Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The weather was perfect with the sun out shining bright, no clouds and a fresh breeze blowing in our faces as we started motorbike tour Northern Vietnam. With the best still to come, the scenery was already amazing. As we were climbing up the narrow road, sheer limestone cliffs and surrounding mountains became our constant companions.
We stopped here and there but our first stop would be a small village not too far from Ha Giang. We just had a rough description of how to get there and where to turn but we eventually found it. Taking a hidden side road, crossing a rusty and suspiciously careening and creaking hanging bridge, we pulled into a small and very modest village. As usual the first ones to greet us were the local kids, screaming and shouting wondering what these strange visitors were up to. After wandering around the village for a while, I noticed a small and house with smoke rising out of its little chimney. I was attracted by loud laughter coming from the inside and I decided to give in to my curiosity and have a quick peek. As soon as the family inside spotted me, there was no turning back. I was happily welcomed and dragged inside. It was dim inside with only a couple of windows letting a bit of light in and the room was filled with thick smoke from the fireplace. It seemed to be one big family with several kids, their parents, grandparents and what seemed to be aunts and uncles.
The very vital grandmother instantly offered us some homemade rice wine. As guests you can’t refuse such an offer so we went along and had one and then a few more. This stuff is strong and hence it didn’t miss its purpose. A bit tipsy, communicating all of sudden got a little bit easier. With a loosened tongue, our basic Vietnamese and the help of a little phrasebook, it actually worked out quite well and we had a great time. Right when we were about to leave and continue our trip, the family insisted for us to stay for lunch which they had prepared in the meantime.With every one of them being pretty assertive, there was again no way to refuse their generous offer. We all sat down on the floor, smiled at each other and ate. It was an experience I will never forget. This family didn’t have much, not even running water, but they were happy to share their meal with two foreigners they had just met. The kindness and open-heartedness of the people in South East Asia once again left me in astonishment.
We said good bye to our friendly hosts and continued our journey to Dong Van. We still had quite a ways to go and time had flown by. As we crossed a beautiful mountain pass with the poetic name of Heaven’s Gate on the way up, we still took our time and stopped several times to take in the beautiful scenery or to get our picture taken with local kids we met by the road. After a while dawn set in and dipped the landscape in a yellow and purple hue. As the last sun rays made it over the mountain tops, we had our first encounters with some of the regions ethnic minorities. Most of them Hmong, with the men dressed in high-necked tunics and matching berets and the women wearing colorful headdresses, carrying heave bamboo baskets on their back. It was so impressive and so different from we had seen before, that we forgot about time. Riding along the serpentine like road in darkness was exhilarating and a bit intimidating at the same time but after a good hour we finally and safely pulled into Dong Van.
The weekly market, a very important event for the local hill tribes, was scheduled for the next day. Good timing for us but since we arrived late, most of the hotels and guesthouses were already fully booked. After asking around, we finally found a hotel which had a room. It was actually a nice place and the owners even had arranged our permits at the local police station, which are still needed to tour the Ha Giang region. We finished the day at a local BBQ place where we were once again invited for rice wine. And yet again, we had a great time with the locals and this time it ended not only tipsy but pretty much drunk.