Draw of rice terraces
and grilled at the table with some dill and spring onions – and served with rice noodles. So we adjourned to a café for ice cream. I hadn’t laughed so much since I started my odyssey, especially with Yeoh’s animated account of trying to use the toilet in the rickety train to Sa Pa. I had the same experience on the train to Saigon.
The next morning, I took a six-hour bus ride to Sa Pa, the 1,500m high former hill station of French colonials where the Hmong hill tribe predominates. We were given plastic bags to put our shoes in before boarding. As the sleeper bus went up the steep slope, we enjoyed panoramic views of the rice terraces.
After lunch, we went for a walk in the valley to see the rice terraces and the Hmong women doing embroidery and weaving.
The next morning, it rained buckets before our trekking trip to the rice terraces. We were given ponchos to wear, so we carried on in the rain until it stopped. A group of Hmong women and little children were already on the steps waiting to follow us in the hope they could sell us something but I was amazed that they did not try to sell anything until we had reached the end of the trek.
The trails were all muddy and slippery. Wearing only slippers, a Hmong woman with a weather-beaten face came to my aid. Even the fit, young men were slipping all over the place! The Hmong children seemed to be able to bounce from one side of the slope to another with no trouble.
As soon as we reached a rest area, they started pleading with everyone to buy their friendship bracelets.
Some wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and continued stalking us. After a while, the whining became annoying and they had to be shooed away.
It was a hard trek over difficult terrain but to be up-close to the hill terraces made it all worthwhile.
Arriving back at my hotel in Hanoi that night felt like coming home. The staff were there to greet me like a long-lost relative. I stayed another three nights in Hanoi, finding it difficult to tear myself away from the comforts of my hotel. Who would have thought I would find peace and tranquillity in a hotel on the main thoroughfare of Hanoi’s busy Hoan Kiem district with its buzzing motorcycles?
The sunset at Ha Long Bay is almost unreal.