Sunday, December 10, 2006

Among the Flower Hmong

Today has been our last day in the mountains, as we are now waiting for the 21.15 train from Lao Cai to Hanoi, expecting to arrive at about 6.00 am tomorrow morning. We finally have our tickets and just in case anyone reading this is looking for travel tips in Vietnam, it would be to think very carefully before using the services of Sinh Cafe. We have not been impressed. Use Vietnam Geographic instead! Anyway, after our escapades of last niught we think we will sleep better on this train than the one which brought us from Hue to Hanoi. Leaving laterb in the evening helps too, I think.

Anyway, after a very very shaky start, we joined the bus tour to go to Bac Ha, home of the market to which many Flower Hmong people go. They would have to be some of the most colourful people in the world,. at least the woman and babies, dressed as they are in a riot of colours, from top to toe, starting with a bright check headscarf, done in a variety of ways, down to beautifully creased skirts and shin straps, finished off with some modern trainers - but then with colouful laces. Every woman there is an invitation ot take a photograph. Incredible! Only there are so many of them there that it is hard to get the space to make a shot without someone standing in the way or bumping you from behind. Anyway, I cannot upload photos on this computer so will have to do so tomorrow. These are a couple of Flower Hmong we spotted yesterday when we were still sober in Sa Pa.

Further, there are other attractions to the market, namely the grim looking men in their dark clothes, the street barbers, the dog and pig market (next to each other and a bit disturbing to see doggies being treated as a potential future meal), the ponies bringing goods to be sold at the market and so on. Unfortunately, we wonly had two hours during which we were supposed to eat something so we did not get to see as much as we would have liked.

This, especially as the Flower Hmong village we visited was in fact quite boring, with just some beautiful views over terraced rice paddies to make it a little bit worthwhile going. Such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the market in town. We suggested to Xung, our Black Hmong tour guide that next time they offer tourists the choice of an extra hour at the market or a trip to a (boring) village).

It should also be said that the countryside on the way down from Sa Pa to Lao Cai and then along the river valley marking the border with China,. followed by teh climb up to Bac Ha, was simply stunning. Vert green, very neat, endless terraces, jungle, bamboo forests, market gardens, tea plantations and another very picturesque brick factory. The whole area looked as if it was one very well tended and fertile garden. Mum, you would have loved to see the neat rows of cabbages, artichokes, lettuces, spring onions, carrots and the like. Not a sign of a slug to be seen anywhere.

Although we were on the road for five hours today, and then right next to the Chinese border, we hardly saw a single lorry or juggernaut (not that the roads were all that good), but it made one realise that for so much of people's needs the products are grown or produced locally, this being the natural organic and sustainable way to live, in contrast to the out-of-town shopping centres of Europe and the motorways chock-a-block with lorries.

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