9 October 2017 – Yen Minh – Meo Vac
Well, awake early.
3.30am, to be precise.
Another bloody rooster.
They’re quickly becoming my least favourite animal….
Fortunately, I was able to get back to sleep.
Well, until 5.30am, when some Vietnamese tourists who were also staying in the hotel decided that seeing as they were up, then everyone else should also be up.
Oh well, it’s happened before, and it will happen again….
Not much later, and I roll out of bed.
Which, incidentally, while firm, did have some softness to it. It’s always nice when you can sort of lay ‘in’ the bed, rather than lay ‘on’ the bed.
Downstairs at 7.30am to meet Toan, and then it’s off to find a place for breakfast.
Two minutes after walking out of the hotel, we’re sitting in a local phó place.
Ordered my usual phó bó, although after the rooster thing at 3.30am, probably should have had chicken.
Remembering my mistake from yesterday of adding too much chilli, I go a little easier by only adding a small amount.
I really need to taste it before I start adding chilli, as once again, it’s a touch on the warm side.
Yep, a slow learner….
Phó finished, nose no longer running, we head back over the road for a caphe sua da.
Sitting in a small local coffee ‘shop’, sipping a caphe sua da, after watching it drip through the phin, (yep, a real caphe sua da) while watching the locals begin their day.
Yep, not a bad way to start a day.
Throw in a little Trip Advisor-ing, which included a conversation with someone in the US who was asking for advice on a similar trip she was planning on doing with Toan next year.
Just makes the world seem a whole lot smaller than it actually is. Which was strange, seeing as I felt incredibly small and remote in this rather vast landscape.
Caphe sua da reluctantly finished, and it was back to the hotel to make a move.
Bike all packed up, and it’s at this point that Toan averts a potential disaster.
“Did you get your passport back?”, he asks.
“Ooooh, no, I didn’t”, I reply, feeling just a little sick at the thought of what the result of that little scenario could be.
I’m more than used to handing over my passport to hotels for the duration of the stay, but seeing as the previous ones hadn’t required that, I’d just forgotten that this one did.
Hmmm, yep, disaster averted.
So, passport back where it belongs, we head off. Out of the hotel, we turn left in search of fuel for the bike.
Back along the road we came in on last night and we near the outskirts of town.
No petrol station to be seen.
Toan asks a local, and sure enough, we should have turned right.
So back along the road we’ve just been on, past the hotel, and yep, just a few hundred metres from the hotel is what we’re looking for.
Seems I’m not the only one on this bike who struggles with two horse races….
Fueled up, we’re on our way.
As soon as we leave the town, we begin to climb a mountain.
And as we wind our way up, I catch glimpses of Yen Minh below. It’s all rather scenic.
And here’s my first regret.
I didn’t ask Toan to stop for a quick photo.
And it played on my mind for a while. It still does.
I will not make that mistake again.
Over the first ridge, and like my photo opportunity, Yen Minh disappears.
The scenery, which is still stunning, is very different. Mountain after mountain, but very rocky. As in so rocky that there wasn’t really much in the way of fields.
But the Vietnamese are a resilient race, and if something needs to be grown, they will find a way to grow it.
So, between the rocks, things like corn is planted. But not only do they need to dig between rocks, they need to do it on the sides of mountains. And because the usable space is so limited, the financial returns are not great. The people in this area are very poor when compared to other tribes up here.
It must be such a hard way to live, and such a hard life, but they don’t really have an alternative.
We have a short rest stop and Toan points out some buckwheat growing beside the road.
Not sure I’ve ever seen buckwheat before, in fact I’m sure I never have, but it was covered in tiny little white flowers. The flowers, in turn, were being worked on by tiny little bees.
And that was the first time I’d ever really looked at bees in Vietnam. They really are tiny things, and would be about half the size of Australian bees.
Which, when you think about it, probably isn’t all that surprising, seeing as things like Vietnamese cats and horses, and even the Vietnamese themselves, are most definitely not on the large side.
Flora and fauna lesson over, we continued on our way.
The scenery keeps on giving, but at the same time I now have a new appreciation for the people that live here.
Around one of the many bends, and up ahead is a road works crew. A little different to the average crew that you would find in Australia, as well as slightly different equipment and tools.
