Son La has benefitted from its position on the road between Hanoi and Dien Bien Phu which, along with its stunning natural surroundings, make it an attractive stopping point for travellers on their way to either destination.
Northern Vietnam is the most ethnically diverse region in the country, and Son La is home to a variety of different ethnic minorities, including Black Thai, Meo, Muong and White Thai. In fact, until the 20th century there was almost no influence from lowland Vietnamese culture in this area, and Son La formed part of the Tay Bac autonomous region from 1959 until 1980.
For those who do stop in Son La, the town's interesting history has left it with several interesting sites to keep an inquisitive traveller occupied. The Old French, for example, is a restored colonial-era jail where anti-French revolutionaries were locked up in the 19th and early 20th century. The prison has now been turned into a museum where visitors can look around the cells and learn about the history of the region.