The dollar bus from Lao Cai to Sapa, 1995

Destination: Sapa

A Red Cross doctor cured Seth with antibiotics. In Hanoi, we decided to visit Sapa, a highland town bordering China. French soldiers had once garrisoned there for respite.

Aboard the second class section of the packed train we found a place to sit; the wood slat seats grew steadily hard on the back. The Vietnamese passengers, friendly and curious, inquired multiple times, “How-old-you-are? What-your-name? Where-you- from?” To stop the pestering I borrowed a trick from Pascal. The Buddhist prayer gesture instantly cut the Vietnamese short.

By late afternoon we rolled into Lao Cai’s Soviet style train station. Outside the drab cement block building, Seth hailed two boys roaring past on chrome trimmed Kawasaki’s. We pantomimed; they signaled ‘Sure, get on.’ Gripping the seat straps, off we sped, the North Vietnamese taking the turns low and fast. In Hanoi we’d heard the Lao Cai police took bribes to extend visas. In a small office we paid five dollars each-our visas were duly extended. Back at the station we caught the Dollar Bus to Sapa. The higher we went, the colder it got. The bus in the photo had just broken down, a not uncommon sight in Vietnam. In ’94, Sapa had not yet been over run by tourists. There were no guides. No long lines waiting or walking the trails. We stayed for a week and had many adventures.