Monday, September 9, 2013

Motorbiking Northern Vietnam !!!

Written by Orna

So, I have now returned from my 5 day motorbike tour of some of the north of Vietnam and am now in crazy Hanoi. The destinations changed a little and hopefully for the best because my tour guide - Mr Binh said he was taking me to places that were far less touristy than those mentioned in Lonely Plant. I wrote a bit of a journal while I was away and will re-write what I wrote:

Motorcycling Northern Vietnam

Day 1 - Thursday 22 Sep

So! Right now I am at a homestay with White Thai people (a minority group) somewhere west of Ninh Binh in a village that is not mentioned in Lonely Planet. And I am exhausted from sitting on the back of the bike! I don't know how it can be so exhausting just sitting!! Anyway, the scenery has been absoluetly stunning - there are the rice fields that are elevated like they show in Sapa - absolutely stunning! And apparently I've found out that today is the first sunny day after 20 consecutive days of rain!! I am soooooooooooooo lucky!! (So much for it not raining much in the north as per the information provided by the woman at the guest house selling me the tour!!)

Motorcycling Northern Vietnam
Anyway, this homestay is in one of the gorgeous rice fields in the hills. And their toilet is Western style - yay! Already today I was taken to a "toilet" which was just floor boards with a hole in the wall at the bottom and I figured you just had to somehow pee through the hole in the wall! Don't ask me how they dispose of their no. 2's in this "toilet"! Here at the homestay their shower is just a cold water tap that you have to try wash yourself under - I can deal with that! Though they don't seem to use towels here??

So I also had a bit of an unexpected and slightly unwanted adventure today that I wasn't so happy about. We were riding along on the motorbike and my guide suddenly stops and tells me to walk down a track off the road for about 100m and he will meet me at the other end (he does not communicate this information in a very clear way and I am unsure whether I understood right). So anyway, I think ok, and start walking down a track by someone's house in a small village. But soon I come across a fork in the track and don't know which way I'm supposed to go! So I choose one direction and walk for a bit and then decide that I should just go back to the road and find the guide because I don;t want to go the wrong way and get lost in this village where no-one speaks english! So I go back to the road and start walking along the road hoping to meet with the guide soon.

So I'm walking, walking, walking and no sign of the giude! Great! And once again I'm thinking - well thank g-d I have my water, passport and money on me! And I'm thinking that I might have to stay with someone in the village if I don't find the guide and how will I ever get back to the city?? Anyway, there are lots of nice people and kids along the way all saying hello which was very nice, but I was just very pissed off about the guide leaving me to walk a path with many directions!!

So, 1-2 hrs later of me walking through the village, my guide drives up from behind me. And I say to him - "so! There wasn't one path where you left me! And I didn't know if I would see you again!!" and how does he respond? "No problem!!". Yeah! No problem for him but BIG problem for me!! So I was quite pissed off by this stage - imagine just leaving me without any clear information!! Luckily I even had my water cause I would have gotten dehydrated for sure without it cause it was quite hot and hardly any shade!

Hill -Tribes people
So, after this he made it up a little by at least taking me to a really beautiful village with the staggered rice fields. This time, when he told me to get off the bike and walk he at least kept waiting for me down the way to make sure I went the right way. So again I walked through another village where all the people were very friendly and I walked through the rice fields to the homestay where I am now. Living in this house is a husband and wife and their daughter. And it was really nice cause we all ate dinner together on the floor sharing dishes and then afterwards they put bamboo mats down on the floor and hung mosquito nets over the mats with bits of fabric hanging in between for us all to sleep. So it felt like a little sleepover! I was quite happy though when we went to bed about 7pm cause they were all just talking in Vietnamese and of course I couldn't join in so it felt a little strange.

Day 2 - Friday 23 Sep (Happy Birthday Dad!)

