We have stationed ourselves 1500m above sea level for the past couple of weeks and briefly spent a day at 3142m last week. (Read it here) Although it isn't as hot as Hanoi or London at this moment, it still feels like 30 celcius when the sun is out while you're hiking up a mountain. The evenings have been generally cool (around 18-22 celcius) and it is the best time to take long walks or hang out in the town square.
I think being in a more rural area has taught us to look up and around more. We've learnt to pause and appreciate the flora and fauna around us, watch the sunset and savour the cold breeze. It is as if God the artist decides to magically transform the same scene on the canvas differently every day.
Having caught up with school work, sleep and blogging we decided to head out for a good hike yesterday. We walked a total of about 7km with climbed down 245m and made 200m of elevation gain. We are super proud of the two kids because this is not something we do a lot. In fact, Gwyneth spent half of her life growing up indoors. I'm not sure if there's a correlation, but both kids are EXTREMELY afraid of insects and animals. They instantly panic when they see dogs or cats move in their general direction. I'm thankful that the majority of free roaming dogs in Vietnam are very calm and mind their own business. In fact they are so well behaved that they put to shame many of the out-of-control, leash tugging and aggressive pet dogs in Singapore. This has helped so much with positive reinforcement that not all creatures are out to harm them.
EXPLORING CAT CAT VILLAGE
We decided to visit Cat Cat Village that is about 3km from the Sapa town centre in Lao Cai province, northern Vietnam. We walked all the way from the town centre and was a little sweaty. The inclines are quite challenging and you get ALOT of traffic zooming past you. It can get quite muddy if you've had a downpour as the erosion flows onto the road.
The village is a kind of a living replica tourist village that shows the H'mong people's culture and traditions. I know of many reviews that talk about how this isn't an "authentic" home of the H'mong people and it is just a tourist trap. I think that regardless whether you visit the hill tribes at their "real" home or not, the experience will be curated. All places that cater to tourism will alter themselves to meet tourist needs in one way or another. There is no need for us to be too critical about it. After all, the operation of this village benefits the H'mong people financially, provides jobs and bring attention to their art and way of life.
We enjoyed ourselves seeing the beautiful architecture nestled in the hills. Summer is the best time to see the really enchanting rice terraces. The waterfalls and river adds beauty to an already picturesque location.
Do note that the entire village is in the mountains so you'll have to climb MANY steps. Prams and Wheelchairs won't work here. If you suffer from mobility issues, you may want to pay for a taxi or electric buggy to take you to Cat Cat Village and back. They tend to not run their meters for this destination. This is one of the ways you'll get scammed! We'll touch on some how we can avoid these scam tactics in habit!
Here in the village you'll find shops renting out traditional costumes for tourists to get dressed up and take photos. You'll also find the H'mong people at work creating their traditional fabrics and handicraft. There are functional waterwheels, and a dried up bank of the river that allows you to get close to the water to get more pictures!
Pretty idyllic eh? Do check out this hilarious reel we made about the reality of the country side:
Now this was when it got difficult. The sun was setting and shining in our faces, we've already walked for at least 3 hours. It was uphill all the way back to the town centre. The cabs, buggies and motorcycles are scamming tourists between 150,000 to 250,000 dong for a 10 minute ride back to town. (The usual price is about 75,000-85,000 for that distance). Drinks cost more at the exit because you are thirsty and you need the drinks.
We bit the bullet and climbed uphill for a while before we found another taxi that agreed to take us back to our accommodation at a regular price.
HOW TO AVOID SCAM TACTICS WHILE TRAVELLING
When you are travelling there is no escape from meeting taxi drivers, food establishments and shops that will try to scam you. It is however possible to avoid being scammed! Here are 3 simple points to help you game these scammers and make your trip a lot more memorable for the right reasons!
1. BE PREPARED
Scammers thrive on our knowledge gaps and attack in our moments of vulnerability. Being prepared is the best way to avoid this. How can I be prepared?
- Read up on your destination
E.g. Scammers pretend to tell you that the destination is closed and want to transport you to visit another place for "free". They can pretend to be officials asking for additional fees to enter the attraction etc...
- Pack water and some emergency snacks
Far too many shops don't put on price tags on their items in tourist areas. They WILL sell you items at exorbitant prices.
- Get small change by using your big notes at safer establishments like in the airport or convenience shops.
Taxi driver and shop keepers like to use this tactic to cheat! You hand them a big note and they will pretend that they have no change.
- Take photos and videos of the condition of vehicles/equipment you rent BEFORE LEAVING
"Sir, madam you damage the car/jetski or motorbike! Pay money!". This is a very common tactic to extort money from you. Always film or photograph an item before you begin the rental. Most reputable rental companies provide a checking form where the rental agent will do a walk around with you and mark the existing damages before the rental begins. If it really boils down to getting the police involved, having evidence is always better than having none.
2. AGREE ON A PRICE FIRST
Scammers like to deliver services and goods without clear indication of prices. Once you've consumed the items or used their services, they will extort as much money as they wish
If you need a taxi or other forms of taxis, tell the driver your destination, agree on a price or insist they use a meter. Never hop on and hope for for the best price.
Always check the prices of items you purchase. Note down what you consumed! Make them weigh items in front of you.
3. WALK AWAY
-Agreed on price but still try to extort more
It isn't fool proof even if you have agreed on a price. Transport or service providers may still try to extort you with additional fees, surcharges or whatever ridiculous charges they can think of. Learn to pay the agreed amount and to walk off!
If you have luggage in the taxi/transport, the escape plan is to ask him to open the boot before you settle the payment. One person unloads, next person just gives the agreed amount and then politely say no more money and walk off into the hotel or mall.
If you are buying something and the price drastically increases at point of payment despite negotiation, learn to walk away. You don't have to buy from someone who wants to scam you.
-Don't have exact change and person refuses to return change
Sometimes we have to learn to cut our losses. If it really doesn't cost us much, don't risk fighting over change. Just let it go and walk away. You are in a foreign place and you won't know if they might pull a knife or gun on you.
-Ignore touts/people who pester you to buy things on streets
Ignore them and walk away. The more you engage them, the more chance you'll give them to manipulate, scam, rob or pickpocket. Sometimes I do feel like it is something rude to do but that is actually the best way to protect yourself.
Always remember don't fly, soar!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org