Sapa is a hill town in the mountainous north of Vietnam fairly near the Chinese border. It’s been known as a resort since the French founded a military sanitarium here around 1900 as a relief from the tropical heat of most of the Vietnamese country. The rugged area around Sapa is home to a number of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, including the Hmong peoples.
While I expected Sapa to be somewhat touristic, I didn’t expect the crazy cultural dissonance we’ve found. There’s more construction going on here than anywhere I’ve seen recently, up to and including the west side of Manhattan. There’s a street party going on right now that could be Times Square. From one side the noise of the partying on the streets meets loud Karaoke coming from the other.
Meanwhile, the tribal Hmong people are reduced to a kind of side show of street vendors (like the beautiful “black” Hmong shown in the photo) and persistent hawking of ersatz crafts by Hmong young and old.
It’s hard to see the construction boom here as anything other than a bubble fueled by easy money, and it is hard to see all this as ending well for the Hmong and other ethnic Vietnamese minorities.
More photos to follow!