Safe in Kunming by the skin of my teeth

We took a night train from Hanoi to the Chinese border, a small town called Lao Cai. Instead of crossing immediately, we took a bus up the moutains to Sapa, originally a French outpost and now the gateway to highland adventures in Vietnam and Laos. Most travelers go to Sapa as their first stop on such an adventure; we just had a day in town and were determined to experience the local culture.

Overlooking the town from the nearby hill.

Nasa's World Wind (frequently plugged at ComingAnarchy) is handy in explaining the location and historical importance of Sapa in regards to border security. The Red River, which originates in Tibet, is a winding river that nonetheless cuts straight down through the mountains to the Gulf of Tonkin. It is one of the only convenient paths between the Southeast Asian coast and the interior of Southern China. It's easy to see why the French set up Sapa as an outpost, as this has long been an important geopolitical chokepoint.

We spent the morning climbing a nearby hill where the radio tower is situated, where the local tourism board has decided to build a garden. More photos follow below, and I should at least point out this graffiti carved into the rock.

"Chinese Civilization" carved into the rock.

Sapa is the home of two ethnic groups, the Dao (or Zhao) found in Vietnam and China, and the H'mong, found in Laos, Vietnam, and Wisconsin (many H'mong worked with the Americans during the Vietnam War and after the fall of Saigon many emigrated to the United States).

H'mong girls

The H'mong typically dress in black, the Dao in red.

A H'mong woman carrying wood down the mountain.

In the afternoon we rented a motorbike (just a few dollars) and checked out the Thac Bac Falls, the highest waterfall in Vietnam, and Cat Cat village.

Sunrise, seen en route from Lao Cai to Sapa. The hill leading up to the radio tower. Overlooking Cat Cat village. Another view of the village.
The Thac Bac Falls (Silver Falls). Taken en route to the Thac Bac falls. About 10km out of Sapa on motorbike. Taken from the Thac Bac Falls.

And now it's time for China!

On to the next entry...

c. 2006