February 15th to 18th
15.02.2016 - 18.02.2016 10 °C
I had a quick visit in Hanoi which was very welcome as I could get some things that I was unable to find in other smaller places. It is so handy, that the hotels that I have stayed in even for one night are willing to keep my luggage for the day while I explored more of Hanoi. I discovered there are all sorts of beautiful things to buy. I am not sure that was the best discovery!! I also went to a what is known as a Water Puppet performance early in the evening before my overnight train to Sapa. It was quite lovely even though I didn’t have much idea of the story line as it is all in Vietnamese naturally.
The Water Puppets
And their puppeteers
When I got to the train station to get my ticket an hour before the train leaves, it was a bit confusing as I had changed the date of my trip. Suddenly this woman shows up and gives me a personal escort to my birth on the train. I have no idea of why I got this special treatment. She even intervened when the ticket collector came along and said that I had the wrong ticket. All these surprises. I slept remarkably well on the train. I spent the day in Sapa and it was a great day to be here as there was a village festival very close to Sapa. So off I went on a motorbike (I can’t believe my braveness!). I had to walk a couple of kms through another village, and of course a young woman this time from the Red Dao people showed up immediately to guide me. They don’t want money but for sure you are expected to buy something from them at the end and they have a habit of reminding you that they would like you to buy something. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to the festival as the details were sketchy, but in the end we arrived and I totally enjoyed it. It is wonderful to be at something like this that is totally for the Hmong people themselves and they are not interested in the tourists. They were wearing clothing which I have never seen before for this special celebration which is for the New Year I believe. It was easy to spend a couple of hours there taking in the beauty.
Entering the festival site we had to cross a river on a freshly made bamboo bridge
Navigating the stones in the river to get across to land. Amazing how we all did it!
Lieu and me
Lieu was happy with my purchase at the end and my motorcycle driver was there waiting to take me back to town. I headed back to the border town of Lao Cai and stayed at a Chinese hotel which was more expensive than I usually pay, but I was glad to do that I they have luggage storage that I could trust. I wanted to have just one light bag to go to China with.
So the grand adventure starts. This feels like the most difficult undertaking as I am going to rural China where there is very little English spoken and in fact many of the locals don’t even speak Mandarin as they have their own dialects which other Chinese people cannot understand. To prepare myself I found someone in Sapa to write in Mandarin that I needed a taxi to get to the bus station for Yuang Yang. Thinking ahead, I also found out how to ask for the toilet. So I had that on my phone in notes as I was unable to use the internet at all while in China. It came in very handy I must say, though I have to say one of the most unpleasant experiences of China is the toilets! I would prefer to find a hidden place in nature any day!
While standing at border control waiting to leave Vietnam another “angel” showed up, this time a young woman, who was as university student from East China. She helped me get set up with the taxi to the ATM machine and then the bus station and before I knew it I was on the bus heading towards Yuang Yang.
My bus which looks a whole lot better from the outside than the inside!
We followed the river valley all the way and there were countless rubber trees, banana plants and also pineapple. This part of China, though mountainous, is heavily developed agriculturally. There was a dam part way up the river, where the fish farms started appearing. There were many people who got off and on the bus along the way. In fact I was the only passenger left on the bus when we got to Xinje. It was one of though bus rides that I had to endure the endless smoking. Unlike Vietnam, most of the men smoke incessantly at least in that area. I sure had to work with my aversive mind.
On arriving in Xinje, a minivan driver found me and when we had enough passengers off we went to the small town of ________________ where Jacky’s Guesthouse is located. Luckily we arrived in daylight so I could begin to see the terraces. What a gorgeous part of the world. I hadn’t realized how culturally rich this area is until getting there with the main ethnic groups of the Hani people and the Ye or Li people. Visually it was stunning. I had this feeling that I had died and gone to heaven photographically!
When I got dropped off, Jacky’s was nowhere in sight, but a young woman showed me the way down a very windy way of steps and voila, there was Jacky’s placed right at the edge of one of the most beautiful sets of terraces in Yuang Yang, particularily for the sunrise. When I got my room with this stunning view of the terraces I couldn’t be happier.
