embraced their future —  are running shit.

Simply put, the women are taking advantage of more global opportunities, educating themselves, and bread-winning all over the damn place. Not that these women’s lives are glamorous — Su Linh still lives in a two room hut without a toilet or running water — but she works hard and is dreaming big, confident she’ll get to run her own homestay someday. And most importantly…she’s proud of herself. IN FACT, there was a time when Su Linh was rejected by her boyfriend’s parents because of her size (she’s super tiny and they didn’t think she could carry enough. Uggghhhh), and it was only when she started making money that they deemed her worthy. She said “helllllll no” to all that, and got revenge in the form of more success (and guess who thought she was alright once she was making cash?). She now talks confidently (and sassily) about her success, and told us many stories about standing up to her naysayers. (Also, important to mention, Su Linh loooooves to gossip.)

All this to say, Su Linh— and the other women of Sapa — are putting the “power” in “empowerment,” using their education, and their lady-skills to transform their communities and their own lives.

So, basically, women are smart than men.

The end. For real.


Practical Info // If you’re in the Sapa region and want to connect with Su Linh about guiding, her information is here. It cost us about $80/day all-inclusive for both of us (food, housing, guiding, etc.) You can definitely show up in Sapa and get cheaper rates, but her English is better than most, and if you get in touch with her beforehand, you get to eliminate the bargaining.

And, just caaause, here are some more pictures of Sapa…

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8 Comments

  1. Hi Katie,
    Great post. Newbie here appreciating this story as I’d been to Sapa years ago and had the same observation of women carrying the load for the community. There are tons of stories like this of different women becoming entrepreneurs on the trails of Sapa. The intercultural communication and global education their getting front the constant exchange with tourists is awesome and I imagine the community will continue to prosper through all the changes. Hopefully the agricultural aspect of life doesn’t get shot. We’re currently in El Nido living and running a glamping site, The Birdhouse El Nido and see that tons of people would prefer to carry tourists bags and be on boats versus holding a backhoe and tilling rice fields. This is living a huge gap.

    Anyways I do appreciate this post and just wanted to say hi for the first time!

    Cheers,
    Mark

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the note, Mark. I agree — it’s great the tourism is providing new opportunities, but at the expense of agriculture? Ooh! I hope not! I suppose time will tell, but I so appreciate your perspective and experience. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

  2. Well of course women are smarter than men 🙂 No, not really 🙂

    And gorgeous photos. Not really familiar with Sapa, as I’ve only been to Hanoi and Halong Bay in Vietnam, but have definitely added it to my list of places to consider visiting as it looks like my type of place.

    Reply

  3. Greetings! Great post as always – really enjoy reading up on your travelling advice and adventures. Really awesome story about the empowering strength of women! Very cool read indeed.

    Reply

  4. wonderful photos and lovely reading!

    Reply

  5. Vavv. İts a great article. If I make money one day, I want to see there. Thanks a lot.

    Reply

  6. What a great thing to learn of such an empowered woman! Way to go Su Linh. She really knows what it means to live unstoppable! Thank you for sharing her story and the beautiful pics of Sapa.
    Cheers,
    Rhonda

    Reply

  7. I’m such a dope, I had to google Sapa after reading your title. To the question who run the world, men run it, would women do a better job, I don’t think so.
    I love it though that women’s in this community have it on a lock.

    Reply

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