With the tools and equipment being a little older, and perhaps more primitive, and the crew being, well….., not male.
I’m not sure which job I’d prefer to be doing up here; digging holes between rocks, or repairing roads with hand tools.
That appreciation thing again….
A bit later we pull up at a small minority village and have a bit of a walk around.
Each village, while kind of similar, is also very different. And everything is different, from the people themselves, to the clothes they wear, and to the style and construction of their houses.
I find them all fascinating, but again, and here’s that ‘appreciation’ word again; I just can’t imagine how difficult it must be to live here, especially in the depths of winter, as well as at the height of summer.
Again, the things we take for granted….
Toan walks over to one of the houses, sticks his head in the door, and starts talking to the girl that lives there.
I don’t know how old she is, but to me, she doesn’t look old enough to be the mother of the baby she is holding. But of course, she is.
Toan motions to me to come in the house, which kind of makes me feel like we’re intruding a bit. The young mother doesn’t seem to mind, and in fact seems quite happy with the situation.
I go inside and it’s quite dark, along with being very basic, as you would expect. There’s another young child, perhaps four years old, and she’s watching television.
It’s The Lion King, or something, and it’s been dubbed in Vietnamese. While I find that interesting, it’s just the whole scene before me that I find fascinating. Actually, surreal, is probably a better word.
A traditional mud brick minority group’s house, as basic as you can get, but with a television in the corner playing a Disney cartoon movie.
But then again, they all have quite modern mobile phones.
Yep, again, the contrasts of Vietnam.
Back outside, I ask Toan if he can ask the mother if she minds if I take her photo.
No problem, apparently, but she seems a little surprised as to why I would want to do that.
At that moment in time, I could think of nothing I wanted to do more.
While I felt like we were intruding a little, it was great to get a closer look into a life that is far removed from my own.
Incredibly thankful for the interaction, we head back to the bike to continue on our way.
Out of the village, and back on the main road. Past a few more houses, with locals looking after their rice that was drying on the side of the road.
It’s not long before we’re once again climbing. Winding our way up the mountain I get glimpses below of the village we’d just been in.
It reminds me a little of looking down on Yen Minh earlier this morning, but this time I’m not going to let the opportunity pass.
It’s okay, though, as Toan knows exactly what we’re going to see as we get a little higher, and he pulls over to take it all in.
Yep, most certainly a ‘wow’ moment.
Village in the valley below, mountains on either side, as well as off into the distance, road snaking its way up the mountain we’re on, and camera, as well as its operator, trying to capture what the operator’s eyes are seeing.
And while I think the photos are pretty good, they’re no where near what I physically saw.
It just never is….
Oh well, what can you do. I ended up taking so many, partly because it was so photo worthy, but also because I was trying to make up for my earlier missed opportunity.
We ended up stopping a few times as we made our way up the mountain, and each time the view back down into the valley didn’t disappoint.
At one of those stops, there were four young kids sitting by the side of the road. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, but Toan told me as we were leaving that they were offering tourists photo opportunities, for a fee, with several bunches of flowers they had with them.
I’m not sure how successful they were, but it was a little bit of ingenuity, and is probably a little easier than digging holes between rocks, or fixing roads by hand.
We leave the budding entrepreneurs, as well as that particular view, and continue on our way.
Up, down, around, and over mountains. As we’ve been doing for the last four days.
I’ve already seen so much, and I’m still struggling to take it all in, while I’m also having trouble believing that I’m actually here.
To prove to myself that I am indeed doing this, I ask Toan to stop at one of the convex safety mirrors by the side of the road.
Good, my reflection is there, and just to prove it, I take a photo.
It makes me feel much better, but suspect Toan now has some doubts about the mental wellbeing of the guy on the back of his bike.
Just after the mirror, we head into another small town at the bottom of a valley. As we head down the mountain, Toan turns the bike off and we just roll down.
While his bike is not overly noisy, it just made the whole thing that little bit more peaceful. It was nice, and over the next couple of hours, he did it a few times. It was only a small thing, but it just added to the overall scenery and feel.
During the morning we’d seen a handful of tourists, with most of them doing the self-riding thing on motorbikes.
I then noticed a western tourist on a bicycle, with another one not far behind. A few hundred metres further back were another three or four. Obviously all part of the same group, I wondered how hard it would be cycling around these parts.
