October 16, 2011 Sunday Bac Ha

Today as we look out over the Sa Pa Valley the mist is very dense and we can only see white.  Yesterday, when the weather was fine, our Hotel is ‘hanging’ off the side of a cliff and we can see most of the valley we have walked around in the last two days.  We have breakfast, which is not the best we have had on this great tour of Vietnam, and are picked up at 8:00am for the long 100km drive to Bac Ha.  I say ‘long’ because it takes over 3 hours.  There is a short 10km section of divided road but the rest is steady going although the road surface is smooth most of the way.

Bac Ha market is the largest market in the area, situated in the small town of Bac Ha.  Each Sunday morning, it is literally a riot of color as many different ethnic groups such as Flower Hmong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, Nung minorities, gather to buy and sell.  We spend 2 hours exploring the interesting market, where ‘anything’ is available.  From textile wear to handcrafts, food, raw meat (guts and pig head included).  The non-vegetarians amongst us become instant vegetarians for lunch.  There is a ‘live’ market too.  Chickens, ducks, dogs, cock fighters, geese, and water buffalo.  Lyn and I buy ‘nothing’ although we are pressured many times, “Buy from me?”  The quality of the handcrafts is good and durable but our suitcases are full and heavy.  We see a guy having a haircut and his nostril hair cut was included.

We find a place to have lunch at a ‘tourist’ restaurant.  The vegetarian set menu is the request – yes, there is omelet included, again.  If eggs are aphrodisiac, then we will need to put out the ‘Please Do Not Disturb’ sign on our return home.

Leaving Bac Ha, we wind down the valley to a stop where we leave the van and start a 30 minute walk through a farming area and to a canoe pickup point.  The canoe is iron with a motor on the end of a shaft.  The steering is in the method you move the shaft around.  We make our way down the Chay River and experience the picturesque scenes on the riverbanks.  They are ‘mining’ sand from the river.  We then re-join our van towards Lao Cai and visit the boarder to China.  There are people carting large loads of cargo across the bridge, from China into Vietnam.  Perhaps the loads contain ‘copy-cat’ products for sale in Vietnam.

We have a meal in a restaurant in Lao Cai before boarding the ‘first class’ express to Hanoi at 8:00pm.  We ‘stuff’ ourselves into our room and take up the sleeping position for 8-9 hours.

October 15, 2011 Saturday Sa Pa

We awake at 6:00am but lie in waiting listening to the roosters all around the valley, and for the first person toget moving in our homestay.  Amazingly, none of us get up during the night as it is too difficult to get out of the mosquito net, climb down the sqeeky stairs, out the front door and along the house to the loo.  It is a full flush toilet but does not take paper – there is a bin beside for that stuff.

After a chat about the hardness of the bed, we are served tea and coffee outside looking over the Sa Pa valley.  The young daughter enjoys watching herself on the video and becomes a friend of us all.

The work of cutting the rice, thrashing it, sifting the chaff and bagging it has started for the day.  Breakfast is pancakes or, crepes – they are thin and covered with honey and banana; they taste better than McDonalds.

After packing, we start our walk for the day.  It is much shorter than yesterday and the track has dried out somewhat.  The slower pace gives us time to take photos we didn’t have a chance to take yesterday.  I wish I had my tripod as the movement in the fields is worth having done well – oh well, we will just have to put up with some jitter when the DVD is complete.

We all notice the difference of the faces.  The men and ladies’ faces tell stories of hard work, the children that of culture being engrained in them, but given a chance and they will beam.  Lots of photos are being taken with big lenses to fill up the space.

The area we are passing through is Giang Ta Chai village of the Red Dao minority.  Their clothes are hardy, black, and many have embroidery of high quality.  The many ladies and girls along the walk are trying to sell us handcrafts, some are the greatest rip off merchants around, we find, when we check out a local handcraft store.

The harvest is busy.  It is interesting to notice a couple that have a table set up to do their gleaning.  The rice falls down a hole and there are a couple of fans blowing the chaff away from the pile of rice.  As the rice is separated, kids roll down the piles of chaff before it is ‘fired up’.  Then the rice is spread out on tarpaulins to dry and bag for use during the coming year, for in this region, there is only the one harvest per year instead of the two or even three.

We walk around 5kms to where we meet our van, which takes us back up the valley to Sa Pa.  Fortunately, we are able to check in to our Hotel early and we are able to get a shower before lunch.

Sa Pa town seems to be just one big market.  Traders are all over the place.  The shops market good wares.  There are a number of “North Face” shops selling Gortex clothing at a very cheap rate.  $55 for what appears to be genuine product of the quality sold in Australia for over $400.  Keens walking shoes and sandals are $35 each instead of $150-200.  Good quality ponchos are just $8.  So … we buy.  Massages are going cheap too – 60 minute foot and leg massages for $5, 75 minute body massages for $12.  Lyn and I take the body massage after we have eaten dinner and made final purchases.

We retire at 10pm after packing ready for a big day ahead, which includes an overnight train trip back to Hanoi.

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