Mountains & Markets

We began to feel strange at Sapa after two days. I downloaded Trip Advisor and read some reviews about the hotel we stayed at, with creepy stories about the tall man with the yellow teeth in the reception. Additionally we shared a porch with the neighboring room, where some noisy locals stayed and got drunk and sang loudly right in the shared porch. The city itself had a heavy feeling, mostly because of the many tourists and the poor women who were desperate to sell things.

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We spent most of the afternoon in the market, had different soups and Roni bought some big knives, and by the evening we went to a busy BBQ restaurant. We had fried skewers and shared a table with an Italian guy who told us that he’s back from one of the nearby villages and spent the days at one of the women’s house, together with her husband and five children. He said that each morning she took him hiking, and at noon he joined the men at the rice fields. He gave us her name her number when he finished eating, and a couple of Australians took his place as he left and told us that they don’t really like Sapa since it’s too touristic. After dinner we went to have some beer, and I ordered a random cocktail without knowing what I’m going to get.

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It was still noisy in the room and there was no window apart from the door that opened to the porch where the drunk locals sat, so we’ve felt a bit suffocated. We talked about moving on the following day to the next destination but we sent our clothes for laundry at the hotel, and we had to wait for it to dry. We decided to stay another night.

The next morning we went to the market and had breakfast where we ate the first day, and after a black coffee we got back to the room to change to better shoes and went traveling outside the city. We went out to the fresh chill air, got to a small cemetery with high grass growing wild and strolled around in the dusty paths between the mountains and the small villages. We had coffee at a small place with the view of the terraces with the rice fields, and went back to the town. We had another soup at the market with some sticky rice leaves rolled in meat and salty sauce, and went to have some strong ginger tea and mango juice at that cafe in the yard with the lazy dogs. When the sun set we had a brief shower at the hotel and went to have dinner at the BBQ restaurant where we ate the previous day. It was a big place with many people and a big grill at the entrance with some skewers and a big pig cooking slowly. We ordered some skewers and a slice of the pig and sat next to two locals, who were busy with their phones throughout the whole meal. The food was warm, fatty and comforting. When we finished we tried to find some tap beer, and when we couldn’t find we went to a big area with many restaurants under the open night skies and ordered two bottles of beer. We played with the idea of coming back to Hanoi, that from there seemd like a simple and easy city, but instead we booked a hotel in Bắc Hà – a small town in the area that has a market each Sunday, and people from all the surrounding villages gather there every week. We paid the woman with a twisted arm who worked there and got back to the hotel, payed for everything and took back the dry laundry, and went to bed.

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The next morning we got up early and began walking with our heavy backpacks uphill towards a red bus that waited in front of a small church in the city center, and after about ten minutes we began the ride. I couldn’t sleep because there were many turns and jerkings, but the way wasn’t very long and after about an hour the driver dropped us at Lào Cai – another town on the way to Bắc Hà. We stood in the middle of a parking lot and had no idea where to go next so we just tried to find some coffee, since we didn’t have any in the morning, when a brown van stopped by and a young tattooed guy stood by the door and called “Bắc Hà! Bắc Hà!”. We joined them, since we had no better idea. He put our bags in the back and signaled the driver to go, and the van moved on while honking loudly. It stopped for a few moments at a garage to get something and I used to opportunity to go to the bathroom, where a little boy stood and held a huge dog on a leash. We went on. The young guy loaded the vehicle with more and more people, among them some very old women from the nearby villages with rice baskets on their backs, people who delivered different stuff, some coughing soldiers, a man with a drum that was used as another seat. The van was completely full and stopped once in a while at different places. It seemed endless to me as I was half sleeping, and felt awkward to wake up here and there into this van with all those weird people.

Eventually the young guy signaled us to get down at a station in the dozy Bắc Hà. A shrunken woman led us to the main street where the hotel was, and a nice plump man greeted us at the reception. After we settled in the small room we went for a walk in the town, and noticed immediately that it had a completely different vibe than Sapa – rural, calm, less touristic. We finally had our first coffee, and went on to find something to eat. After we passed by some restaurants where mostly tourists sat we moved on towards the market, but it opened only at the evening and we only saw a few booths of fruits and vegetables. Eventually we found a small place where mostly locals sat, so we joined them on the low benches and ordered small bowls of soup, rice, meat, tofu and other things that you mix together and eat. They also served tap beer in a plastic bottle, and everything was super tasty. The owner served us the food while holding a toddler with one hand and breastfeeded him with her exposed breasts. Some very old local women sat there, probably at least 400 years old, and spat rice out of their mouths as they ate and chattered loudly.

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We passed the afternoon lazily, strolled around the town and brooded at the hotel, and when we were hungry again we went downstairs to eat at the hotel’s restaurant that was pretty good. Afterward we looked for somewhere to have beer in the area of the night market. We walked in the empty streets and followed the few people towards the market, where there were lots of people and a big stage with shows. Some woman played such a strange up-bit music, that I told Roni that if he told me that this is a Gorillaz’s song – I would have believed him. I skinny middle-aged woman with black clothes invited us to have beer at her place, so we sat at the white plastic chairs as her young sons served us the beer and some snacks. She pointed enthusiasticly towards some girls who danced on the stage and shouted “Bangkok! Bangkok!”. One of her sons, who didn’t spoke English, wrote us with his phone through Google-Translate that they are celebrating the many minorities in Vietnam. She sat next to us and tried to have a small talk as she is pouring more and more beer, and we managed to understand from her that all the people around are her children or grandchildren. The shows on the stage changed every minutes and mostly children from different tribes and minorities starred in them. Eventually all the locals formed a circle and danced around a huge bonfire that rose out of no where. We’ve already been a bit drunk and the dance of the people who looked like dark silhouettes against the fire seem pagan and strange. After it was over the whole place shut down at once and emptied, and we finished the day and went to bed.

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