We’re on the mini bus to Ha Long Bay. Quite a few others on board, including some paranoid americans who didn’t want to give up their passports. We’ve been driving through towns, past coal-fuelled power plants, rice paddies, shitty houses and ritzy estates.
Anyway… back to the Sapa catch-up.
From the get-go we were accompanied by loads of H’mong girls, all asking your name, where are you from, that sort of thing. Their English is all self-taught, which is pretty amazing. They’re damn pushy when they want you to buy something, but really you can’t blame them for it. The only time it got to be a bit much was when we were at the homestay and twenty or so women surrounded us, blankets raised. They stuck around for hours (but did not come inside the house). – but more on the homestay in a sec.
The area we walked around was incredible – high peaks with terraced gardens going all the way up to the top. Wandering through the rice paddies were ducks (and ducklings), chickens (and chicks), water buffalo, pigs, the odd dog, and we even saw a monkey sleeping under the eaves of a house.
Aside from rice paddies, etc. people in the villages had private gardens too, usually fenced with woven bamboo. Really very pretty. We stopped for lunch in one H’mong village (again, the hawking women couldn’t come inside) and had an interesting lunch – baguettes, an asian-style omlette, and other stir fried veggies, as well as fresh cucumber and tomato! We set out again and our little mountain goats followed us.
Steve made friends with one girl whose name sounded like “Shaun”, so something like Xuan? I don’t know. Anyway, she and he chatted away together for hours, she made us horses made from grass, and little twisted ferns. She was really very cute.
So eventually we got to the homestay – a house owned by a family of five generations, starting from the 100 year old great great grandfather, his 79 year old son, and extending down to the wee baby. The old man walked around bent in half, but seemed to spend most of his time by the fire in the kitchen. I did see him once though, standing around the corner of the house, peeking at us.
The house itself was really interesting: one large main room, with kitchen off to the side in a smaller room, and a sort of mezzanine loft up top, which was where we slept. (Seven of us in all – Steve & I, a couple from Barcelona, a couple from Solvenia, and another woman originally from Gisborne.)
Our guide – Tao, and a few of the other men, made our dinner. It was spectacular! I sat in the kitchen and watched them cook. Fried spring rolls (nem), something called ‘pop rice’, which is young sticky rice that is soft and glutinous, mixed with pork and tofu, barbequed beef, cabbage, regular rice…
The old man was so cute, off to the side, stretching his hands out to the fire from time to time, to warm them!
We ate outside (the women with the blankets had left by then, I guess off to have their own dinners), and drank rice wine with Tao (to raise your glass in Vietnam you yell “Showwwww!” – but I have no idea how you spell it.)
Tao then told us it’s a good thing if one person takes the wine into the family and drinks a cup with them (they stayed inside). Steve went in, then we all followed (which Tao said was especially nice) and we drank another shot of rice wine with the family.
We stayed outside for a good while after, drinking beer and exchanging stories. Bed around 11.
Steve and I had to get up early the next morning as we were leaving the group, who were doing another day’s worth of trekking. We were meant to meet a jeep, which was going to take us back to Sapa, so we could go to the Bac Han market.