San Francisco •
Burgundy & Loire •
Flying into Siem Reap we’re dazzled by green rolling hills, rice paddies and then suddenly -- the immense towers of Angkor Wat -- forming a grand silhouette against a jungle backdrop. Even a quick glimpse confirms that the structures are every bit as magnificent as they are legendary.
Way out in the middle of the Indian Ocean is the tiny island nation of Maldives -- the smallest Asian country in both population and land mass. With an average ground level of barely 5 feet (1.5 meters), the country also accounts for some of the planet’s lowest land elevations.
Vietnam is as amazing a country as you could possibly imagine. Lush vegetation, vast landscapes, friendly people, wonderful food. A place where time is easy.
We began our trip in Hanoi and ended it in Saigon. In a way you could call Hanoi, the Asian Naples.
The Livitrans Express night train pulls into Lao Cai Station just after 5:00 a.m. I am standing drowsily in the aisle of the sleeper car along with the other predominantly backpack-laden fellow passengers who boarded with me back in Hanoi. I adjust the straps on my small pack as I wait for the conductor to open the door.
After completing my tour of the Bac Ha Sunday market and a traditional Flower H’mong house at the nearby Ban Pho village, we begin the 110 km drive to the town of Sapa. We retrace our earlier route back to Lao Cai, save for a stop outside of Bac Ha at a roadside fruit stand where my guide buys some papayas to take home to his family.
I’m wishing that I could have had a bit more sleep as I take the final flight of steps down to the hotel lobby to meet up with my guide, Thim Sothea (he asks that his clients just call him ‘Mr. Sunny’ for simplicity’s sake), and begin the day’s itinerary.
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