A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: danjali

Hanoi, Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City

My final days in Vietnam

sunny 32 °C

Back in Hanoi, I had hoped to take in a show that night of Traditional Vietnamese Music and Dance, but sadly, didn’t realize that it was only on Saturdays, so instead I found a lovely little Vietnamese restaurant, that also offer cooking classes, to have dinner. I probably should not have eaten, given, the amount of food on the boat, but my stomach was well trained and was actually hungry!

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Yummy dinner served so beautifully

Another full day, I was glad to get into my bed. I got up early as I wanted to go down to Hoan Kiem Lake which is in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and is really a central park for everyone. It was a really fun morning seeing all the people exercising in their own ways. There were a number of groups of people doing different forms of Tai Chi, Chi Gong and other forms that I didn’t recognize. I love that people come out in the morning to exercise together. What a great idea!! I guess we have the equivalent of gyms, but it really doesn’t compare in atmosphere!

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Others were simply visiting or doing solitary practices sitting by the lake.

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One of the groups of women were doing Tai Chi and it seemed very much to be the Taoist form. I decided to just try and join in, but I am so rusty so it was pretty bad. Nevertheless it was fun for me to be involved. One of the women insisted I continue with them and we ended up doing some Chi Gong and then came the fan form that I had no idea about. I was handed a fan and proceeded to try an follow their moves. It was an experience! I loved being part of it. It turned out that one of the women had a son in Edmonton. Such a small world. Wish I had a photo but I only took a video which I can't upload, so you will have to imagine it......

On the way back to my room, I stopped for a "coconut coffee" which I have to say was delicious at a little coffee shop called Notes. Every customer writes some kind of note to be posted somewhere in the the coffee shop. It was very sweet. The young man working there wanted to take a photo of me as well. I look very relaxed, but I can tell you that was short-lived as I was booking my accommodation in Can Tho on the phone while drinking my coffee and unbeknownst to be left my Visa card on the table. Ten minutes later, I realized my mistake and came dashing back. Luckily they found it and were keeping it safely for me. Saved once again! That was a relief and it never ceases to amaze me how much kindness there is in the world.

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I flew back to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta from Hanoi for my last couple of days. I wanted to have some heat before I left as I know it will be awhile till it is warm in Saskatchewan! I spent the first night in Can Tho hoping that I would find this amazing boatman that had taken me out the last time. But, as luck would have it, I discovered that he only worked on weekends and this was Wednesday. The other disappointment was though I booked a room with a river view, it ended up being a room with no window! It was advertised wrongly on Hotels.com. What to do, I had already paid for it. In the end they did refund me a bit of money, but I would have preferred the "river view"!

I was able to arrange another boatman for the morning to take me to Cai Rang Floating Market one last time and it ended up being the same boatman, Mun, who had originally taken me when I was first in Can Tho. Amazingly, he remembered me. It was great to be on the water once again and the market was as lovely as ever. This time I got to visit a Rice Noodle Factory (it is a very small operation and factory is not really what it is at all) and see how they actually make those rice noodles. Not only that but I got to eat some of them. I never realized that fresh noodles would taste better.

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Mun, my boatman showing off his expertise at noodle making

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My attempt was pretty pathetic, I had wrinkles all over my pancakes!

Cai Rang Market photos:

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Cabbages anyone?

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I loved watching these boatwomen taking a break and enjoying each other's company. Women work so hard in Vietnam, it is good to see them taking a break.

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Restaurant on the river!

I booked my last night at Nguyen Shack which I had stayed at my very first two nights in the Mekong Delta. It is right on the canal and very peaceful. As they were not fully booked they gave me one of the more expensive bungalows for the night. I simply loved it and could have stayed there a week if I had it. So great to hang out on the verandah in the hammock and take in all that was there. In the evening the fireflies came out adding to the experience. The sounds of nature were so full and alive.

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My beautiful room

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And the verandah............

