Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Sapa... OH MY!

I spent a foggy, rainy day in Phong Nha Ke Bang seeing another cave (Phong Nha cave) and cycling around town with a couple girls I met at the hostel looking for photo ops and a hot cup of coffee.  We succeeded.
there are many rules when it comes to caving

lovely scenery we saw as we rode past on a boat on the way to Phong Nha cave

Entrance to Phong Nha cave
 Phong Nha Cave
Exit from Phong Nha cave

this snake slithered under the dustpan and a guy from our group moved the dustpan and the little snake lunged at it!  I asked a local man if it was poisonous and he said "Oh Yeah".  Yikes!


Traffic Jam (Buffalo and Bicycle)

 Lovely foggy evening
After a nice last day and evening in Phong Nha I got on the night train to Hanoi.  This train was a pleasant surprise after my first crowded night train experience.  The berth had four bunks, there were two local people on the bottom two bunks and I got the top bunk.  The berth was clean and comfortable and I had a great sleep right up until we arrived in Hanoi.  I checked into my hotel in Hanoi and met Kim, the super-helpful and friendly manager (owner?) set me up with a big breakfast, a hot cup of coffee, and helped me make some plans for my stay and onwards travel before I headed out to check out Hanoi.
Couple photo of the Little Hanoi Hostel 2 which is about the friendliest, most helpful, place I've stayed in my journeys.  Kim (owner? manager?) bends over backwards to help out any of her guests.

Weasel Coffee is Moka coffee beans which have been eaten by a weasel, pooped out, scrubbed off (I hope!) and then roasted.  The beans are said to become more mellow after being partially digested inside a weasel.  Tasted good to me.

Lovely painting in a Hanoi gallery, reminded me of a foggy day in Phong Nha Ke Bang Park

I went to the War Museum and I loved the propaganda language: "Saigon Puppet Government" was used again and again to refer to the South Vietnam government.  This is how North Vietnam viewed the South Vietnam government due to American involvement in Saigon.
Flag tower beside the war museum in Hanoi
A typical North Vietnamese pride shot at the museum.  She caught a big one!

This box of bees was used as a weapon!  Brilliant!
Sculptural US war plane wreckage

Pho for dinner
Running short on time left in Vietnam, I decided to spend only one day in Ha Long Bay so that I would have time to see Sapa which is in the far north of Vietnam, near the China border and was highly recommended for trecking.

Ha Long Bay is spectacular but I saw it on a rather cool and overcast day.  There are also tons of tourists so it wasn't my favorite spot... but I'm still glad I made the time to see it.

Another example of the many don'ts of caving

This cave in Ha Long Bay was lit up like Christmas, had penguin trash cans and...
Is it just me or does that lump in the center of the photo look like a snowman?!?  Weird.

I took the night train to Sapa after my day in Ha Long Bay (another good night train!) and met May Lei, my local guide for two days of trecking and an overnight stay at her home.  Sapa area is known mainly for it's terraced rice fields, beautiful mountainous terrain, and minority tribal people (Dzao and H'mong) who live in traditional villages outside of Sapa.  These people are more closely related to Chinese than Vietnamese, speak different dialects related to Chinese, wear traditional clothing and live in a very traditional way.  They raise pigs, buffalo, ducks, chickens, grow rice, corn, and sugar cane and create beautiful traditional embroidery, and dye fabric with indigo they create from plants they find in the area.  The first day we hiked 15km on muddy trails past local minority villages from Sapa town to her home just outside of Ta Phin village.  I had a lovely evening spent with her family over dinner, sitting by a cozy fire and even trying out a homemade herbal bath.  The next day we hiked a different route back 12km to Sapa where I checked into my hotel.  The weather was damp and cool with temperatures below 10 degrees.  I actually had to wear a jacket and could see my breath in my hotel room!  The water heater barely lasted through a shower because the room was so cold but I still had a wonderful stay because there was an electric heated matress pad... pure luxury!  I curled up very cozy in bed and enjoyed a movie and a cup of hot tea.  The homestay experience was really wonderful and I felt like an honored guest being able to see a small slice of how these traditional people live.
May Lei, my guide

Red Dzao ladies

H'mong children... notice the blonde girl near the middle of the photo.  I didn't know that there were blonde Chinese until I did this treck.

Rice paddies


Beautiful scenery

Pumpkins grown on vines so the bottoms stay dry

Red Dzao lady doing embroidery

H'mong family plucking a couple ducks for dinner.  We stopped here for a while while another son went to get us a duck for dinner.  The duck was delivered alive in a sack which we carried the next 5km to Mai Lei's house

They start the little ones out early babysitting even littler siblings by carrying them around on their backs.  I swear the girl in the bottom photo was no older than 5 years old and already babysitting!

Buffalo in a rice paddy.  This is seen everywhere and I never get tired of seeing this beautiful sight.
May Lei's home and homestay near Ta Phin village where she lives with her husband, son, sister, brother in law, nephew, mother, father, and one other sister.
Backyard of the homestay with a large cistern
one of three cooking fires in the house used for cooking, herbal bath preparation, making rice wine, and heat
My room at the homestay
Mai Lei's son Tien

 The barrels where the family offers homemade herbal baths
Stewing up the herbal bath with ingredients from the surrounding lands
Enjoying a hot herbal bath after a long, cold walk

May Lei's mom chopping up food for the pigs

May Lai's husband with dinner

May Lai and her husband killing the dinner duck.  The blood was collected for later.


the duck blood was combined with some chili peppers, lemongrass, and chopped up duck neck meat.  I tried a tiny bit and it was ok.... tasted spicy.  The color was pretty off-putting!

May Lei and her son Tien

May Lei's cute nephew.

May Lei's mom making some rice wine.  Fermented rice goes in this barrel on the fire.

a bowl of water is put on top of the barrel so that the steam condenses under the bowl, drips down the bamboo pipe and into the vase.
Beautiful but big spider

 May Lei at a small waterfall

 I'm currently in Luang Prabang, Laos and it is really nice, I'm settling in here for 4 days of coffee shops, temples, monks, waterfalls, and even some yoga.  I will tell you all about it in another post. promised, some more Sapa photos:
Cute little Red Dzao boy playing with a horse figure made of straw
Indigo dyed fabric drying on a bamboo pole
Hmong market day
Black Hmong clothing
This is the fattest pig I have ever seen


1 comment:

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