WAYS: Indigo p.1

Personal encounter: Contemporary Vietnam

In August 2010 a companion and I traveled to the far northwestern corner of Vietnam, not far from the Chinese border. The Sa Pa District in the Lào Cai province and its eponymous main town have in the last decade become popular with tourists looking for the special form of authenticity that remote mountainous regions seem to evoke.
Sa Pa serves as a base for trekkers making the ascent of Fans pan Mountain which at 3,143m is the highest point on the Indochina Peninsula though its heights are rarely visible through the thick mists that ebb and flow through the region’s valleys.

The Northern ‘ethnic minority areas’ have become the focus of increased government attention, funding and development after years of neglect and overt repression including forced migration and the suppression of local languages. Most well known of the mountain tribes, the Hmong now span the borders of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Like many mountain peoples caught straddling the rougher parts of national borders, the Hmong have found themselves making often strange, contradictory and perilous alliances.

The same Special Activities Division of the Central Intelligence Agency that played a major part in United States’ invasion of Afgahnistan and continue to operate throughout that and neighboring countries oversaw the training and deployment of 10,000 Hmong paramilitaries in Laos who between 1960 and 1975 operated deep within North Vietnamese territory. These operations became known as America’s “Secret War.”