A quick look at their very red and flushed faces, along with a distinct lack of any sign of pleasure or happiness, quickly gave me the answer.
Yep, for me, some kind of motor is an essential requirement up here.
Just before 11.00am we pulled into a Hmong market in Dong Van district.
It was in a bit of a valley, on a narrow road off the main road, next to what I think was a school.
And while they were starting to pack up, there were still plenty of people about. So many in fact, and with so much still out on display, that I hopped off the bike to make it easier for Toan to get through.
And once again, being a local market, it never disappoints. With the colours of the clothing just adding to the whole thing.
Yep, said it before, but I just love them.
I eventually find Toan again and we head up towards the back of the market. This is also the place where the Hmong King’s Palace is.
Toan suggests we go and have a look, so we head further on through the market looking for the entrance.
As we do, we pass a local Hmong guy who is selling his wares, which include lots of different bits and pieces.
Toan takes an interest in a plastic water canteen, for some reason, while I notice some handmade cow bells in various sizes.
For some reason, they intrigue me. Not really sure why, but just think it’s because they are so rustic and have so much character.
The fact that they’re metal, is a bonus, as I won’t have any trouble getting them back into Australia.
Once Toan completes his purchase, he asks the guy on my behalf, how much a small one is.
50 000 Dong, apparently.
Deal! As long he doesn’t mind if I take his photo.
He doesn’t, so 50 000 Dong note handed over, cow bell very happily received, and photo taken.
As soon as I get it home, it’s going straight to the pool room. (sorry, humour from an Aussie movie. Google ‘The Castle’, if you’re interested)
It is now, easily, the best souvenir I have ever bought.
Far better than any cheap, crappy tourist t-shirt.
Happiness levels significantly increased, we head off to the palace.
Vuong Chinh Duc, was the King of the Hmong people in Ha Giang province, and this was where he lived. With his three wives, apparently.
It’s quite an interesting place, and apart from the building itself, there are a few things to look at. Including a few photos hanging on the walls, with several of his extended family.
Interestingly, he never looks that happy in the photos.
Perhaps because he had three wives….
Anyway, it was certainly worth a look, but ideally, you’d want a guide there with you to point out various things. Fortunately, Toan was able to explain a fair bit about the place.
Palace done, we head back to the bike, which is still next to my cow bell guy. There’s still quite a few around, so I head back down the road through the market while Toan gets the bike sorted.
While waiting near the entrance, where strangely I find Toan’s bike but not him, I continue taking in the sights of the market. A few minutes later, a local tourist guy in a big four-wheel drive comes down the narrow road.
He has ambitions of driving it through the market. But that’s not going to happen. There’s still too many people, stalls, tarpaulins, bikes, and other cars. There’s even a small truck on the side of the road, that I later discover is for transporting some of the Hmong people back to their village.
Yep, they all just pile into the back.
Realising that he’s not going to get through, he then decides he’s going to park his ‘big’ car right where he is.
That would be fine, but there’s actually not enough room for his car.
Reckon that’s going to stop him?
Nup. Of course not.
He then proceeds to continually nudge forward, and to the left, to squeeze into a spot that isn’t actually there, while everyone else tries to get out of his way.
Remember, they have no choice, he’s just going to do this, and because he’s much bigger than everything else, he has ‘right of way’.
I even had to move Toan’s bike out of the way, which, it turns out, Mr Pushy was appreciative of.
As he nudges further forward, while still edging left, I notice he is heading towards a rather deep ditch.
I look at the steepness of it, and quickly surmise that if he goes into it, it’s not going to end well for him or his car.
I then look at Mr Pushy, and for a split second, consider just letting him do his thing.
But I just couldn’t, so I let him know about the potential disaster.
Car now parked, in a way that impacts every other person that is still here, he trots off pretty happy with his accomplishment.
I just shake my head.
Toan returns a few minutes later, and we’re back on our way. Next stop is Lung Cu, where the Flag Tower is, and also very close to the Chinese border.
Once again winding our way up, and around, several mountains, and the views just continue to deliver.
But once again, it’s also the local life. And in particular, the Hmong people walking along the road.
