Draw of rice ter­races

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - Watch out for the se­ries’ fi­nal in­stal­ment in a fort­night.

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.

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