Friday, November 28, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
From Pac Bo, Ho Chi Minh's hideout when he returned to Vietnam in 1940, we began an eight day trek along the Chinese border, staying in the houses of local minority group families and walking an average of 20km a day. I was joined by my tour guide, Hoang, a local guide, Tung, and a porter and cook, Tu. And what a lot of fun we had!
DAY 1 Pac Bo to Nam Nhung
We're a sad old lot this morning. Nothing to do with the copious amount of alcohol drunk, which surprisingly leaves me hangover free. Our host finds some bee infused rice wine for breakfast and we polish off that as well. Then it's an hour or so walk to meet our car and driver. We drive to a nearby town where Tung and Tu jump on a bus back to Cao Bang. It seems weird to pass out the tips and say goodbye, they've become more like friends over our 8 days together. And yes I carried my pack the whole way.
photos from Day 8
The drive back to Hanoi is a sober affair, though we do share a beer over lunch. Hoang finds me some accommodation in Hanoi then it's goodbye to him too. Eight very special days are over but I have some great memories and photos from it.
I am staying in a dormitory in a backpackers in Hanoi, so very soon I am immersed back into western culture. It's happy hour from 5 - 6 and I too have joined the hordes drinking cheap beer. I just might give my liver a break in a few days, right now it's great talking in non-halting English with my compatriots. I've got to get a Chinese visa next so I'm stuck here till that comes through. Might as well enjoy the vibe while I can. Oh, and get a haircut!!
Joe has rallied and is feeling much better as we bowl along the winding roads at breakneck speed, rolling from side to side, to our hotel in Hagiang. A seatbelt makes no difference and it's one of those times when a ride is more comfy if crammed shoulder to shoulder in a local bus. Our guide Hoang pronounces his English with a thick Vietnamese accent which makes him very hard to understand, and over the next two weeks becomes increasingly frustrating.
Hagiang and Dong Van region is limestone mountain country, inhabited by Hmong and Dao people. Tay live in the valleys. We chance upon an awesome local market where the colourful women are drop dead gorgeous. Some are fascinated by my white skin, and the Dao women are keen to look at my jewellery. I return the interest by checking out their jewellery! The mountain passes are steep, winding and very photogenic. Somehow the locals eke out corn crops on the rocky mountainsides, though the government does financially support them as they are unable to grow enough food. Dong Van Pass, between Meo Vac and Dong Van indeed lives up to the hype as one very picturesque part of the country. Now a visit to Hmong territory isn't complete without a drink with the locals. We spy a group sitting by the side of the road so we stop to join them for a few drinks. This is where I master the Vietnamese saying for "bottoms up", and here the cups of corn wine are bowls. Soon Joe and I have lots of new brothers and sisters! But Joe isn't feeling well again, and by the late afternoon he is too tired and sick to even go for dinner or a walk around town. I wander the back streets but Dong Van isn't much of a town unless there's a morning market on. More photos.
From Dong Van we return to Hagiang via a different route, with the promise of a visit to another authentic market. We visit the house of a former Hmong King, but the promised markets has been cancelled in favour of a larger one tomorrow in Dong Van. I am disappointed, but buy some cute Hmong caps at the gift shop to make me feel better.The highlight of the day is a stop in a dusty little village in the middle of nowhere. Our guide informs us that Lo Lo people live here but don't wear their colourful costumes daily as they are impractical for field work and the predominant local group is Hmong. We go to a house and one of the girls dresses up in this beautiful clothing which is handmade, dyed, embroidered, appliqued and then embellished with beads and pom poms. Mindboggling stuff! Further up the road are Hmong women shirring the skirts that they wear - the amount of time spent making their clothing really shows how much they still value their culture, as it would be so much easier just to buy readymade clothes. Joe is becoming increasingly dizzy and fatigued and has decided to return to Hanoi for medical tests. We go for dinner at a Hotpot restaurant where the ingredients in the pot vary from normal beef, to offal, to veges including yummy mushrooms, to noodles. It all tastes good so I try not to look too hard at what I'm putting in my mouth. But not really the sort of meal for someone struggling to eat anything.
Joe returns to Hanoi while I continue on east. It turns out he did have Dengue fever, and after a week of rest and the return of his mammoth appetite he has headed south.