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Bac Ha – On being about the Journey, not the destination

I’ve been doing a few guest posts for another travel blog.  They are not necessarily about Kenya, so they might seem a bit off topic.  But the blogger I’m writing for takes amazing photos that I want to share.  And it might be interesting for you to hear about other places outside East Africa as well.

The Friendly Cafe was where I met Sasha and Neil on my first day in Sapa and where our adventure was concocted.  We decided to hire motorbikes and ride to Bac Ha for the Sunday market.  We hired two bikes for three of us as I didn’t know how to ride and thought I’d be quite happy on the back.

Fog entering the valley, near Lau Thi Ngai coll, Bac Ha Mountains, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Fog entering the valley

After half a day I was ready to drive.  What fun!  Lesson one covered dirt roads, potholes, gravel, mud, river crossings and night driving.

As evening approached we realised we were lost.  It was dark and cold so we stopped in a village to ask for help.  We negotiated for someone to lead us to the nearest guesthouse and soon we were retracing our route along the potholed dirt roads and over rivers.  But this time, Neil fell in.  He must have hit a rock; the bike went over.  Fortunately he and the bike were OK but he was drenched and we still had another thirty minutes ride.

Hmong women in rice fields, Bac Ha Mountains, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China. OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Hmong women in rice fields

At last we arrived at a guesthouse where an extraordinarily rude hotelier greeted us.  But the rooms were clean, the price reasonable, and we would have settled for anything.

Next mission: dinner.  Sasha and I found a restaurant across the road where, instead of trying to figure out what we wanted, the old woman simply put the knife in one of Sasha’s hands and a tomato in the other and indicated “here’s the kitchen, go for it”.  It was wonderful!

The following day we got to Bac Ha.  What a sight greeted our eyes: everywhere we looked were colourful H’mong in bright traditional dress.  With a magnificent temple in the background, mounds of vegetables for sale on the street and women with large basket backpacks, it was a visual spectacular.  Breakfast was something we could not identify, but it was good.  For the rest of the day we munched on sugar cane.

The market extended over a large area, divided into sections.  The animal market was an open dirt patch with each seller’s offerings harnessed together.  There were donkeys, sheep, cows, water buffalo and dogs (which we hope were being sold for pets, not food).  Local liqueur was being sold from jerry cans.  Customers had to bring their own bottle into which the liqueur was poured through a funnel.  It seemed somehow incongruous to see these older H’mong women in their beautiful costumes dispensing local alcohol in this way.  My favourite section was clothing where I was sorely tempted to buy a lovely traditional H’mong skirt.

The photos for this post were supplied by Alberto Mateo.  More of his work can be found at  www.albertomateo.com  and www.thelastfootprint.com

Hmong men playing snooker, Bac Ha village, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Hmong men playing snooker

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About overlandtraveladventures

A philanthropic tour operator, creating positive experiences both for travellers and the local communities we interact with. We provide quality tailor-made tours that visit the sight-seeing highlights as well as community-based organisations.

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