So right now I am at a homestay with Hmong people (another minority). This morning, Mr Binh told me to walk to the next village via apparently ONE path with no forks! He drew me a map of the things I would pass along the way - i.e. first a school, then mountains and then I would look down and see a village and then I would come to a road where I would meet him. So, it was again very beautiful because I was walking through the staggered rice fields watching people work in the fields, BUT - I came across forks in the path!!! I was soooooooo mad!!! So I just chose one and hoped for the best, all the while seething at Mr Binh!! Luckily for me it was the right path because I did see the things he said I would and I did meet him later on at the road!
Hill- Tribes People at Market
We then drove through a small market where Mr. Binh bought food to cook for dinner that night. There was a family there who just kept pointing at my nose ring and commenting and laughing!! After this I walked some more for maybe another hour through the next village where everyone was again very friendly - "hello!, "bye bye!" "xin chao!" (hello).

Later that afternoon we walked to a waterfall which I swam in which was absolutely divine! Clear mountain water - cold and refreshing!

So this homestay is again a traditional bamboo hut in the most beautiful setting. I walked up the hill a bit from their home to a "stadium" where boys were playing soccor. The "stadium" was just a cleared bit of land with bamboo goal posts surrounded by the beautiful mountains! Then, it was bound to happen, on my way back down the hill I slipped in the mud/clay and fell on my bum - so embarrising! These people do full on work in the mountains with just these flimsy plastic slip on sandals and I slip with my proper colombia walking shoes!

So, I've had a yummy dinner of tofu, fish, bean sprouts and bamboo and it's now 7pm and things are winding down - no TV or sun to keep people awake! Tomorrow we head to Mai Chau (which is in the Lonely Planet) which is maybe 1/2 day of driving.

Day 3 - Saturday 24 Sep

Woman at the field
So I'm now in a homestay in Mai Chau which has other western people!!! I hadn't seen another western person for 2 days! Also because it's the weekend it's very busy because apparently people can get the local bus here from Hanoi and there are many Vietnamese tourists who come here for the weekend. So when we arrived we went for a beautiful 2 hr walk through villages and rice fields. Then we had a communal dinner with my guide and other tourists staying at the homestay - I even tried fried insects!! I'm not sure what they were - maybe grasshoppers and other things but i guess they just tasted of chips! Vietnamese chips! They really do eat everthing here - even cat I found out...like I said, anything...

Then after dinner my guide said there was some dancing happening tonight that I could go and see in the village - I couldn't decipher whether this dancing happened every sat night or if it was some festival (you ask my guide something and the answer that comes back makes you realise he totally didn't understand the question!!).

So we walked to this field where there was this crazy / bizarre partying going on - groups of people around bonfires where there was traditional dancing and costume mixed in with really loud pop music and really drunk young Vietnamese people (probably from Hanoi?) jumping around with the traditional dancers! It was really bizarre... so we stayed for a bit and then walked back to the homestay where next door a family were holding their own event of traditional dancing which was much better!

Day 4 - Sunday 25 Sep

We left Mai Chau at 7am for the most spectacular market - Pa Co Market - a market for the Blue, Red and Flower Hmong people which was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had!!! This market is not listed in the Lonely Planet and my guide took me here instead of the Bac Ha market further north because he said this one does not have tourists and it is much better because the people don't pester you to buy things like they do in Sapa and Bac Ha.

So we arrived at 8am and it was all fully happening with Blue, Red and Flower Hmong people everywhere in their amazing traditional clothes and silver hand made jewellery - I really was absolutely brimming with exhilaration!!! It was just one of the most incredible things I have ever seen and I felt so privaleged to be there watching everyone!!! I could have sat and watched all day! And I really was one of the only westerners there - people really were looking at me as if to be thinking what are you doing here? The market was mainly selling the traditional clothes of the Red and Blue Hmong and some for the Flower Hmong (whose colour is mainly purple). In amongst all my exhilaration I realised that I had lost my glasses that I had tucked into my top!!! (I was wearing my sunnies). I got such a shock and started searching the stalls and LUCKILY I went back to one stall and indicated that I had lost glasses and they had them!! But they made me PAY them to get them back! Ha! I don't think it was much but I bargened and got a purse thing as well :)

Later on we went to a Red Hmong village and I recognised one of the women from the market and vice versa! She was quite lovely and let me take some photos with her. Being in this village was so surreal... being among these minority people who wear these exquisite clothes...like it was unbelievable that I was really there!

