Hong Kong to Bangkok summer 2002 – Part 4
I am currently in Vietnam. Yup, Nam baby! It was rather a mammoth journey from Lijiang and the Snow Mountain Rock Festival, but we have made it to the small old French hill station of Sapa for some serious R&R. A place of calm, fresh air and serious views.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Kunming a nice city. China seems to have a knack of producing monstrously polluted and ugly cities, but Kunming had a welcoming feel about it. Unfortunately I caught a nasty bug there and, after a night of high fever and mild delusion (I was convinced Felix was the devil incarnate guzzling the last of the orangeade), we decided to push on and jumped on a rickety bus to the Sino-Vietnamese border. A mistake. Throughout the entirety of the 14 hour bumpy bus ride I had a fever and a severe migraine. I could barely even bring myself to look out the window. Eyes forced shut by the pain, occasionally interrupted by some rude official demanding our papers.
Still feeling ropey, what I did not need was an eventful border crossing. Sods law. At the Chinese border control the officials let the others through, took my passport, looked at me, scrutinised my passport, looked at me some more and then walked off with my documents to a room behind. No word. I waited, with a touch of anxiety. What had I done? Who had I discussed the tortures of the one child policy with? How many times had I suggested that China was not really communist and autocracy was not necessarily the best form of government? Eventually, after many minutes, the guy came back, scrutinised me a bit more and let me through.
Across the ironically named "Friendship Bridge" between these historic enemies and the Vietnamese guards were hardly more pleasant. Yes, they gave us each a copy of this tacky tourist brochure, but then ensued to point AK47's at us for not reading them with due attention. I have some sympathy for the guys. The transition from alert border guards to tourist reps is not an easy one.
Thankful to be through, we hitched a ride in the back of a 1960's Soviet and jeep took the windy, precipitous yet stunning road to Sapa.
The most striking thing about the place is that it is in the shadow of Fansipan, Vietnam's highest mountain, and the view is really quite spectacular (see photo above).
We are moving on in about an hour to Hanoi via a 12 odd hour sleeper train journey. I do not know if it is my long running desire to visit Vietnam, the friendliness of the people I have met so far or maybe that we have escaped the all controlling Beijing, but I am so much more excited about this country. I really am buzzing about seeing Hanoi and heading down this long, thin land.
HANOI AND HALONG BAY