The view from my window!
Jacky is a really lovely young man and his English is great. He spent four years travelling as an assistant with a professional travel photographer, so he has seen a lot of the world. His photographs of the terraces and the people of the area are everywhere in the guesthouse, so it is inspiring.
The dining room at Jacky's
The altar at Jacky's. It is unusual to see a Buddha on the altar here, mostly it is Quan Yin or other figures. But to see Ganesh was really unusual. It made me feel right at home.
The first evening was lovely and sunny and I could see just how beautiful it is there. I ventured out on a little walk in the terraces, but I could see how it took quite a lot of balance to walk on those narrow paths. I really enjoyed see the people walking along or working on the terraces. It is incredible how these older people, who are carrying loads can walk up the terraces, using their hoes to help then climb up to the next level. These are incredibly strong people especially the woman who carry such incredibly heavy loads. They easily could be carrying more than 100lbs and they are small people.
Watching this woman was when I learned how they manage to climb up the terraces when they are older or have heavy loads or in many cases both.
I came upon these children while wandering in the terraces. You can see just how gorgeous it is here.
I could see that being here for the week was going to be a good exercise plan for me as it is all down and up. But when there are beautiful things to see it is easier for me to push myself. Somehow the treadmill at home doesn’t do it!
The first night, I experience my first heated blanket of the trip. Oh, it was great. And I had the forsight to have brought my therma-rest thinking that the beds might be hard and hard they were. It made all the difference.
My room, sadly you cannot see the view as I took this photo my last evening.
I woke up early for he sunrise and was able to watch it from the terrace above my room. A perfect view. Needless to say there are many photos! I noticed that there was a viewing platform high up above us and there are easily 500 people viewing the sunrise, many of them avid photographers predominantly Chinese visitors to the area. I so enjoyed having the quieter experience from out deck though I could see how there would be a more expansive view from up top.
My first sunrise in Yuang Yang
Around breakfast time, which I had at Jacky’s, the fog rolled in and Jacky suggested that I go off to this village which is known as “the Mushroom Village” because the houses have the traditional straw roofs which look mushroom like. I took a local minivan for about 4 kms and then started to wander downhill through several villages, In all I probably was there 3 or 4 hours just exploring. I really loved the time as I was able to just hang out. There was one older woman sitting on a woodpile who I sat down beside for quite awhile. Her elderly husband was reconstructing a lean-to very slowly and methodically. At one point I decided to try and take a photo of the two of us sitting together. I think she appreciated that.
My friend for a little bit
Some more photos of Mushroom Village life
The houses, are all black inside with almost no light as there are very few windows. The black is from the open fires used for cooking and warming the houses. I was grateful for my comfort at Jacky’s! I spent a long time watching the kids playing and the women washing vegetables at the communal water tap.
I also walked down beyond the village into the terraces, but it was still foggy. There was one spot where the fog began to dissipate and I got to see how beautiful it was, but quickly the fog reappeared again.
After waiting some time for it to lift again, I gave up and headed back to Jacky’s. I stopped at a lone restaurant on the way that had a menu in English and ordered braised aubergine. It was really delicious except for the incredible amount of oil! Luckily I didn’t feel any ill effects from it.
Just by chance, I saw Jacky with his tripod and he was headed off to a viewpoint to see the sunset so I was able to go along. It was a beautiful viewpoint and though not the most colourful sunset as the sun went behind a thick cloud, it was beautiful. I love watching the terraces in the morning and evening from a distance seeing the tiny little figures of people working or walking in them. It is stunning.
Can you see the people in the terraces?
Jacky is the cook mainly at the guesthouse and takes great pride in it. His cooking is great. I had not expected that at all. I have to say I had pretty limited protein that week but otherwise it was a treat.
Jacky and two of the Hani women who were his staff.
There are three Hani women, who are the staff at the guesthouse, who don’t speak English at all, but who are really sweet. I so enjoyed watching them and their closeness. In the afternoons they would sit by the stove and play cards together. I could not figure it out. Even Jacky said he had no idea of the rules. I will continue on with my time in Yuang Yang in the next entry. It is lovely sharing this all with you. Dana