Flora, Fauna, and Birds of Northern Vietnam



Son La

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Bisected by the narrow Nam La River, the busy little town of Son La was once known as “Vietnam’s Siberia.” The infamous French-era prison, Son La Prison, which earned it this label, stands menacingly on a wooded hill. Son La’s isolation and cold weather were considered ideal conditions for the incarceration of Vietnamese nationalists and revolutionaries. Recalcitrant prisoners were shackled and confined in windowless cells, and the prison guillotine saw regular use. However, as is often the case, the prison also served as a revolutionary academy of sorts. Some of the political prisoners held here included luminaries such as Truong Chinh and Le Duan, both of whom later became General Secretaries of the Vietnamese Communist Party. The prison  complex also includes a mus- eum displaying remnants of  French brutality and torture such as cramped underground cells and leg irons. Somewhat incongruously, exhibits such as hill tribe artifacts and clothing are also displayed here. A major attraction in town is the market on the east bank of the Nam La. Fresh fruit and  vegetables, as well as handi- crafts and cloth hand­wo ven by  the White and Black Thai are on sale here. Chickens, ducks, and pot­bellied pigs are for sale, while small food stalls serve Son La’s specialty, goat meat or thit de. The more adven turous can sample tiet canh, congealed goat’s blood served with chopped peanuts and shallots. Located 4 miles (7 km) north of town is the Black Thai village of Ban Hin, where traditional stilthouses are surrounded by fruit orchards and coffee bushes. The scenery around Son La is very attractive and the drive to Dien Bien Phu leads past picturesque fields, hills, and interesting minority villages.

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