Next stop was a Blue Hmong village but I didn;t feel welcome there - some kids started yelling at me and pulling at the purse thing I had bought at the market and I didn;t understand what was happening other than that I didn't feel welcome! Overall, on the road as we passed more minority people, some kids were friendly and some seemed very angry or mistrustful of me - some threw things at me! Generally the adults were very wary of me and also seemed not to like me - I was very conflicted because I so wanted to take photos of them and yet I felt it was not ethical to take something from them that they did not seem willing to give! Ahh the ethical dilemmas of travel photography!! So it felt really good whenever I saw a minority person that was friendly! I definately got the impression that they were not familiar with tourists - at least not the people I was seeing. They also seemed to be poorer than other village people I had seen.

But everytime I saw someone wearing the traditional dress I got so excited!! And now I am sooooooo glad to have been able to see them - definately one of the most amazing parts of my trip.

Now we are at another homestay by this massive man-made lake for electricity in the mountains. Tomorrow we head back to Mai Chau and then to Hanoi I think.
Motorcycling Northern Vietnam
Day 5 - Monday 26 Sep

Today we went on a long and bumpy journey through the mountains back to Mai Chai. Probably the only really interesting part of the journey was that I saw some Xao people (another minority) who were wearing their traditional clothes!

When we arrived back at the homestay it started to rain - so we were lucky that we had missed it! Again I ended up going to sleep early cause everyone else were talking and laughing in Vietnamese!

Day 6 - Tuesday 27 Sep

Today we left for Hanoi in the rain and cold. I was glad my motorbike journey had ended with the bad weather and that I had had amazing weather for all the good bits! The journey to Hanoi took 5 hrs - it was cold and rainy and very foggy and I couldn't wait to arrive! Though it definately felt sad leaving the beautiful countryside - going to Hanoi all of a sudden on the roads you have all the beeping and honking and cars and trucks and buses with crazy sounding horns that are really annoying!! I was getting very irritable with the honking!!! So unnessesary!!

Arriving in Hanoi has certainly been crazy. First of all, my guide just drops me off with my bags and tells me there are many guest houses here - not so far to walk. The goodbye was very quick and distant - it seemed bizarre. So I start walking with my pack to find a guest house and of course there are none where he has dropped me off - only shoe stores!! So I'm walking and walking trying to find signs of guest houses and I'm very annoyed at my guide for just dropping me off on the road without at least dropping me of on a street with many guest houses like I thought he had! So I thought that was really bad and rude of him and I'm thinking of seeing if he is on Trip Advisor so I can make a comment!

Finally I get my Lonely Planet out and realise that the guest houses are too far to walk to and I get a xe om (motorcyle taxi) to the guest house. Rrrr - so rude of my guide!!!

So I am now in the room of my guest house and have settled in a bit - I've had a walk around the crazy streets and lanes of the old city of Hanoi and felt quite overwelmed at the craziness after spending 5 days in small villages! I had a shower in the bathroom which has such a low ceiling that anyone who is a bit taller than me would have to crouch! It's like they have really crammed as many floors and rooms into this tiny space as possible!

Tommorrow I will spend the day in Hanoi and then the following 2 days I will go to Halong Bay before flying back to Bangkok!

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Motorcycling adventure in Northern Vietnam tour. The mountainous area of Northern Vietnam has long been famous for its beautiful scenery and great diversity of ethnic minorities. With our adventure motorcycling trip you will make a big loop to experience all the bests that area can offer. Starting in Hanoi you will explore Northwest before jumping into Northeast, back to Hanoi after a day relaxing in Ba Be Lake. The perfect itinerary and the support crew ensure you get the most out of the trip in terms of comfort, enjoyment and adventure. Along the way we encounter dramatic landscapes and sweeping panoramas as the rural population goes about its business. Highlights include the terraced valleys of Sapa, beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall and many different colorful minority groups. 

Highlights:
  • Stunning scenery
  • Stunning Pha Din Pass and Tram Ton Pass
  • Terraced valley of Sapa
  • Ban Gioc Waterfall
  • Babe Lake
  • Colorful ethnic minorities

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