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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Sapa

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 13 May 2008 | Views [1135]

Thu 8th May - Victoria hasn't been feeling well lately, so needed a rest day. Went off for a walk around town for a while. The market is an interesting place to keep walking through, especially the meat and fruit/veg sections. Many unusual sights in the way items are displayed, and plenty of opportunities to mix with the montagnard folk.

Time to chill during the day over a coffee or a meal and think about the following day's plans.

Fri 9th May - Out for a walk to Cat Cat village and waterfalls. It's an easy downhill walk to Cat Cat. Near to the village there is a small booth that collects a 10,000 Ðong entry fee. The views are superb, with colourful terraced crop fields lining the valley, fansipan mountain towering overhead and the hmong people's houses dotted around. Large areas are devoted to growing Indigo plants. The leaves are boiled to extract the blue dye, which is used to colour the cloth which they make their clothes with. They make many artefacts which they emroider to sell tourists, such as bags, wrist bands, pillow cases, blankets. The main part of the village has become touristy. A shame but part of their progress, being their main source of income.

An area of terracing was being cultivated with buffalo. Further down through the village are the beautiful cat cat waterfalls. Traditional water driven grain crushers to one side of the path and a waterwheel next to a suspension bridge that spans the stream which meets with the falls.

The rains started, so we took cover by the bridge and chatted with a couple of the villagers, a girl and her auntie, both in traditional dress and jewellery. Their hands and feet were rough from the hard work, and tinged blue from working with the indio dye. You can tell how much contact they have with foreigners as their english is very good, and they have a cunning technique in the way they try to get you to buy something from them.

Walking back along the river to the second bridge, the rain turned heavy so we took cover for a while. I looked like it was set to remain heavy for a while. So picked up motos back to town. Many wait at the second bridge as it is a steep climb from here.

Sat 10th May - Today is a momentous occasion as  1 year ago today I hit the road to start my adventure, destination Istanbul. The past year has been amazing. I have been lucky enough to have met some wonderful people who have become very good friends, and i have had so many experiences that many people never have in their entire lifetime. It has been hard work at time, but that is to be expected when travelling through such radically different countries. I don't get fazed by anything that happens, just take any problem in my stride. Not that I was any different before, but now that includes many more lifeskills that allow me to survive in probably any location in the world.

Sapa has been a very fitting location to be on this occasion as it incorporates many of the things I now cherish....beautiful people, fascinating culture, dramatic scenery, daily challenges and I am also lucky to be sharing It with my lovely and close friend Victoria. What more could I ask for?

Well actually, many things... To start with, I miss my children immensely. It just so happens that there are issues back home that are causing me deep concern, so I might take a short break to go back to the UK to catch up and also re-charge my batteries. That plan is forming.

Throughout the past year, my blog 'Jeff's World Of Travel' has been a link to my family and friends and I have made many new friends as a result that have read my blog. I try to be informative as possible as many of my readers have hopefully gained from some honest and upto date information that could aid any travel plans they may have. It will continue as I am not ready to hang up my walking boots and backpack yet. So much to still see and do.

In typical form, today is another adventure. Got an early pick-up from the hotel to meet the bus to Lao Cairo , an hour north of here on the order with China. We are destined for Bac Ha, a small town a further 2 hours to the east of Lao Cai, were a sunday market attracts upto ten minority tribes to buy or sell their wares. We could do it as an oranised return trip leaving at some silly time in the morning and returning the same day, but decided to do it ourselves and stay overnight.

The journey to Lao Cai was stunning, with a tapestry of terraced crops clinging to the mountainsides and pretty wooden houses dropped into a 'to die for' landscape. Traditionally dressed hill-folk milling around in their usual industrious ways. Awesome!

The minibus terminated at the railway station. We needed a separate bus to Bac Ha. Fortunately, that leaves from the long distance bus station just down the road opposite the railway station entrance. Had an hour to kill until the bus leaves at 10am (35,000 Ðong), so went for a nice coffee. A couple of passing shoe repairers fixed and cleaned our sandals/boots for us for $1, making them like new. This just wouldn't happen back home.

Spot on 10am the bus set off. The road is fairly poor, with much of it being re-done. No wonder most buses are falling apart with the vibration.

Got to Bac Ha at 12:30 and dropped in the centre of town. Not very big, so easy enough to plod the streets in search of a room. Ended up at the Cong Fu Hotel, which has only been open for 3 months, in an immaculate room with a view over the market for $12 a night with aircon, TV and free internet plus fee tea making in the room. They have an associated CongFu restaurant around the corner, so went there for lunch. Good food reasonably priced with a simple ordering system of a menu sheet in english and boxes to write your quantities in.

After lunch, took a couple of hours to slowly walk around the area. A town in the process of major growth...a brand new market area complete with swanky buildings, new road surfaces, a massive lake being built and landscaped. Even the approach roads to town being upgraded. So much happening. Apparently, the road from Hanoi to Sapa is undergoing a major upgrade, due for completion next year. The north is expecting a massive increase in tourism as journey times from Hanoi are cut from maybe 10 to 12 hours down to 4 hours. I am glad to have been here before it gets swamped! It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Walking the back streets is interesting as lovely old traditional wooden houses mingle with new properties. Plenty of hotels that look over the top for the present level of tourism.

