French Indochina conjures images of rubber plantations, palm trees, tranquil lakes, French cafes and other aspects of colonial life. It is charming to be sure. But in Sapa, there are teal green rice terraces cascading down the mountains like waterfalls. The mist plays a game of peek-a-boo with visitors, who might catch a glimpse of a valley or rice terraces, only to have it seemingly fade away again into the ethereal mist. There’s even a Gothic church.

The French built a hill station here that was completed in 1909. Back then, those missionaries could not have known that Vietnam would, in the coming decades, find itself fighting off the Japanese, the French, United States and even Mainland China, who invaded through Sapa in 1979 because Vietnam had, in turn, invaded Cambodia to overthrow Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The border here had always been disputed and a formal agreement was established between 1894 and 1896.

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