A Major Landslide Outside Lai Chau, Northwest Vietnam

At least it was sunny this morning and all were eager to get to Sapa…View image. If it had changed a quarter of the amount Luang Prabang, Laos had in a short seven years, Sapa should be a lively, happening little town. ( I wasn’t going to miss the “infamous moving bathtub” in Lai Chau or, truthfully, anything in Lai Chau.)

Even though Sapa was only 80kms/50 miles from Lai Chau, this too would take 3-4 hours through the mountains and up and over Fansipan Pass, the highest mountain in Vietnam. Fansipan is around 19kms/12 miles from the town of Sapa, set at an altitude of 3,143m/10,311′. You can arrange a steep and challenging 3 day/2 night climb of this mountain. It is rated “difficult” and the Royal Sapa Company has established at base camp at 2,200m/7,217′. Tour organizers use this location as preparation prior to the summit climb. Climb information warns, “…the climb is extremely steep and can be very slippery, good hiking boots are essential…” I can’t imagine how bad it would be right now with all the rain.

It didn’t take more than 30 minutes on the road heading out of Lai Chau and up the mountain to hit the major traffic problem of the entire Northwest Vietnam trip. An over 1-1/2 hour hold up due to landslides and sea of mud triggered by the heavy rains. This problem even made the Vietnam Daily newspaper…View image, and told how over 100 trucks and other vehicles were brought to a standstill for around 18 hours until the road crews and traffic patrol could get to this area and clear traffic. Drivers even had to sleep in their vehicles overnight. (It’s not like there’s a Motel 6 handy along the roads.)

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the landslide traffic jam outside of Lai Chau, Vietnam

At that moment, all we knew was our mini-bus was stuck in this horrendous traffic jam that would have done Chicago proud, and I wanted to get to Sapa in the worst way. We sat patiently like everyone else. The local Hmong gathered, picked great vantage points on hillsides or along the road watching the congestion. For them, a highly amusing diversion and probably better than watching television. They watched us, we watched them. One motorcycle was carrying pigs to market on the back of his bike and he could make it through the mud without any problem…View image.

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the local Flower Hmong watching all the landslide chaos in Vietnam

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more watchers, kibbitzers along the road in Vietnam

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she thought the landslide was hilarious, Vietnam

It actually was pretty funny and eventually traffic started moving at a snail’s pace uphill while everyone prayed fervently that the cars in front of us didn’t get stuck in the mud and halt traffic again.


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