Key Places - 3 Countries 16 Days
Thailand, Laos and Vietnam
Hanoi is a city of lakes and leafy boulevards that still retains an air of French colonial elegance. Its fine coffee and perfect baguettes have led some to call it the 'Paris of the East', but Hanoi dates all the way back to AD 1010.
Built on the right bank of the Red River, the beautiful and tranquil city of Hanoi is Vietnam's capital and the second largest city in the country with a population of 6.5 million.
Ha meaning 'river' and Noi meaning 'within '- Ha Noi literally is ' within the river'. This name was given to the city by the Nguyen dynasty in 1832. From 1010 until 1802, it was the Vietnamese political centre, but during the Nguyen dynasty, the city of Hue took its place. Hanoi became the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954 and bears the markings of this era in its architecture, leafy boulevards and an air of colonial elegance. The ambiance of the city combined with its fine coffee and perfect baguettes have led some to call it the 'Paris of the East' but city life runs at a fast pace with all the markings of modern Asia. Its ancient name Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) truly sums up the spirit of contemporary Hanoi.
The Old Quarter has been the trading centre for the past 1000 years and is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets each named after a trade or guild. Here you will find market stall traders hard at work plying their wares, and an array of restaurants and street cafes where old men sip their coffee or Bia Hoi (beer) and watch the world go by. The buzz of a passing motorbike is never far away and this is the tourist hub of the city. As you wander the streets you will find that people stop and chat, welcoming strangers is the cultural norm here.
High in the mountains Sa Pa is the frontier town of the Sa Pa district in Northwest Vietnam, 400 km north-west of Hanoi. Located at 1550 m above sea level, and frequently covered by cloud the town is cool all year round. The area is known as "the Tonkinese Alps" You will see hill tribe people, their villages, rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fan Si Pan, the highest peak in Vietnam. Many ethnic minority groups such as H'mong, Dao and Tay live here, each with unique cultures, lifestyles and languages, all wearing their traditional attire, working on the evergreen terraces.
About 1 km from Sa Pa town, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley is the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. Cat Cat Village is home to the Black H'Mong who account for over 50% of the Sa Pa population. Near to the border with China, Sa Pa was under French colonial administration for the first part of the 20th Century, and served as a hill station retreat from the stifling summer heat of Hanoi. Many of the town's colonial buildings were destroyed during conflicts at the end of the Second World War, by Việt Minh supporters in the late 1940s, and by French air raids in the early 1950s. The majority of the local communities fled, and the town entered a lull until migration from the lowlands began again with economic incentives in the 1960s. Since the 1990s Sa Pa has been a tourist destination.
Dien Biên Phu
Dien Biên Phu is located in the Muong Thanh valley in north west Vietnam near to the Laos border and is the capital of Biên Province. The journey here is a dramatic one along narrow mountain roads leading to the Nam Rom River at the core of the heart shaped valley. Dien Biên Phu is best known for the battle that occurred here in 1954 marking a turning point in French influence in Indochina and the beginning of the end of colonial rule. The French-held garrison fell after a four-month siege led by Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh. After the fall of Dien Bien Phu, the French pulled out of the region. The city was formerly called Thaeng. There are a number of sites of interest relating to the battle including a museum containing military and other artifacts including a bicycle that was used to carry supplies through the jungles and reputedly could carry up to 330kg of ordinance.
Ban Faen/Ban Nalay
Ban Faen village, home to Nam Kat waterfall, is a remote village where most of the villagers are farmers who work in the surrounding rice fields, it has no running water or electricity, a generator provides 2 hours electricity a night. When redspokes started tours in the area in 2001, we talked to the village headman and elders to determine what support the village needed and where our support would have the greatest effect. After some discussion, it was agreed that the 2 main issues facing the village were access to clean drinking water and the school. We decided to start by helping the school. Within the village this decision was not unanimous, as there were mixed opinions about the value of education, particularly for girls. Nonetheless, our first donation went towards concreting the school floor.
In 2003 redspokes and supporters started a charity LVCF. Shortly after, we ran our first project building a school in Ban Faen. This school is now complete. We went on to build a second (basic) school in Ban Nalay, one of the rural H'mong villages, home to a Tai Lue community and where redspokes cyclists are hosted by the villagers for the night in home stays.
"Another great trip with redspokes. There was a real sense of adventure on a route spanning three countries. The weather, and the food, got increasingly hot - and the hills..."
Phil and Ruth Dunnell