I have to admit. Bangkok, the chaos and the pollution, followed by Hanoi with much more of the same had me realizing, sadly, that the Southeast Asia my father knew was long ago lost in the name of progress.
I wanted to see both these cities, as I want to see Saigon, and Singapore and others, but I am working my itinerary more to go to the smaller places, to get farther away in the hopes of finding more of what he saw here. My friend D in Cambodia has recommended Kampot and Battambang. I am headed into Laos soon as its cities are tiny in comparison to other capitols.
Today, I am in northern Vietnam, in Sapa, a town with a lot of tourists but here you can at least get a sense of what it must have been like. True, it’s far more built up than it would have been twenty years ago, far less forty or fifty, but at least walking here I can get a sense of what might have been.
I am at a hotel perched on a cliff side, and we walked through a Hmoung village today. The Hmoung and Red Dzao people live in this region and are masters of the market where I also visited. It was just very nice and peaceful for me to find a place with more authenticity, more of what might have been.
In one of the letters I have of my father’s from Thailand, he references going up country in Thailand in December of 1961. That must have been an incredible journey and one that can’t really completely be re-created in the modern era.
Here at least, sitting on the balcony, listening to the rooster’s crowing, and the sounds of the nearby market, I can at least, for the first time really, get a hint of what it must have been like.