A lot of them are actually walking back from the market, and where we’re seeing them, is a long way from where the market was. Add in the fact that we’re in such a mountainous area, and once again there’s that appreciation thing.
Gee it’s a tough life.
As well as them though, there’s also the kids that are out and about. But not playing, they’re actually working.
Walking beside the road with fairly large baskets on their backs, carrying things like grasses, which I assume is probably animal food, or fairly large twigs and sticks, which I assume is for cooking and heating.
And they’re only young. No older than ten; perhaps even younger. Again, the roads are steep, it’s quite hot, and they’re carrying a not insignificant weight.
While I’d seen this type of thing before, today just made me so much more aware
I feel so sorry for them, yet at the same time, also feel happy for them, as they seem to be content.
Well, I hope they are.
About 20 minutes after leaving the market Toan pulls over for what I thought was just a break for a photo opportunity. And where we were was certainly worthy of that.
While I stood there willing the camera to do it’s thing, but knowing it couldn’t, Toan appears beside me with some food.
“We have a little while until lunch, so I got something from the market”, he says.
“Oh, ok”, I say, rather surprised, but also very grateful.
Now I’m not going to be able to describe these little snacks terribly well, and trust me, after the first one’s description, it goes downhill rather quickly.
One was a small sausage, or hot dog type thing, on a stick. There was also a little fried sticky rice thing, which I most definitely know was sticky, and then there was this little fried fruit mix thing that was kind of doughnut-y, but not as sweet.
Anyway, told you I wasn’t going to be any good….
While the food was good, and the gesture even more so, it was all about where it was happening.
To stand on the side of the road, with a mate, sharing something to eat, looking out over the vista before me, well, it was a little bit more than special.
A small moment, but a significant one.
Moment done, and we’re back on the bike. Scenery continues to give, and there’s plenty of local stuff going on in fields and on the side of the road.
About an hour after our snack, Toan pulls over. He’s looking at his phone.
Still sitting on the bike, he says, “I think we’re really close to the Chinese border.”
“It’s just over there”, he says, pointing over towards the left.
“Oh, wow”, I intelligently exclaim.
While this might seem rather ‘ho hum’ to most people, it was quite a ‘thing’ for me. And there’s a couple of reasons for that.
One, apart from flying into Singapore and Kuala Lumpur for stopovers, I’ve never really ‘seen’ another country.
And two, because I live in Australia, which is essentially a very large island, I’ve never had the opportunity to look over an imaginary line at another country. The best I’ve been able to do is have one foot in one state, while the other foot is in another one.
Yes, little things like that excite me…
Interestingly, it was only the night before that I’d asked Toan what was actually at the border. Not where there were actual border crossings, but everywhere else. I wasn’t expecting a fence or wall, but was there anything stopping people walking across?
His answer was ‘no’, and he also mentioned that the minority tribes did it all the time to sell their wares.
So, here we were, still sitting on his bike, looking at Google maps on his phone, which was telling him China was just over a small ridge to our left.
“Come on, let’s go take a look”, he says, slightly nervously as he looks for somewhere to leave his bike.
“Ok”, I reply, not so much nervous, but very excited at what I was about to see. Although, in all honesty, I didn’t really expect to ‘see’ anything. No fence, no wall, no line on the ground, no Chinese people.
So, bike parked beside a small narrow dirt track, we head on up a small incline.
As we near the top, which was probably only 50 metres from the road, I can see mountains off in the distance.
Now just a little more excited, because I think they may be Chinese mountains. Not that they look any different to Vietnamese ones….
We keep walking, and all of a sudden, there it is!
The Vietnam – China border.
Well, like I said, I didn’t know what I was going to see, and I wasn’t expecting to see much, but what I was looking at was most definitely not what I expected.
Twenty to thirty red and white painted concrete posts with barbed wire wrapped around them.
Yep, I was blown away.
I think Toan was also just a little bit excited, too.
The posts and barbed wire effectively ran across the little dirt track we walked up. At each end of them, the vegetation became thicker and bushier.
As I was standing there staring off into China, still trying to take it all in, Toan called out.
“Come on, lets go over!”, he says, excitedly.
“Huh?”, I say, nervously, making the assumption that seeing as there’s barbed wire involved, we’re probably not supposed to be doing that.
