Having visited Vietnam before and failed to reach Sapa, the beautiful rice paddy region in the North, it became my priority to visit this time around. Day 1 of my 2 day hike there proved that my desire to visit this region was totally justified as I trekked through 12km of hilly, lush rice paddies with picture postcard panoramic views as far as my eyes could see.
My guide led me eventually to a Homestay in a small village tucked into the side of one of the many valleys there, here I met other travellers who had been hiking that same day, and who I was told I would join with the following day to complete the trip back to Sapa town. Although weary, we all enjoyed a good meal and a few drinks at the Homestay before taking our well-deserved rest for the night. The next morning started without incident as we enjoyed an early breakfast surrounded by stunning scenery and my new guide talked to us about the potential routes back that we could take that day.
However, confusion started as we put on our backpacks and went to leave the Homestay, only to discover that the door had been padlocked! On asking the guide what was going on, I realised she was visibly shaken as she told us in pigeon English that she would not be taking us today and we had to wait there, whilst being locked in, for a new guide to arrive!! She then burst into tears and walked away – leaving us locked in and stranded!
Although we were worried for our guide, we also knew it was both unrealistic and unacceptable to simply accept this scenario so along with another member of the group I went to try and talk to her again. The owner of the Homestay was angry and shouting at her and she was still visibly upset but by speaking slowly with her, we realised that she had got passes for us to walk the trail, but had given them to another guide who had left with another group! The Homestay owner needed the passes to let us through and didn’t believe the guide had purchased them. We were told another pass was $3, this had already been included in the price of the original trip but if it meant freedom we were happy to pay again, (even if I did suspect that I was being faced with another scam on my travels)
However, our guide insisted we must not pay for more passes, as the owner will then have won and then keep doing this to her and the groups she takes there. A moral dilemma then! but this did not help our short term situation of being locked in.
When it was evident we were at a standstill, I spoke to one of the other guys about taking matters into our own hands and trying to escape!! The fence and doors were made of bamboo so probably not completely durable. In addition, although it would have been possible to climb over the side, slipping while doing so could have led to a very painful injury and a jump over the side would result in landing in a rice paddy flooded with thick muddy water which would have covered us from head to toe! I opted therefore that we should use a bench from inside and carry it to the front door, climb through the gap (which would be tricky but possible) or use the bench as a battering ram which would take down the door itself, even with my limited muscle power behind it! Luckily however, when the owner realised what my plan was she decided to free us whilst shouting a tirade of abuse in Vietnamese to us – either that or she was complimenting me on my initiative, I was pretty sure it was the former.
The farce however was not quite over, as the guide was still upset and saying she just wanted to go home. Luckily one of the girls in the group took the softly, softly approach and convinced her to at least lead us all back to the town. In any case, we had lost so much time during the stand-off that it would have been difficult to complete the longer hike we had planned, so she was happy with the compromise. On our return to Sapa we were greeted by an extremely apologetic tour guide owner who proceeded to compensate us by feeding us (twice), and giving us free drinks! So perhaps the shambles of the morning had been worth it?