In the evening I met a French Canadian woman who was staying at the guesthouse for a few days and she and her two other Canadian friends were renting a private boat to go to a more distant floating market, so I decided to go along with them for the last morning. It was lovely to be with them. They laughed a lot and were a delight to be with. They jokingly said I am not a “real Canadian” as I don’t speak two languages and I don’t skate! On the way we stopped at some fruit orchards and were able to walk for a bit. I enjoyed seeing all the fruit trees and a pleasant surprise of some lotuses in bud and water lilies in bloom. I had not really seen hardly any lotuses as they are not in season yet.

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Our trip ended up being 8 hours, but I really enjoyed being in the experience and it felt like a great way to end my time in the south. Before I knew it I was on a motorbike (Lyly, the tour guide from the guest house gave me a lift) once again heading back to Can Tho to pick up my big bag and then off to the bus station. I was back on a comfy Orange Futa Bus and safely got to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) about 10pm. I had booked a room very near the airport planning on getting a better sleep, however, I had made a mistake on my phone with the dates and it ended up that I had their last tiny, very standard room on the top floor. It was not the deluxe double I expected! It may not have had a window either! The biggest problem was that they have these little oil burners with fragrance in the rooms burning away all day, with no windows and the fragrances was simply overpowering. Unbelievable, but it was late and I had paid, what to do. I got them to bring me a fan and turn on the AC and as I was the only room on that floor other than the Laundry, I slept with the door open and the fan outside hopefully bringing in some non-fragranced air. Needless to say it was not a great sleep despite all my planning. The taxi came to pick me up and take me to the airport. It was so close I could have walked, had I known. I had my last irritation, with Vietnam, as the meter said very clearly 15,000 Vietnamese Dong and he was insistent that I owed him 50,000. I have to say I lost my temper. Who knows, maybe there is something that I don’t know…….

Luckily these little incidences are a minor part of the time and in fact the kindnesses are expressed much more often than these difficult moments. I could have not found my way around Vietnam but for the endless times that people helped me in one way or another. Normally, I catch onto a bit of the basic language, but I really didn’t do well in Vietnam with the tones. One word has six meanings given the way you say it. So the chances of saying something correctly are not that great!

As I prepare the map for each entry I see how incredibly busy it has been for my trip, back and forth and then back and forth again. But it has worked quite well. In fact, I kind of like revisiting places as I often have a different impression each time. It also has added continuity to my time in Vietnam.

I feel happy about this time I have had here and in China. It has been quite an adventure. I think back about my expectations of this time and see how it has been different in lots of ways than I anticipated and yet so rich and unexpected in other ways. I really feel very alive and it has been such a good experience to move out of my usual bounds of "what I do". I really feel like I thrive when I get away from my limited idea of what I can or can't do. I feel so grateful for this opportunity to be with this "inner adventurer" part of me. I have a sense of coming back to Vietnam at some point as there are a few places I would like to see that I was not able to get to. Surely I will come back at a little warmer time of year in the north. I so appreciate being able to share my journey with you. It has really added to my daily delight in the unfolding of it all. It is such a good feeling to know that my journey is not a mystery to everyone. I look forward to seeing you all when I return in Regina, after my time in Sedona and the San Fransisco Bay Area. You can see I am stretching it out making sure that I get as little winter as possible! The way things are going with Regina weather, Spring will be in full swing.

Love, Dana

Posted by danjali 13:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Halong Bay Boat Journey

Discovering Bai Tu Long Bay

sunny 25 °C

The next morning I was picked up for my trip to Halong Bay or to be more precise to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is right beside Halong. As Halong Bay, is perhaps the biggest tourist destination in Vietnam it has become very crowded with boats. I have heard that there are 800 or so boats all carrying lots of passengers. I opted for a trip that went to this less developed but equally beautiful bay. I got picked up in a Luxury Van, which I hadn’t ordered, but enjoyed, and with two other people, Leeanne and Harry (from Australia) who were also on the boat with me. We invariably had a stop, which for all appearances was a bathroom break but it was half and hour at a shop that has disabled people doing the handicrafts. I enjoyed watching them work but was pretty turned off by the incredibly inflated prices. I don’t imagine that the workers are paid very much. Our second stop was a to see a Water Puppet show in a rural setting and then have lunch which was really tasty.

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Water puppet show

We boarded the “Dragon's Pearl”, our home for the next couple of days, early in the afternoon. It is a smaller boat to begin with having only 11 cabins, but there were only 13 of us so it was a great number. There were 12 staff members, so the service was superb.