Perhaps he’s not really serious, I think.
Nup, he is. He’s already scaling the area up around the end of the posts.
“Ok, ok, I’m coming”, I almost shriek.
It’s a little awkward and slippery, but less than a minute later, we’re standing on Chinese soil.
I couldn’t believe it, but Toan was more than just a little excited.
“We’re overseas!”, he screams, a little like a child would.
Well, that just made the whole thing even better. What we were doing was incredibly exciting for me, but the fact that it seemed so significant to him, just meant so much.
I’d never seen him this excited.
Just down to our left was a road, and then off in the distance were those mountains.
We were about to make our way down to the road when we saw two westerners walking along it.
One, or probably two, swear words exited my mouth, as I looked for somewhere to hide. We both pulled back a little and the tourists disappeared.
A minute later, a car came down the same road. Exit more swear words, and now trying harder to find somewhere to hide.
As it gets to us, it slows.
Uh, oh….., I think, now wondering if this was such a good idea.
It stops below us, and someone yells something out. It sounded like a ‘hello’, but I couldn’t be sure. But it did sound friendly, so that was a positive.
The car slowly moved on and eventually disappeared over a hill.
“Who was in the car?”, I asked Toan.
“The two westerners, and a policeman, who was driving”, he replies, a little too matter of fact, for my liking.
“Oh”, I reply, rather meekly. Perhaps with more swear words, muttered quietly this time.
“Come on, lets go down to the road”, he then says.
Ah, what the hell, I think. I’m already here.
So, with an eye out for snipers in the bush, we head down.
Pretty soon we’re standing on a Chinese road looking back towards Vietnam. On the side of the road is a concrete monument type sign with Chinese writing on it. I have no idea what it says, but the accompanying skull and crossbones give me a bit of an idea of its intension.
“Here, quick, take a photo of me”, Toan says, while handing me his phone.
So while Toan stood next to the sign, I attempted the photo thing.
As I push the button, something in Vietnamese pops up on the screen.
“Aaargh, what’s happened?”, I ask, handing him back the phone.
“Oh, I have too many photos. It’s full”, he says, as he madly tries to delete a few.
It’s at about this point that I completely lost it. The combination of where we were, coupled with Toan’s expression as he feverishly tried to delete photos, well, I just found it hilarious.
Photos deleted, we try again. But it still won’t work.
Phone handed back again, and this time Toan deletes a lot more. He’s starting to panic now at how much time this is taking.
That just makes me laugh even more, and I now have tears running down my cheeks.
More photos deleted, hopefully not of his wife, and we try again.
I then hand my camera (yep, old school) to Toan and he obliges me with a couple of happy snaps.
Photos done, and luck perhaps pushed far enough, we decide it’s probably best to go back ‘home’.
Back up around the concrete posts, and we’re back in Vietnam.
A couple more photos on the ‘safe’ side, and we head back to the bike.
I just cannot believe what we’ve just done. But, I am so glad we did it.
Ten minutes later, and still buzzing after our ‘overseas adventure’, we arrive into Lung Cu and pull up outside a little local restaurant.
We’d seen the Flag Tower a couple of times off in the distance while we’d been on the road, but now we were pretty much standing at its base. It is impressive, and I kind of like the ‘symbolic nature’ of it, as it stands proudly in the face of China across the border. A bit of ‘here we are, don’t bother coming any closer’. Or perhaps, ‘don’t try to come here again’. But that’s all a bit too historical for me, so we’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, while the Flag Tower was impressive, it was the scenery and the goings on around us, that caught my attention.
Standing in front of the restaurant, looking out across rice fields towards a minority village. In the rice fields the locals are going about the harvest. Some are thrashing the rice into large wooden crates, while others are taking a lunch break.
Young kids, in their traditional clothing, are walking down the road after leaving school for lunch.
A young girl, again in traditional clothing, turns up on her motorbike to buy some chickens from the guy next door. He expertly, and I’m still not sure how he does this, grabs the chicken by the legs with a long stick, and drags it out of the cage. He then ties its feet together, weighs it, and before the chicken knows it, it’s dangling upside down from the bike.
All this watched by me, as well as chicken guy’s dog, who was relaxing on the rice that was being dried in the sun.
