Viet NamWe've spent the last few days is a breathtaking town called Sapa in Vietnam. The city was built in 1922 by the French and served as a hill station and small town complete with monastery and restaurants before being lost to the Vietnamese during the war for Independence after WWII. The entire area was sleepy and unknown until it was rather recently rediscovered by backpackers and has been conditioned into a full-on tourist town.
Traditionally, the town has been more montagnard ("mountain people") than ethnically Vietnamese, and you can still see dozens of h'mong and dzao wandering the streets selling trinkets, dyed cloth and opium as well as living in completely traditional and ancient ways in the rice paddies surrounding the town. They wear colorful turbans and silvery jewelry and their hands are stained blue by their traditional dying and their teeth are stained a black red by chewing betel nut. They're very much photographed by tourists, like living scenery, and their way of life has been altered by the constant stream of foreign visitors. It's a strange sight, to be sure.
We arrived in Hanoi very early this morning. The city is chaotic but so far extremely beautiful. It's far more traditional and Asian than Beijing, with bamboo ladder sellers, cafes on every corner, messy pho noodle stalls, bahn mi sandwich shops and colorful south Chinese temples. More on Hanoi later!