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Being served our welcoming drink

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"Dragon's Pearl" with the sails up. We never did actually sail but it was pretty to see.

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Figurehead of the Dragon's Pearl at the front of the boat

I can honestly say I have never felt so cared for by staff in this way. It was amazing. The tour guide Chung was delightful and you could tell that he was genuinely wanting people to have a great experience. There was a great comradery among the staff which made it even more pleasant. All the passengers were from the US or Australia with me being the lone Canadian! I thought they had planned it that way to have all the English speakers on the same boat but it was just by accident. I am grateful as there was only one smoker. If there had been more Europeans, particularly French folks, there likely would have been lots of smokers.

Really from beginning this area was beautiful. These beautiful islands of rock rising out of the ocean, each their very own shape and as we moved, the different combinations of these islands was enchanting to say the least.

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Here is our itinerary for the trip:

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The weather, was gorgeous, three sunny days, which I had not experienced since being in the Mekong Delta area. It was good to get warm again and peel off the long underwear! We travelled for several hours and then had our first kayak ride.

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It was great to be at water level in this gorgeous place. Chung and I shared a kayak so I had it really lucky. We paddled for an hour before boarding again and having a many coursed meal prepared so beautifully. We had our dinner on the deck and it was dark with everything lit up with candles and lights. It was pretty amazing.

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Wish I had remembered to take a photo when it was dark and the candles were lit!

I sat with a couple, Sky and Norm, who live in San Francisco and really enjoyed talking to them. We had such a nice connection. Sky was completely in love with the scenery as well so it was usually her and I photographing all the beautiful sights.

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Sky and Norm

On the top of the boat the view was great.

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Dusk at our anchoring spot with the other boats, luckily not too numerous.

I really almost couldn’t believe that I was where I was. I was so excited it was hard to sleep and I got up several times to look out my cabin door. The moon in the middle of the night was amazing. I had the first hour or so to myself on deck as I got up for the sunrise the next morning which was totally delightful. The birdsong was so beautiful to hear. I just wanted to be immersed in it.

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Sunrise the first morning

We had a two-course breakfast which was again so delicious. I was so struck by how much the staff wanted us to just enjoy ourselves. It really touched my heart.

We had another kayak ride that morning which was longer and gave us time to take in where we where. These little islands are amazing. Chung knew all the lovely places to take us to. The water was so calm almost like glass so kayaking was very easy.

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Chung and I

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A lagoon we paddled into.

After an amazing lunch, and some rest time we headed to an island which had a beach and could kayak, swim or just enjoy the sunset, which is what I did. There were lots of boats that were moored there, but as Chung promised by the time the sun set, they were all gone and we were the only ones.

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Sunset with Sky and Norm paddling by.

Our dinner that night was served in a cave on this island which was up probably 50 steps. There are two chambers to the cave, one being smaller and the other quite large, with some stalactites and stalagmites. This cave in the past was used by fisherman who needed a safe refuge in storms but in the recent past are no longer able to stay there. Apparently, they often took pieces of the cave and so were destroying it. Hopefully they found another safe haven.

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The path up to the cave was all lit up and then inside it was lighted by candles and also some lights. I don’t know how they have electricity there but they do! The tables were gorgeous, with white linen, rose petals, candles. They even had lights under the table so we could more easily see our food. They think of everything. One of the couples on the trip was on their honeymoon so the staff very sweetly made it special for them. Vietnamese people in general really seem to be romantics. You see it for sure in their TV programs.

The food was barbequed that night and was again amazing with so many courses. During the evening Chung kept on bringing out these beautifully carved vegetables that were done by the cook. We really couldn't believe how beautifully done they were. It was a sweet evening that we shared.

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Chung making a presentation to the honeymoon couple and many of the staff of the Dragon's Pearl

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Each of us had our photo taken in the heart. How sweet!

After boarding again, we travelled back to our anchoring place, which was where we had stayed the evening before. It was incredibly beautiful to be on the top of the boat with all these islands and the stars shining brightly above. I really didn’t want to go to bed, though I loved my little cabin.