I was like a kid in a lolly shop, and I just loved everything about it. The scenery, the local life, the authenticity of the whole thing. Quintessential rural Vietnam. Just fascinating.
Our lunch was soon ready, and I headed back up to the restaurant. Unfortunately, we had to eat inside, as a group of six or seven self-riding tourists took up all the outside seats.
Toan and I both had fried rice. And once again, far more fried rice is served up than I could eat. Still hate leaving food, but I just can’t fit that much in.
Lunch done, we’re back on the bike and heading up to the Flag Tower. Bike parked, it’s time to navigate the 867 steps (ok, maybe not that many, but any more than 25 is a lot) up to the top.
Fortunately all the huffing and puffing is worth it, as the view, in all directions, is spectacular.
Looking off into China, you can actually see Chinese towns in the distance. Closer by though, small villages and rice fields.
Well, apart from the rather large scar on the landscape just next to the tower, that is apparently going to soon have a giant Buddha perched on it. Being this close to the border, I suspect it will be rather large…..
We walked around the base of the tower and Toan asked if I wanted to go up to the top. I should have said yes, and I kind of regret it now, but it was too hot, and I was all ‘stepped’ out. Yep, a bit lazy…
One last glimpse of China, and it’s back down all those steps and onto the bike.
More of the usual scenery, as well as life beside and on the road. Again, it’s what the locals are doing.
The ten year old girl carrying two metre long branches in the basket on her back. Little, and remember, they are all fairly small, old ladies carrying far more than they should. The quite elderly looking bloke carrying a four metre tree trunk on his shoulder.
And don’t forget, this is all in incredibly mountainous countryside.
It all just amazes and fascinates me.
We get into Dong Van about 3.30pm and take the opportunity to get petrol. It was good timing, as I was starting to struggle a bit. And my bum is once again telling me how unhappy it is.
It’s been a long day, but it’s also been a brilliant day. And I wouldn’t change a thing about what we’ve done and seen.
No pain, no gain, I suppose.
Next stop is the Ma Pi Leng Pass, which apparently, is supposed to be pretty scenic.
Bike refuelled, me kind of re-energised, we’re off again. But not for long.
Ten minutes later, after winding our way up yet another mountain, we round a bend and a stop is required.
You have to pick and choose the places you stop at up here, but sometimes the decision is just made for you.
Interestingly though, it’s usually at these stops that the camera struggles the most at.
There’s probably a reason for that….
With the road that we’re standing on part way up a mountain; and when I say part way, I mean a long way; looking down on a valley a long way below, with countless mountain peaks off into the distance.
I’m not sure where the Ma Pi Leng Pass actually starts, but if at this point it hasn’t, well, I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
The scale is just huge. Almost incomprehensible. And I’m left just shaking my head and wasting my time with the camera.
The occasional missing concrete safety block by the side of the road, reminds you of how big, and how steep, it all is.
It’s stunning, but again, finding words is difficult.
Back on the bike and I’m starting to get a sore neck from constantly looking left. I can’t take my eyes off it.
Not too far down the road we stop again. This time at a bit of a lookout area with a coffee shop or restaurant there. Along with quite a few tourists.
There’s a good reason why they set up a lookout here. What you look out on is pretty special.
With the word ‘special’, being rather inadequate.
Again, the scale, the steepness, the appreciation for the way the locals live up here, the out and out beauty of the place.
Even an appreciation, almost an ‘in awe of’ of the people that first built this road. Truly remarkable.
And then, once again, coupled with the scenery, are the locals doing their thing.
Including the girl who is carrying so much grass on her back that you almost can’t see her.
Yep, the whole thing was another head shaking and wow muttering moment.
Back on the bike, and still my head is stuck hard left. The only time it straightens is when we stop a few more times to try and take in the next vista.
At least the head shaking loosens the muscles up a little….
We get to what turns out to be our final stop on the Pass, and there are two young local kids there, as well as a couple of tourists.
More photos taken, and then a bit of an interaction with the kids.
I ask, with hand gestures, if I can take their photo.
“No”, is the response, unless I give them food.
Well, I have two problems with that request. One, I don’t ‘pay’ for photos, mainly because I don’t want to encourage that type of thing, and two, well, I didn’t have any food to give them, anyway.
