6 October 2017 – Tu Le – Bac Ha
Up about 6.00am.
I must have been tired, because I slept alright. And being able to sleep alright on that bed was certainly an achievement.
At least now I know what to expect should I find myself on a mortuary slab….
Downstairs by 7.00am for breakfast with Toan. Caphe sua da, of course, as well as some sticky rice.
And yep, sticky rice is definitely well named. Geez, it’s hard work…
Breakfast done, and it’s back upstairs to pack and get ready.
I also bite the bullet and put my sunscreen infused deet on.
Yep, it all comes flooding back.
It’s greasy and sticky, and just not a great deal of fun to be putting on. The tube also says something about keeping it away from pretty much everything a person could possibly be wearing.
I assume being naked, and not wearing spectacles or a watch, is really the only safe way you can go about using it.
Seeing as that ain’t going to happen, I half expect to destroy a few of my possessions, and quite possibly some of Toan’s if I get too close, all in the interests of being sun smart.
Back downstairs and we’re on our way just after 7.30am.
But we didn’t get far.
Yep, all of three minutes in, and it’s my first ‘wow’ moment of the day.
Now, some of the views yesterday were pretty good. But they just pale in comparison to what I was now seeing.
Looking down on a fairly wide valley that included several small villages and towns, as well as vast areas of rice paddies. On the other side of the valley mountains rose skywards.
Fifteen minutes later, after we’d wound our way along our mountain road, we came to another stop.
This time, we were now on the other side of the valley, looking back towards where we’d just been.
Low cloud and mist now hung below us, limiting slightly what we could see, but that soon cleared.
And when it did, well, once again, another ‘wow’ moment.
In fact, it was even more impressive than the previous one.
And here’s the problem. All the scenery is great, but then there’s scenery that just takes it to another level.
It then makes the previous ‘stunning’ scenery a little ‘run of the mill’, which isn’t really fair.
The fact that I had to walk between the half a dozen cows and two sleeping pigs that were sharing the vantage point, kind of confirms that what would normally be classified as photo worthy, becomes a little ho hum.
Less than half an hour into day two, scenery overload was already becoming an issue.
Back on the bike, around a few more mountains, and then over a ridge.
Hmmm, completely different look.
Still mountainous, still green, but more natural looking forest and jungle. No real noticeable farming going on. Again, very picturesque, but has nothing on what we’ve just seen.
It’s not long before the rice terraces begin to return and we soon come to a small village.
Toan turns off the main road and starts heading up to higher ground along a narrow track that deteriorates quickly.
The bike, with me on it as well, is not going to get up it, so I jump off and walk while Toan struggles on alone.
I begin walking and two minutes later a local, also on a motorbike, comes up behind me.
He motions for me to get on and he’ll take me up. I try, with hand gestures, to tell him I’m okay with walking. There’s not far to go, anyway.
He won’t take no for an answer, so I jump on. We get a little further before he too starts to get into trouble, and I’m once again back on my feet.
It’s not long before we both get to the top, picking up Toan’s bags that fell off the bike on the way, (it really was little more than a goat track) and the views were definitely worth the effort.
I ask Toan if he can ask my new friend if I can have a photo with him. My mate happily agrees, but doesn’t really show it in the photo.
Back to the views, and once again, just beautiful.
There’s another local up there outside his house, tending to the rice that he’s drying on the track, while his two kids bathe and play in the water running down the concrete channel opposite.
Yep, it was just such a great example of local life.
We reluctantly move on and head back down the bumpy track. Going down was slightly easier, but still not a lot of fun.
Safely down, we’re back on the made road.
On we go, Toan concentrating on the driving, me trying to take in everything I’m seeing. There’s just so much and I feel a little bombarded by it.
A little later we stop in a small Black Hmong village for a rest break. While the views are pretty good, it’s the young kids and the everyday village life that take most of my attention.
The kids are pretty happy to see me, offering lots of ‘hellos’, but really, they were more interested in each other, as well as whatever game they were playing.
On the other hand, a local guy, perhaps the father of one of the kids, was far more interested in me. Talking with Toan initially, he seemed very happy to have the two of us there.
He then came closer to me and showed great interest in my legs. I’m not sure what he was saying, and I’m not sure what exactly it was about them that fascinated him, but he did spend some time studying them.
Once bored with my legs, he turned his attention to my stomach. Now, while I may be carrying a touch more around my middle than I’d like, I wouldn’t say my stomach is the first thing that people notice about me.