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My sweet cabin

Sunrise again, a one course breakfast, thankfully, and then we were off to a floating fishing village for a visit. We got to be a row boats again, with predominately women rowing, and visit what is left of their village. It is a very hard life out there with little access to medical care, or even TV or the internet so as time goes on the village is shrinking.

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Floating village homes

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A sort of cave we paddled to.

There used to be a primary school but it has now closed, so I suspect that this village will only survive as a tourist destination rather than a genuine village very soon. In fact, I wondered, if even at this point most of the folks living there are not just involved in the tourist activities and also the Cultured Pearl Farm that is there. It was really interesting to see that for the first time and to see how they actually culture the pearls as opposed to them being naturally produced.

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Cultured Pearl Farm, underneath the balls, the nets of oysters are hanging for up to 5 years.

We had our last morning on the boat and then brunch. Oh, my gosh, it is a good thing that the trip didn’t last a week. It was way too tempting to eat too much as it was all so delicious. We said goodbye to the staff and then off we went in our different Luxury vans back to Hanoi.

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Happy me on the Dragon's Pearl

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Photo of captain and Chung

A few more photos of Halong Bay before I left......

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When we arrived back at the dock in Halong City I felt like I could instantly go out and do the whole trip again. I reluctantly got on the Luxury Bus heading back to Hanoi. This time I rode with Sky and Norm and the honeymoon couple. It was lovely to see all the folks working in the rice paddies alongside the road back to Hanoi. I will continue on with my adventure in my next entry. Love, Dana

Posted by danjali 08:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Sapa to Hanoi

February 24th to 28th

I arrived back to Sapa by early evening and found a room easily at the Family Guesthouse which I had noticed before and the room was just lovely for $15 CAD a night and this included a view (which I didn’t have much opportunity to see as was rainy and foggy most of the time sadly). The young man at the desk, Tang, was so gracious and his English was well spoken. That always makes such a difference. The first night, I slept well as it was a comfortable mattress (not always guaranteed in Vietnam), however I didn’t know that the AC system was also a heater so it was chilly. Luckily I have my fleece hoody with me with works well in these situations.

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My lovely room at the Family Guest House in Sapa

I headed off for breakfast at the Paradise View Restaurant which had been recommended to me by a friend in the US. I would have stayed at the hotel, but it was $50 US a night, a bit too much for my budget. Upon arriving, being cold and rainy outside, I felt the warmth of the restaurant and when I sat down the waitress pulled the heater over to my table and I had the luxury of being warm for the whole time I was there. It was raining and foggy and so I was content to work on my blog for a few hours. I sat by the window which was right beside stairs outside and routinely the Hmong women would be coming up and motioning through the window, that I should look at her wares! I was back in Sapa!

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Hmong women selling their wares

Though being back in Sapa was not exactly where I wanted to be, I felt content with how things were working out. I actually needed a more restful time after my very full time in China. One of the things I wanted to do while there was a little shopping as I hadn’t really looked at the shops while I was there the first time. One the surprising things is that every second shop in Sapa is selling North Face jackets, bags, backpacks and the like very cheaply. North Face has it’s factories in Vietnam, but I am pretty doubtful about these goods being actually North Face as they are sold pretty cheaply. It seems like they have it down to an art. Even the labels look perfect. What is curious is that the jackets are apparently gortex, but the North Face fleece gloves are also labeled gortex, so I think it all calls it into question. Nevertheless, I found myself buying a new raincoat (gortex!) for $15 US. Of course these stores were doing good business as many the tourists visiting were ill equipped for the colder weather.

On my last day in Sapa, I decided to try the new cable car up to the top of Mount Fanzipan called the “Fanzipan Legend” I think it has just opened in the last couple of months. It was quite an experience. It is quite the place with a huge temple at the bottom and then another at the top with more in the process of being built. It was a bit of a shock when out cable car started and swiftly we were suspended high over the Sapa Valley. There was a pretty good view the first bit of the trip but before long we entered the clouds and up and up and up we went until near the top where we were above the clouds. People, mostly Vietnamese and other Asian tourists, were delighted to be making this trip. Up until the Fanzipan Legend, it was a 4 day excursion to the top of the mountain and back and one that you would have to be in great shape to do. I didn’t realize that in fact, there were lots more steps to go to the top. There is a park that goes up and up and up and up with various sites along the way. I got to the point where I was two thirds of the way there, and was doing it 10 steps at a time and resting. I wasn’t alone in this. I would hate to think about what it would have been like if I hadn’t had that week in China doing all that climbing! I needed to get back to Sapa for the train that night, so had to turn back, but there actually was no view at the top because of the clouds so it wasn’t a disappointment. In fact it was a relief!