Back on the bike and we’re now making our way towards Meo Vac, which we eventually arrive into at 5.00pm.
My initial thought on Meo Vac is one of I’m not really sure. While interesting looking, it doesn’t grab me. I get lots of stares, and that would normally be a good thing, but on this occasion, they don’t seem overly friendly.
It’s a bit weird….
We pull over while Toan makes a phone call to someone about the place we’re staying in.
This gives my bum a rest while I take in more of the sights of Meo Vac.
The guy working on what used to be a rather large living and breathing pig, outside his house, on the footpath.
Well, it’s certainly fresh….
The Hmong lady, dragging a rather heavy cart up the street, which she is struggling a little with.
A local woman, who doesn’t look like she’s from a minority group, walks across the road and gives her a hand.
I’m not sure why that seemed so significant to me, but it was something that I was really touched by.
Toan now has it all worked out, and we head on through town. I notice a little local beer place near an open area, (must have subconsciously really wanted a beer) and just around the corner from that, we pull up outside a guesthouse.
To my slight disappointment, it’s a backpacker’s hostel.
As I get off the bike I almost step on a little puppy, who for some reason, is very, very happy to see me. He really was incredibly friendly.
A young girl from the guesthouse comes out and offers to take my bag. I decline the offer and say I’m happy to carry it myself, but that, apparently, isn’t an option.
She insists that she is carrying it, and she won’t take no for an answer.
I hate someone else carrying my belongings when I’m more than capable of doing it myself. It just makes me feel a little awkward.
But because she’s so persistant, as well as incredibly nice, I meekly give in.
I follow her upstairs and she shows me my room.
My initial disappointment is quickly lessened, when I discover I have my own room. And while it’s fairly basic, it is big. Yep, a little happier, now.
I give my laundry skills another workout, and then have what ends up being a fairly cold shower.
Oh well, at least it woke me up a bit….
Chores done, and feeling much more alive, I head back downstairs and out into the street with two aims.
The main one was to find beer, and as we’d passed a place just around the corner, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
The second one, was to do the husbandry thing and let Lisa know that I was still alive.
Walking back along the road that we’d come in on, my initial thoughts on Meo Vac began to change. It’s a great looking little country town, and the people now seemed really friendly.
Back past the open area, which I think was a football pitch, I’d seen earlier, and there at the far end is my beer place.
Small local place, with plastic chairs and tables outside beside the road. Yep, my kind of place.
Beer ordered from the rather surprised, but happy, woman, and I take a seat.
It’s funny, I’ve been sitting for most of the day, but it was nice to sit down and relax.
Caught up with Lisa, and everything that’s been going on at home, and enjoyed a couple of beers while doing so.
Good husband duties and beers done, it was time to head back to the hostel.
But not before fixing up the bill of the grand total of 30 000 Dong, for the two Beer Saigons.
Yep, still only 15 000 each, even though they’ve come all the way from down there.
Back to the hostel and I grab a beer from them, which happens to be a Hanoi beer which seems to make much more sense, and I head upstairs to rest up before dinner.
Not long after, there’s a knock on the door. Dinner’s ready.
Back downstairs, and it’s a communal dinner with six other guests and three hostel staff.
Plenty of food to share, and absolutely no way anyone was going to go hungry. While it was interesting hearing of other people’s experiences, it was a little awkward at times.
Perhaps the others felt the same way having to share dinner with a forty something year old bloke, who incidentally was the only one enjoying a beer.
I didn’t, and still don’t, understand that. And they were the backpackers!
Dinner and awkwardness done, we all made our way to the pool table for a few games. Well, it was probably more a case of teaching a couple of them how to actually play pool. In particular, the two girls from Belgium who are travelling for six months.
After being a little apprehensive about the whole thing, it ended up being a lot of fun.
Eventually we all had to call it a night, so I grabbed a couple of beers and headed back upstairs for the usual Trip Advisor thing, as well as a bit of reflecting on what we’d done today.
Apart from the last hour or so; bum was really struggling after leaving the Ma Pi Leng Pass; today had absolutely flown by. We had seen some incredible things, and done some amazing stuff, and while I’d loved all of our previous days, today was just that little bit more special.
Down to just two more full days with Toan, it will be interesting to see if today can be topped.