Sa Pa in northern Vietnam is famed for its plunging valleys covered in rice terraces and has become a modern tourism hot spot in recent years. Thanks to relatively lax building regulations, the town of Sa Pa itself is ballooning both upwards and outwards with haphazard building work littering the landscape. Stepping outside of the town however it is easy to see why Sa Pa has become one of Vietnam’s most popular and accessible trekking bases. Tiny ethnic hill tribes scatter the valley sides, farming the lands into beautiful terraced paddies set against a backdrop of sloping mountains.
The beauty of the landscape however was somewhat clouded when we happened upon a darker side of the effects of tourism on the local people in Sa Pa. The small town of Sa Pa only provided a resting point for us as we travelled up to the lesser known northern town of Ha Giang and so we only spent one day here however, as soon as we had left the comforts of the towns outskirts and began to explore the surrounding area of Sa Pa we were greeted with an enormous amount of child labourers. Many tried to sell us small bracelets while others had larger material goods. It was indisputable that for these children tourists were the target. Living in a country where it is compulsory for children to stay in school until they are eighteen and where child labour rates are extremely low and rarely seen, for me this was hard to see.
It is clear that while the growth of tourism in Sa Pa has brought a number of positive implications including economic benefits such as an increase in the number of jobs, the social consequences of tourism such as threats to cultural traditions and child labour cannot be ignored. Sa Pa is also one of the poorest regions of Vietnam and has received little government funding and for many families education takes a back seat. Support within the household takes a top priority and many families focus on creating businesses driven by tourism. Growing up within the region of Sa Pa therefore , children often have few opportunities to go to school.
This sound recording was taken as a very young child of about five attempted to sell us hand made bracelets. The boredom and indifference within her voice is plainly evident. If roles were reversed and this child was given the opportunities that I was given at her age, I believe that she could have achieved a lot within her life. However the reality for her at this current moment without outside support is a childhood of work to support her family.