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The Sapa Valley on a very dull day

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The view looking back at the Fanzipan Legend Station. Those steps go up and up and up!

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Into the clouds

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It was almost spooky!

Safely back, I waited for the shuttle to take me to Lao Cai for the train that night. Somehow things got mixed up and the shuttle didn’t come so I had a taxi ride to Lao Cai, and I didn’t pay and I don’t know who did. I am hoping it wasn’t he guesthouse…..

Back on the Chapa Express to Hanoi, I was surprised as the first three trips had been pretty cold, but this time, they had the heat on and it was hot! Off came the layers one by one. We arrived at 6am in the morning and I was able to drop off my bags at the Holiday Gold Hotel and then wander around for the morning in Hanoi. I have come to really enjoy Hanoi. It is a high energy place for sure. Now that I am more confident with striding out across roads with oodles of motorbikes, I feel more at home. There is so much visually to take in and it is changing all the time. People walking swiftly down the street with all manner of goods in baskets or on poles, not to mention those on bicycles with their wares and then every other kind of vehicle you can imagine.

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The family cycle as opposed to the family car! This is a very normal scene.

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One of many Hanoi donut sellers. They were very tempting I must say....

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My day there was mostly a shopping day and believe me there are places to spend money! Luckily, my bag is full so I was limited to small stuff which I am grateful for. As it was Saturday, there was a night market so after a delicious Indian dinner at the Little India restaurant (my first non-vietnamese meal since I had gotten to Vietnam) I went to the night market for a bit. It was again full of people enjoying the evening. I will continue on with my journey to Halong Bay in the next entry. Bye for now, Dana

Posted by danjali 09:14 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Yuang Yang Rice Terraces continued

February 19th to 24th

all seasons in one day 11 °C

That evening I met a Chinese couple and their friend and they spoke English quite well. To my delight they invited me to spend the day with them tomorrow as they had their own car. We got up early to go to the viewing platform above and even though we were there a good hour before sunrise there were hundreds of people up there already all vying for the best spot. That is quite an experience. There were certainly some flared tempers, but I guess I can understand it as many of them have just this one chance and then are leaving. I had the luxury of 6 days in the area.

I found a pretty good spot with enough room for my little tripod and totally enjoyed the sunrise. It was more colourful than it had been for weeks apparently. What makes it even more beautiful is the mist that creeps up the valley. I happily clicked away with the 100’s of other photographers! I have never in all my life seen so much expensive and huge camera equipment. I was glad I was not carrying their load.

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The fog rolled in once again about breakfast, but Du Ying, Lowfan and Jan and I set off on our day in hopes of finding some clear weather. It was a challenge I must say, but we headed over to the other side of the mountain and did find some clear spots where we were able to take in the magnificience of the terraces. Jan was particularly daring in terms of walking out on the edges of the terraces and I for some reason followed him, only to have one of my feet slip into the mud up to my ankle. That in itself was OK, but then my foot was really slippery and I found myself unable to get my footing to walk back. Luckily a man saw my plight and extended a hand to help me get back to the road. It must have looked comical to those looking on. It took two days for my sandal to dry as it is so cold and damp here.! It is all part of the experience.

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Jan walking bravely out on the terraces

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The view from the terrace

We stopped at a restaurant along the way and had a delicious lunch where for the first time I had tofu since I had been in China. It was great. Lowfan and Du Ying had lived in Virgina in the US for a couple of years about five years ago and so it was relatively easy to converse with them. I learned lots about their lives and their views about things. Jan didn’t speak English at all so we couldn’t say much but just looked at each others photos. As we were driving back to Jacky's, we stopped at a place where we could see our village being swallowed up in clouds.