It was all good natured, but at the same time I was slightly hurt.
Made a mental note to start with the sit ups when I get home…..
Talking the whole time while he was ‘appraising’ me, Toan then translated that he wanted to know how much I weighed.
I didn’t know if he was impressed with my size, or perhaps a little appalled.
Weight subject dealt with, he wasn’t quite finished with me.
He wanted to check the size of another part of my anatomy.
Now while he was quite an attractive bloke, as well as it having been a few days since I’d seen Lisa, I politely pushed his hand away.
Slightly confused, partly bemused, and perhaps even mildly flattered, we hopped back on the bike to continue our journey.
It’s now starting to warm up, and my legs are making me well aware of that.
Really hoping that this greasy deet stuff, apparently with the sunscreen in it, does what it’s supposed to.
Just in case it doesn’t, I try and cover my legs with my hands, as well as try and ‘hide’ my arms from the sun.
Being on windy mountainous roads, this proves rather difficult.
It’s around now that I notice that the deet is beginning to eat away at the leather band on my watch.
Geez, I love this stuff….
On we go, stopping occasionally for breaks and photo opportunities, before we pull up next to a local’s shop in a Tay village. (yep, the one that kind of sounds like ‘Thai’).
As we pull up, a young boy comes along on his bike. He’s pretty happy to see me and wants to practice some English. We give it a go and he tells me his name is Do, or Dzo.
That’s about the extent of the lesson, but with the help of hands and fingers, I find out he’s seven years old.
While he’s obviously happy to have met this strange Westerner, it’s me who absolutely loves these interactions.
They really do make my day.
Conversation done, he jumps back on his bike and heads off down the road.
We sit and enjoy a cold water out the front of the ‘shop’, and I enjoy the break from the sun.
Now watered and rested, we’re on the move again.
Our next break, not too much later, includes lunch.
And because Toan tells me they serve it, and because I don’t think I’ve had it before, we have stir fried buffalo. It comes with rice, of course, as well another, again, unknown by me, green spinachy type vegetable.
Sorry, if it used to walk or swim, I’ll know what it is. If it was eaten by the thing that walked or swam, then yeah, no great interest….
While it was all good, it was nothing to really write home about.
But it hit the spot.
And it was probably better, well, at least ethically I suppose, than one of the other options they sold.
Yep, thit cho.
Lisa probably wouldn’t talk to me, and I could never tell anyone on Trip Advisor.
Back on the bike, and we’re off.
This stretch became a bit of a slog. There were perhaps a few reasons for that.
It was hot. And it was sunny.
The heat I could handle, but the sun was becoming quite a problem. Legs weren’t happy….
A lot of the journey was over steep, windy, and bumpy roads.
Then there were also the traffic issues.
Well, more specifically, truck issues. I’ll get to that soon.
Fortunately, there was enough to look at which helped take my mind off things. Well, most of the time.
The kids you see.
It’s all about the kids. They just seem so happy going about their day. And it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing. Even riding their bike up a fairly steep hill to get to school, or back home. They just do it, and don’t seem to complain. And they’re only young, too.
Mine, well, they get annoyed if they have to catch the bus….
The animals. Both on the side of the road, and on the actual road itself.
All just part of rural Vietnam, and in some cases, not just the rural areas.
Half a dozen water buffalo returning from a mud bath; the little dog spending time with a goat; small pigs, as well as chickens, walking around the legs of some other water buffalo while they eat the roadside grass.
I don’t know, I just never tire of it.
Actually, speaking of chickens.
After some careful research on the road sense of Vietnamese animals, I’ve come to the conclusion that the water buffalo are pretty switched on. They seem to actually anticipate what’s happening and will get out of your way with time to spare.
Dogs too, are generally pretty good. Although there can be some confusion at times.
Cows and pigs are similar, but are probably third on the list.
Chickens, on the other hand, are just plain dumb!
Sitting safely on one side of the road, causing no issue to any road user, they will suddenly dart across the road as you approach. Now if they kept going, that would be fine. They would again be out of harm’s way. But part way across, more often than not, they’ll suddenly change their minds and decide to head back. Or, just stop in the middle of the road and run around in circles.
Yep, just dumb….
Anyway, enough about brain challenged birds….
Back to the scenery that is keeping me going.
Countless waterfalls, either beside the road, or off into the distance.
