Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Hitchhiking Vietnam
DESTINATIONS
Son La
"Son La was a gentle, backwater town which had mistakenly been promoted to Provincial Capital. It was too small to have a street map. Son La's main road boasted three cavernous, government-sponsored hotels where one could sit at dusk and watch water buffalo snarl traffic as they rambled home, unattended. A stretch of road was being repaired with no more than a watering can full of tar and a row of women in conical hats tossing gravel. Here and there bright splashes of color gradually resolved themselves into gloriously attired minorities with black hair wound tightly around bright silver headpieces."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

map DIRECTIONS:
If you get to Dien Bien Phu then you've gone too far.

WEATHER:
You may have noticed that I'm always complaining about the rain. Well, it never rained in Son La. The dust, on the other hand...


FACTS

  • There's a reason that Son La is listed in the guidebooks principally as a stopover between Hanoi and Dien Bien Phu.

  • It calls itself The City of Flowers but the only blooms I saw were the dusty plastic plants wrapped around the handlebars of the schoolgirls' bikes.

    photo

  • The Lonely Planet recommends the local hot springs. The Son La tourist brochure supports their point of view with a photograph of two bikini-clad models lying prone in front of a pond-like body of water. When I went to visit the springs I found two cement cubicles fed by a large pool, layered in green scum. You decide.

  • Son La does not have had cheese, pineapples or Indonesian chocolate, but it does have a Provincial Extension Office. You can (possibly) give your expiring visa a new lease on life here for as little as two dollars. Just don't mention my name.

CAUTION!
Son La may look like a sleepy backwater town that nobody would bother keeping track of, but don't be fooled. The northern police/spy system is well oiled and lightning fast, as I discovered to my dismay... If Vietnam was half as good at fixing its roads then it would be a superpower.


A BLACK TAI VILLAGE
"A few yards beyond the edge of town the minority villages took over. Civet and panther skins hung stiffly in the breeze, bits of drying flesh still clinging to their tufty hairs. Small groups of elegantly clad Thai women ambled by, their tight skirts and graceful walk belying the hoes and shovels slung over their shoulders. A hanging bridge appeared, unexpected and stunning; the slender walkway was held up by nothing more than the arching curves of its supporting wires. In the river beneath it several water buffalo bathed leisurely and a teenage boy fished for darting minnows. I parked the bike and sat for a while, my legs swinging over the edge, enjoying a scene so idyllic that I wondered if there could be anything in the world more satisfying than the dreamy joy of basking in the sunlight."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

Central Highlands || Halong Bay || Hanoi || Highway 1 || Mai Chau

Mekong || Saigon || Sapa || Sapa Valley || Son La || Tafin || The Loop

KARIN'S STORY || LIFE IN VIETNAM || DESTINATIONS || TRAVEL VIETNAM
THE ANIMAL MARKET || PHOTO JOURNAL || JOIN OUR DISCUSSION
TAPES AND TRANSCRIPTS || PRESS REACTIONS || HOME