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Jan, Du Ying and Lowfan

I was really touched by their wanting to include me in their trip and ended up eating meals with them back at Jacky’s until they left. I was sad to see them go. Funnily enough, there are not so many Western tourists that stay at Jacky’s but it was great place because I felt like I was having a more authentic experience of China.

The next day was not only foggy but also started with pouring rain so no sunrise to watch that day. I went out to explore the local village that the guesthouse is located in. I decided to rent a van for the afternoon to go to the most popular sunset place, Laohuzui Scenic Spot and also because nearby the village was having a special festival day which is called a Banquet festival where the whole village shares a meal together. It just so happened that a French couple were around and Jacky asked them if they were interested in joining me which again worked out well financially. So off we went first to see the terraces as it was much clearer on that side of the mountain and it seemed smart to catch a view while it was available. I was learning that the fog is never far away at this time of year. It was a really long climb down to the lower viewing platform, but a good view when we got there. It was swallowed up in 15 minutes by the fog. I felt very blessed again with timing.

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Within minutes I could see nothing........

There just so happened to be a little teahouse not far from the viewing platform so we sat there for a bit before the long and steep climb up. Finally we discovered where the village was and a young woman escorted us down once again to where some dancing was happening in the village. She invited us to outside of her home and I think would have liked us to join her for the banquet but it was getting a bit late.

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The banquet consisted of all this small tables which were placed along the path and in the village squares and the meal for the whole village was prepared by the men it seemed. As we were leaving they were beginning to eat together and it was clearly a joyful occasion.

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Several of hundreds of tables in the village

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Man happily cooking for the Village Feast

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Carrying the food to the tables at the Banquet Festival

Jacky suggested that for the next day I go on a hike which was partly on the road and partly a path which began at a village about 5 kms away called Shenzen. I loved the walk and really enjoyed what and who I encountered along the way. You do have to be very careful walking on the roads as the vehicles are not really watching out for pedestrians. They will honk if they see you, but then it is up to the pedestrian to move.

There was a great viewpoint called "Eagle's Nest, one of Jacky’s favourites along the way, but by that time it was so incredibly windy it felt scary to be too close to the cliff edge. It was hard to hold my camera still enough to photograph it. Luckily I got a chance a few days later.

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The terraces at Eagle's Nest

The next little encounter was I ran into a tour guide in a village along the way who was leading a photographer’s group. He took me into the house and I met the photographer from San Francisco who was photographing a man with the traditional bamboo pipe. I got to take advantage of the opportunity and photograph him as well. I spent about half an hour there and then was on my way again.

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The next folks I met were some people digging a water canal out in the terraces. It looked like exhausting work for sure as the canal was really deep. They are such hard working people and it is all done by hand amazingly.

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I had to navigate through the village of Malizhai to the other side and found the steps that Jacky told me to climb towards the scenic site of Bada. It was up and up and up so I took it slowly. Though it was hard work, I enjoyed being out there. I was on my own for quite a long time but felt pretty confident with Jacky’s map that I was on track. Finally, I found the way to the scenic viewpoints, which was a bit of a bonus as I didn’t have to pay for them as I didn’t have to go past the ticket counter, however the view was really hopeless and it was dark and very dull. In fact, I never did see these terraces at their best. I headed home in a shared mini-van which came along after about thirty minutes. I was getting a bit worried so felt very relieved to be heading back to the guesthouse. I was really tired again but glad to be getting in better shape.

The next morning while up on the guesthouse terrace, I met a family a woman named Leng from Malaysia. They had arrived the night before. They had arranged to rent a vehicle for the day and she invited to her family which was fabulous. To rent a van on my own cost about $75(US) a day so it is a bit expensive, but shared it was $15. Her family consisted of her mother (Angeline) and her aunt (Ca) and her husband (Mr. Ca). So we set off on our day with the driver hitting all the scenic spots in the area. I was so grateful to be getting there so easily. It was quite hazy that day, so the photography was not the best, but nevertheless I really enjoyed seeing it all. We had a great lunch that day in a place that I would not have eaten at but because Leng speaks Chinese, she was able to order for us. It was fabulous food, though as you can see the décor is a bit limited.