Waterfalls, that in Australia, would be signposted. They’d be tourist attractions and you’d actually make a day of it just to see them. But here, we just keep driving. There’s just so many things to see that you just can’t stop at everything. If you did, well, you’d get nowhere.
Now, the trucks….
They weren’t a constant, but there was a period of an hour or two where we had to deal with them. There are iron ore mines in the area; we actually passed some iron smelters a bit later; and obviously because of that, there are trucks.
Now, there seems to be a ‘thing’ on Vietnam’s roads, when it comes to trucks.
If you are going to overtake one, be overtaken by one, or pass one coming towards you, then you can almost guarantee that it will either be on a bend in the road, or when someone, or something, is also on that particular stretch of road at exactly the same time.
And rest assured, the truck will not slow down. The manouvre will be done regardless of who is nearby, and regardless of any potential danger.
The two seconds the truck driver will save by completing this manouvre, seems to be a matter of life and death.
But not his….
Anyway, just a Vietnam traffic observation, and one that makes you feel very small and vulnerable when you’re sitting on the back of a bike.
Having said all that, Toan was incredibly safe, as well as very aware of what was going on around us.
Another thing the trucks ‘helped’ with?
Lots, and lots, of dust.
Which, because I was wearing my sunscreen deet, was able to stick to me very effectively.
The dust, however, soon disappeared as a result of a couple showers of rain. At one point it got heavy enough that we needed to pull over under a local’s shop awning, in a small town we were passing through.
He didn’t mind, and in fact went and fetched a couple of chairs so we could sit it out. I love that helpful camaraderie thing.
Rain passed, dust settled, sunburnt legs much happier, we headed on. Now only having to deal with the resultant mud…..
Yep, it had been a long day…..
A bit later on we had a train line pop up beside us, and then we actually rode along it over a bridge. I believe that that train line is the one that goes to Lao Cai.
Onwards, and upwards. So far upwards, and so windy, we were now probably averaging 20 kmph.
And then, around one of the many, many, many bends, a ‘wow’ moment.
And definitely a photo moment. Even though I know the camera won’t show what I was seeing, I had to try.
Sitting a fair way up a pretty big mountain ourselves, looking across a valley that was a long way down, and seeing a mountain on the other side in the distance that made our mountain look like a hill.
Yep, the scale of the place is hard to comprehend.
The beauty even harder.
Made the dirt, the sunburn, and the sore bum, all become a distant memory. Well, for a few minutes, anyway….
Back on the bike, and I spent the next 10 minutes with my head cocked to the left, wanting to hang on to that image for as long as I could.
Just after 5.00pm, we rode into Bac Ha. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Bac Ha, but sort of expected it to be a bit touristy.
It is; as it didn’t take long to see people like me; but it also has a bit of an authentic charm. The guy with the horse drawn cart, with him and a pig on the back, sort of helped with that.
We find our accommodation for the night, and I head upstairs to get organised. It’s a ‘homestay’, but a fairly large one that caters to reasonable numbers. Almost hostel-ish?
My room, well, everyone’s room, is on the first level in a pretty big stilt house. There must be 10 – 12 mattresses on the floor, separated by curtains, with mosquito nets over each one.
Not exactly what I was expecting, but, it’ll do.
I get as organised as I can, and then head off to the single shower available.
While I’d been in far better showers than this one; read, I wouldn’t have been in too many worse; it was up there with one of the best showers I’d ever had.
Gee, I felt good after it.
Rid of dust, dirt and deet, I headed downstairs to find Toan.
He’d just come back from seeing a doctor and apparently he has a tooth or gum infection. Given antibiotics, he’s been told he has to avoid alcohol.
Personally, I would have gone to get a second opinion, but if that is what he has to do, then that is what he has to do….
Dinner is soon ready, and as there is a bit of a party going on in the ‘restaurant’ downstairs, we all head out to the undercover area out the back.
There’s about 12 there, including some other guides that Toan seems to know, a family group of four from France, as well as the homestay’s owners.
Food was good, without being great, (didn’t pay that much attention) and the beer was cold.
And the rice wine made it a little happier, again.
Sat around and chatted for a while after dinner, and then adjourned to my mattress for the usual note taking, Trip Advisor and beers.
Being a communal room, as well as being absolutely stuffed, it was a relatively early night.
Which was a good thing, as breakfast was at 7.00am.