Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 6

7 October 2017 – Bac Ha – Vinh Quang

I’m woken by a rooster.

That’s ok, kind of expected that, being out in the countryside and all.

But it’s still dark.  Very dark, in fact.

I check the time.

It’s 3.00am!!!!!!!!

Now, I’m not normally a breakfast person.  More than happy with just a coffee most of the time and often have to force myself to eat something.

Right now, though, I have this immense desire for chicken.

I’ll even prepare the thing myself….

Just after the rooster, I then hear motorbikes.  Soon after, it’s a bus, or a truck.  Then more motorbikes.  As well as people talking.

And then, just to really make sure I’m well and truly awake, an incredibly loud pig squeal.

And I mean LOUD!

Yep, well awake now…..

The pig is either really angry at the rooster as well, or, his day is over before it’s even begun.

The squeals get quieter, but they do go on for a while.

Hmmm, I’m still not really sure what was going on, there.

I do manage to get back to sleep, but am again woken by noise nearby.  This time it’s something scurrying along the balcony behind my bed.

Toan also heard it, and he suspects it was a rat.

So yeah, not the greatest of night’s sleep.

And the bed, which was just a mattress on the floor?

I doubt very much if the floorboards were harder….

Downstairs by 7.00am for breakfast.

No chicken, or pork or bacon for that matter.  Instead, it’s pancakes with banana and honey.

It was nice, but they gave me four.  I managed to get through two.  I really don’t know why they think I can eat this much.

Obligatory morning caphe sua da was also on the agenda.

Back upstairs to pack up, and then we were on our way just after 8.00am.

It’s quite cool, and very overcast with dark clouds.  There’s also a bit of mist in the air which is making it a little difficult for photography.

Although, it does add something to the photos.

Out of Bac Ha, and the scenery, well, it just keeps giving.

There are ‘wow’ moments around almost every bend.  It’s stunning.

Reasonable scenery…

About an hour into our day, down in a valley off in the distance, I think I can see a market.

Bit hard to tell, and not even sure if that’s where we’re headed.

Turns out it is a market, and yes, that is exactly where we’re going.

Very, very happy about that, as I love markets.

We head down, and it’s packed.  People, bikes and cars are everywhere.  Toan looks for somewhere to put the bike while I go off to explore.  They’ve obviously had a bit of rain as it’s very wet.  It’s also very muddy.

It’s all so colourful and vibrant, with plenty of minority villagers there.  It’s fascinating.

There’s a huge fresh meat section, as well as the usual fresh fruit and vegetables.  There’s also clothes, toys and hardware items.  In fact, probably just about anything you could ever possibly need, is here.

No shortage of fresh meat.
Or fruits and vegetables.  But it’s not really about the food.
Our fuel and light globe guy.

There’s even an area set aside for the sale of cows and water buffalo.

It starts to drizzle, but I persevere.  Unfortunately, the rain then becomes quite heavy.

I reluctantly give up and head back to find Toan, who’s using the services of the local petrol seller.  Who incidentally, since I just had a close look at the photo, was also the light bulb seller.

Wet weather gear on, we head off, just as a bus load of western tourists arrive.

Even though I am going to get rather wet and uncomfortable, I actually feel rather smug about the way I’m seeing things, compared to them.

Fortunately, the rain doesn’t last too long.

But, there had been enough around to make, what in some places were pretty ordinary roads, things pretty wet and muddy.

And when I say ordinary roads, I’m overstating the ‘road’ bit.

A little later we stop for a break while Toan makes a phone call.  I decide to make it a comfort break as well.  Seeing as public toilets aren’t really a thing up here, it gets done wherever we are.

Two things enter my mind while relief is obtained; one, I’m now a local, and two, how would we deal with this particular issue if Lisa was actually here.

But because she’s not, I don’t have to worry about that at the moment.

Feeling better, we’re soon on the move.

The ‘road’ gets worse and it’s really slow going now.  The views are still great, but they’re being slightly hindered by the constant bouncing around.

We round a corner and there’s a group of Vietnamese tourists at a bit of a lookout area on the side of the road.

We head a little bit further down the road and pull over next to two Hmong girls.  They look pretty young and one of them has a baby on her back.