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We arrived at the “sunset spot” named “Laohuzui“ about 4pm which is around the time you need to in order to get a good place to take photos from. In fact by that time, already there were a lot of photographers with huge long lenses already there. It was rather a long wait for sunset which was 7:30pm and sadly the sun went behind a thick cloud before it set. Still it was gorgeous there and I was so grateful to see such magnificience with my own eyes.

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Sunset at Laohuzui

During the day we had done a lot of climbing and so by the end of the day we were exhausted and ready for supper and bed. But there was one more photo to take.....

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Full moon over the terraces outside my window

Leng and I headed up to the scenic viewing platform on the hill above the guesthouse the next morning which started the day off with good exercise. You cannot go anywhere here without going up! Another sunrise was enjoyed and I think that many people where very happy because of the clouds that came up the valley of terraces. There was a part of the hike that I wasn’t able to do several days before so Leng’s family and I decided to first visit the local market in Shenzen which takes place every five days and then head off on this hike.

The market was very colourful with all the local’s in their traditional dress. I was tempted to buy a few things to bring home, but the prices were so inflated it seemed a bit crazy. Now I am questioning that decision but what to do……

There was so much to photograph there but it was a difficult experience for me I must say. There were so many long lensed photographers in the market that it was disturbing. In fact, because I am foreign, I found myself sometimes being photographed by 6 or some more Asian tourists!. I got a sense of what the locals must feel like. I felt very torn as I wanted to photograph people but at the same time, I didn’t want to be part of it.

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In the vegetable area of the market

As much as I could I made sure that I asked for permission which I feel is important if you are close enough for people to notice. It has given me a lot to think about for sure. One of my favourite enounters was with an elderly women who is a cobbler repairing shoes with an ancient sewing machine. She was shy about being photographed so I left for a bit. I came back with Leng who was able to speak to her a bit, to find out that she was well over 80 years old. What amazed me was that she was doing her work without glasses. So Leng asked her about that. She wanted to try on my glasses to see what they were like and I happened to have an extra pair of readers in my pack. I usually carry some just for these very occasions. She was over the moon with them. It was dear to experience this. It made up for the uncomfortable experience I was having at the market.

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Her new pair of glasses.

After another delicious lunch which I had lotus roots for the first time, which were delicious by the way, we headed off on our hike which was pretty much foggy the whole way.

Still it had great atmosphere. We ended up walking through the terraces but there was a stone path which made it easy to do so. It would have been great to be able to see further than ten feet, but still it was enjoyable to make the journey. At one point the fog lifted for a few minutes and we were able to make out some of the terraces.

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My travelling companions that day

We had planned to watch the sunset at Bada but clearly at 5pm the fog was around and rising so again we headed back home to the guesthouse. Supper was great again and we said our goodbyes and I had to pack up my stuff as I was leaving the next morning for Vietnam going back the same way I came. It was foggy and pouring rain so it wasn’t as hard to leave as it could have been. I didn’t realize that I was heading into exactly the same kind of weather in north Vietnam at the time.

I know that I will come back here again if I can as it really is an amazing area. Next time I will come at harvest time which sounds fabulous and of course it will be warmer which would be a bonus for sure.

The trip back to Sapa went remarkably smoothly with my Chinese instructions for the bus and taxi to get me to the border. The bus ride again was a challenge with all those damn men smoking and the throat clearing that I dislike a lot. It is part of China though. We got stopped a few times on the way for security stops and they took my passport to examine it but all was well. I dared to use the toilet or the WC as they call it here and to my delight had my most pleasant public toilet experience in China! It was a relief after having been on the bus for 4 hours.

Before I knew it I was back in Vietnam and on the bus to Sapa where I will stay for a couple of days until I take the train on February 26th to Hanoi. I will continue with the adventure in the next entry. Dana

Posted by danjali 04:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Off to the Yuang Yang Rice Terraces in China

February 15th to 18th

all seasons in one day 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.

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The Water Puppets

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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.

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Entering the festival site we had to cross a river on a freshly made bamboo bridge

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Navigating the stones in the river to get across to land. Amazing how we all did it!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The dining room at Jacky's

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Posted by danjali 18:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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