In 2000/2001 I went to Viet Nam with some friends to visit a friend who was on posting in Hanoi. It was such a wonderful experience (so much so that Nath and I went there for our Honeymoon two years later) and I loved every bit. But the girls I went with were not as interested in some of the cultural aspects and I, and given that I was still a little nervous about going off on my own I tended to go along with them on shopping expeditions or lay by the pool when I'd really rather have been off seeing something interesting. Anyhoo, after three weeks I finally got the nerve to go off by myself. We were in the mountain town of Sapa, near the China border and we'd been going to this little familyrestaurant fairly frequently. The owners son did little motorbike tours around the town so I booked him and we headed off. No helmets. Scary-ass roads. No idea where he was taking me. And it was wonderful. We went into Hmong village houses, witnessed (or rather heard) mourning songs, got a bit lost finding a shortcut back from some waterfalls, and saw a cave (pictured) that went through to China (or more likely vice versa). I felt so liberated.
I went back to Sapa on our honeymoon - it had become so much more touristy, and had lost alot of its charm in exchange for cheap tourist bucks. But we went to the restaurant. It had burnt down in the intervening years, taking the lives of some of the family. The owner had died, and his son (who had been studying at University) had come back to the isolated mountain town to look after his family and the business. I thought that was pretty sad that he'd given up his dreams - but he was pretty philosophical about it. It was expected. I guess fighting against it wouldn't have made it any easier.