A vastly different life to ours.
The view was alright too.  Even with the cloud.

My initial thought is that it is probably her younger brother or sister, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that in my eyes, she’s just too young to be a mother herself.

Toan starts talking to them, and I ask him if the baby is hers.

It is.

She is 16 years old, her husband is 17, and their baby is seven months old.

I’m not sure how long they’ve been married for, but apparently, getting married at 14 or 15 years old, is quite common.

You really know you’re in a very different place to your own, when you hear a story like that.

I get Toan to ask her if she minds if I take a photo of her.  She says that’s fine, but she apparently said it will be an ugly photo.

Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

The view from our vantage point isn’t half bad either, but again, it’s the interaction with the locals that gives the ‘wow’ moment.

Back on the bike again and the low cloud and mist is starting to lift.  This is helping with the photos, but now it’s become incredibly sticky.

There’s still so much to see, and around almost every corner, you just shake your head at what is revealed.  I think I keep using the word stunning, but it is.


You could literally stop every five minutes in places, to photograph it and take it all in.  But you just can’t, as you’d never get anywhere.  In the end, you start to be a bit selective.

And that’s just for the scenery on the good side of the road.

You also have the other stuff that goes on that has little to do with the landscape.

The two little kids, no older than two, playing together outside their house without a parent in sight.

Another kid, perhaps about seven, peeling a piece of fruit with a knife sharp enough to take your finger off.  No helicopter parenting around here…..

Then there was the kid who had somehow managed to catch a bird, just a bit further down the road from the chicken that had managed to snag a mouse.

Also, and again, the water buffalo.  And today, I learnt there were two types of water buffalo.  I’d always seen the black ones, but I’d never seen the pink ones.  And they are actually pink.  The first one I saw I assumed it was an albino one.  But no, they also come in pink!

Then there’s the stuff that really makes you stop and think.

The two young girls leading their grandmother, or perhaps even great grandmother, by the hand down the side of the road.  Judging by the opaqueness of her eyes, it was obvious that she had little, if any, vision.  Difficult enough to deal with anywhere in the world, but up here, just so much harder.

Yep, very sad.

And the other thing that I was starting to notice even more?


I’d seen a bit on the two previous days but it hadn’t been a big issue.  But by today, it was becoming something that was hard not to notice.  Vietnam clearly has a problem with it all over the country, but up here, it just seems to be so much worse.

That too, is sad.  And unfortunately, it’s not a problem that is going to go away overnight.

As we come into the small country town that is Coc Pai, the rain starts to come down again.  Being 11.30am, it’s close enough to lunchtime, so we take the opportunity to stay dry.

The restaurant decision is based mainly on which one has an awning that will help to keep the bike, as well as our belongings, dry.

Decision is made just in time, as the rain is now coming down hard.

There’s already a few locals in there doing lunch and Toan talks to the owner about food options.

We end up with steamed rice, beef and onion stir fry, a bowl of the obligatory green stuff, as well as some tofu.

Yep, tofu….

Food is good, but seriously, life is just too short for tofu….

The restaurant also appears to do chicken dishes, although I never actually saw one.  The fact that I watched the owner ‘dispatch’ a chicken, just near the kitchen while we were eating, kind of indicated that it is available.

Lunch done, rain now stopped, and with one less chicken in the world, we were again back on the bike.

Not far out of town, and now on far better roads, we find ourselves down beside a river.  Actually, it turns out to be a river that’s been dammed.  It’s not overly wide, but it’s wider and deeper looking than most we’ve seen.  Apparently there’s quite a few hydro electric stations around here, which judging by the amount of water you see, is not really surprising.

Which brings me back to the waterfalls.  They’re just everywhere, and they’re just so impressive.  Fortunately, today, I actually get the opportunity to get some photos of them.  One had to be done while standing in mud, but hey, you do what you have to….

Small waterfall with mud component.
Larger waterfall without the mud.

Shortly after, we again stop for a break beside a river.  Timing was excellent as we watched a guy pull himself, as well as two school kids, across the river on a bamboo raft.

The things that need to be done just to get to school…..

Kids dropped off.
Time to head back.

We’re apparently making good time, so we make a detour towards an area inhabited by the Le Chi tribe.  They’re a very small tribe, and they live up here very close to the Chinese border.