As I mentioned, the main reason for coming to Bac Ha is the famous sunday market that attracts busloads of tourists from the cities to see the local hilltribes selling and buying their wares. There are ten minority tribes that visit here.... The main attraction being the Flower Hmong, with elaborately embroidered skirts and blouses. The other Montagnard minority groups are Dzao, Giay, Han, Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Thai and Thulao.

Being a special day of my 1st year on the road, a nice meal at the hotel to celebrate, washed down with some shots of strong local plum wine (firewater).

Late to bed as I had come to the conclusion that it was the right decision to take a break and return to the UK for a short while, so spent a while researching and booking a flight back to Manchester, leaving Hanoi on 20th May.  Will be great to catch up before carrying on with my travels.

Sun 11th May - Woken at 6am with the sound of the town tannoy and motobrike horns. Bleary eyed, I jumped out of bed and peeped throuh the curtains at the colourful spectacle that had started to form outside. A pig strapped on its back to the back of a motorbike squealed below our window. Groups of rainbow coloured women ambling along the streets and herds of buffalo were being drawn to the far end of the market overlooking the lake, smoke drifted into the air from the food stalls that were setting up. What a sensory wake-up call!

After wakin up properly, headed out to get up close to the sights and sounds, a photographer's dream! These lovely people are all very petite and barely come up to shoulder height. It is wonderful to be in full technicolour today. Even the babies and children are dressed up to match. Loads of ood food is available along with local peaches, lychees, pineapple, bananas, custard apples, mangosteens etc. Friendly sellers ply their wares as you pass. They are so lovely, it is hard to refuse.

The hotel sorted out a couple of bus tickets for us, so all easy and on the bus back to Lao Cai at 12 o'clock. A lovely old village couple sat by us and there were other village folk that filled the bus to only standing room left, so some people had an uncomfortable ride back on the bumpy roads. Managed to get onto a minibus back to Sapa that left Lao Cai at 3pm for 30,000 Ðong from outside the railway station.

Mon 12th May - Booked onto a 2 day trek to some local hilltribe villages with an overnight homestay. Met at the hotel by our guide Mee, who is from the Black Hmong tribe. She is 35 years old and a mother of two. Almost all of the hilltribe people are below 5 foot tall. Beautifully compact people! As we trekked out of town, the weather was perfect for the occasion, sunny with a light breeze and stunning scenery. Gave us the opportunity to get to know each other.

The trek is very steep and downhill most of the way through the heart of the terraced paddy fields. Breathe in....aaaahhhh.....no vehicle fumes, just fresh air and peace and quiet and a view to die for!

A stop for lunch at an organised place by Lau Chai river crossing. Good food and accompanied by a bombardment of village girls selling their very ornate products, some of which are handmade , others they have bought from the markets to re-sell, alhough they won't admit it. Black Hmong, Dzay and red Dzao are predominant here. The Dzao girls have red head-dress with high hairless foreheads and shaven around the sides.

Onwards to our village at Ta Vanh  where we will stay for the night. A lovely homestay of the Dzay minority group, and we are lucky to be the only ones staying there.

One aspect of travel in this region that takes some getting used to is the selling tactics of the tribe girls. You get befriended by many who will follow and persecute you with cute techniques until you buckle and buy something. The children will be especially friendly and adopt their most pathetic of voices to have you wimpring in sympathy. You will then haggle with your entourage as you navigate some obstacle course with them in tow until you either part with your cash or they lose interest, which takes a long time as their tenacity is incredible. This is great fun and you have some wonderful experiences of close contact with these lovely people that should be cherished.

After settling in, off to explore on our own around the village. Wow...this place is stunning! We just stood in awe at one place for a long time to take in the view. Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places on earth...no five star tour of this country could ever reach these places. You have to get your boots on and walk to get off the beaten track....and wow, is it worth it....awesome!

Back to the homestay for dinner and passed a guy carrying a duck by its wings...that poor creature was going to be our dinner. Trussed up and the mother of the house tasked with the final job of ending its life, and preparing it for the table. A daily event for these people.

Dinner was superb...healthy vegetables...the duck of course and washed down with some rice wine and plum wine we had bought earlier. 'Chupsekwey' is the local equivalent to 'cheers' in the dzao language, as we downed one shot glass after another.

Tue 13th May - My eldest daughter Amy's 20th birthday today. Major milestone as no longer a teenager!

Left our homestay in Ta Vanh after a nice breakfast of banana and honey pancakes at 10am towards Giang Ta Chai, a red Dzao minority village. A fairly steep trek with a few fun bits as we had to navigate along the slippery edges of the paddy walls. A couple of slips and muddy boots later, we arrived at  the village, which was unfortunately very quiet as most were probably out working. The homeward trek was fairly easy as we passed via a massive waterfall and a lunch stop, after which we got picked up a short way by a jeep to take us the final stretch back to Sapa.

We are booked onto the ovenight train to Hanoi leaving Lao Cai at 7:30pm. A minibus picking us up at 5pm from the hotel to take us there.

 

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