Up a fairly narrow, winding and steep road, and once again, the views are breathtaking.

Another waterfall or two, with one beside the road that is being put to good use by a local lady who is using it to wash her bike.  She actually had to move her bike so we could get past.

We don’t go the whole way to the village, and instead spend a few minutes by the side of the road just trying to take in the scenery before us.

It’s ridiculously beautiful.

Makes you feel small and insignificant.


Most of the rice had been harvested in this area.  Still pretty scenic, though.

We head back down that particular mountain and we’re soon back on the main road.  A little later we stop again, this time outside a house owned by someone from the Nunz tribe.

A young girl, perhaps 14 years old, walks up towards the house.  Toan tries to engage her but she’s not interested.  We then walk around the back of the house and meet the young girl’s grandmother.

Actually, she could have quite possibly passed for her great grandmother.  She looks about 90, but I suspect she’s quite a bit younger than that.  It really is a tough life up here.

The grandmother is incredibly friendly and welcoming, even though we’ve dropped in unannounced, and she spends a few minutes talking with Toan.

We say our goodbyes and head back to the bike.  Dark clouds are forming and they look rather ominous.

Luckily, we don’t have far to go, but as luck would have it, we don’t quite get to Vinh Quang before the rain hits.  While it’s not overly heavy, it is steady enough to get us reasonably wet.

We stop at a relatively new looking hotel just on the outskirts of town, and Toan arranges a couple of rooms.

It’s quite a big room with a good bathroom, and is just a little different from last night’s accommodation….

Even though it’s now very humid with the rain, I take a chance and do some hand washing.  There’s a couple of fans in the room, as well as a hat / jacket stand, so I set that up in front of one of the fans.

Domestic skills….

Domestic chores complete, I have a quick shower, and as it’s only about 4.30pm, I then head outside to check out the town.

I’m not really sure where I’m going, but seeing as we didn’t see a great deal on the way in, I decide to head the other way.

I start to notice more people on the street, and it’s getting a bit more built up.  I also get lots of stares, some with very little expression, others with expressions of surprise, along with big smiles.

Yep, I can’t see anyone else here that looks like me.

I come to what looks like the main street.  Up to the left is a group of minority tribe women who have set up a bit of a market, so the obvious choice is to head that way.

Local people, local market.
Clothes just make the difference.

On the lookout for a place that sells water, I come across a small local shop.  I walk in and the lady is very surprised to see me.  With a little pointing and hand gesturing, she soon gets my request.  But she doesn’t want me to get the 600ml bottle for 4000 Dong, she’s much keener on me getting the 1.5 litre bottle for 8000 Dong.

She’s right, I really need the larger bottle anyway, for teeth cleaning and stuff.

Upsell and talking sense into me, successful, we then have a bit of a laugh.  I think I already like this place.

I continue on my walk and I feel like I’m on display.  Even more stares, as well as heaps of ‘hellos’ from the kids.

Assume the power is off….

I get to what looks like might be the end of the main part of town, and turn around and head back down the hill.  I’m trying to find a local beer place, hopefully a bia hoi one, but not having much luck at the moment.

Back down past the side road I’d walked along earlier, and this time I head up towards the right.  Slightly more promising with a few food places, but still not exactly what I was looking for.  I do then actually find one, but I’m now a long way from the hotel.

I stop for a few minutes and watch a couple of volleyball games the locals are playing, before heading back down to the side road again.

Saturday afternoon volleyball.

This time I’m chased by three or four kids who are keen, as well as very excited, to practice their English with me.

It would be nice if I got even half that reaction from my own kids, occasionally….

Up the side road, and eventually I’m back outside the hotel again.  As a bit of a last resort, I decide to walk up the road that runs away from the hotel.  There doesn’t look like there’s much up there, and I didn’t notice anything there on the way into town.  But, what the hell, we’ll give it a go.

Past a couple of locals going about their thing outside their house.  Nothing overly special or different about that, but there was something a little interesting about the chicken that was upside down with it’s head in a drain.

It took me a minute to work out what I was looking at, until I realised that due to the lack of movement from the bird, as well as a little blood in the vicinity of it, it was more than likely bleeding out straight into the drain.

A very convenient size that actual drain, it seems….

A little further on, Bingo!

It’s a large shed like structure, and in it are tables and chairs.  On two of those tables are two groups of three men.  And they’re drinking beer out of glasses!

I head in, and well, let’s just say they were more than a little surprised to see me.

The owner of the place, as well as her mother, I believe, is even more surprised.  Actually, she had a rather confused, almost worried look, on her face.  I suspect she thought I was going to ask questions that her limited English was going to struggle with.

I smile, and hold up one finger while saying ‘one bia, please’.

A look of relief comes over her face, and she smiles back, while pointing to the beers that the other customers are drinking.

I nod, and she offers me a table.

She then returns with my beer, and the guys on one of the other tables actually raise their glasses to me and we do a round of ‘Cheers’.

There’s an attempt at some conversation, but, as expected, it doesn’t go far.  It doesn’t matter anyway, you can still have an interaction without words.

I spend the next hour or so enjoying the beer, the company, watching the geckos crawling on the wall, and getting to know the owner’s dog.

At one point I heard a bit of a racket outside.  I turned around to see a motorbike with two guys on it riding up the hill.  That’s alright, you see that all the time.

But what I didn’t expect, and what was making all the noise, was the guy on the back holding on to a three or four metre length of corrugated iron while it dragged up the road.  You see funny stuff being carried on bikes every day, but that particular one really made me laugh.

If only I’d been quicker with the camera….

Beers done, it’s time to head back to the hotel.  I go up to pay, but I also want to take a couple of travellers with me.  I can’t remember the word for bottle or can, so I do some really, really bad charades type movements and motions, while continually saying ‘bia’.

The owner has a bit of a confused look on her face, which I completely understand as what I’m doing isn’t making any sense to me, either.  She thinks I want another glass of beer.

Then, all of a sudden, she points to a can of Coke on the table.

“Yes!”, I say, nodding as well to make sure she knows what I’m saying.

She opens the fridge, and sure enough, she has cans of beer in there.

I ask for two, using both English and fingers, before realising that I do actually know the Vietnamese word for two.

“Hai, please”, I say, feeling quite smart, while still showing two fingers, but now also showing my lack of ‘smartness’, by mixing my languages….

55 000 Dong for three bia hoi, plus two cans of beer.  More than happy with that, especially all the way up here.

And the thing I found funny about the cans of beer?

It was Bia Saigon.

You seriously couldn’t get much further away from Saigon while still being in Vietnam, yet it was still the beer that they trucked up.

It didn’t bother me at all, but I did wonder why it wasn’t Hanoi Bia, seeing as Hanoi was essentially just down the road.

Back to the hotel to get ready, savour my newly acquired pre-dinner beers, as well as a little note taking while things were relatively fresh in my mind.

Downstairs again by 7.00pm to meet Toan, and we head off to find a place for dinner.

Not far before the main road, we find a busy little local place.  Good sign!

Toan again does the ordering and we have a whole fish, steamed rice, pork, and the usual green stuff.

All washed down with a few beers, of course.  But not for Toan, as he’s still taking the antibiotics for his infection.

There’s lots of local Vietnamese tourists in there, and one of them, from Hanoi I think, wants to talk to me.

He wants to know where I’m from, as well as why I’ve come here.  I tell him this is actually my third trip to Vietnam, and he’s rapt when he hears that.

So much so, that he shakes my hand and then pours me a rice wine.

Again, it’s those ‘little’ things that I love so much.

Toan arranges for a few take away beers, and this time it is Hanoi Bia, although I’m a bit concerned about how I’m going to keep them cold as I don’t have a fridge in my room.

He, apparently, does have one in his room, and as he has no real need for it, he says he’ll organise to get it transferred to my room.

What a guy…..

Sure enough, a few minutes after getting back, my fridge is delivered.

Now time to solve my second problem – no wifi.

I can’t find a password (although I later found it on the back of the door…) so I run downstairs to find the owner.  He, like me, is a little technologically challenged, but with the help of the younger guy there, the wifi issue is solved.

A grateful ‘cam on’, or two, and it’s back upstairs for the usual pre-sleep thing; Trip Advisor and beers.

Incidentally, and just for a change, the bed is hard.

Hopefully the beers will do their thing….





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