The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

In the ‘art of Hue


The return bus trip to Lao Cai was an event in itself. We pay a tidy sum for a seat in one of the mini-buses and with our gear (two massive backpacks – I’ve never learnt to pack light – and two daypacks) and along with ten other tourists and all their travelling paraphernalia, we pile into the van. The rear boot area is the size of a postage stamp, so most of the luggage is stashed inside between the door and seats and onto our laps. 
Then five locals - including a very disgruntled baby with extremely healthy vocal cords - cram themselves, and their market purchased goodies, bags and other bits and pieces, into the rear with us whilst three more plus the driver hop into the front seat. On the outside, the vehicle may look like a standard fourteen seater, but really it’s just a sardine can in disguise. We trundle down the mountain at a cracking pace, crushing each other at every tight corner and it soon doesn’t take long before the first sign of motion-sickness emerges….and doesn’t let up for the whole of the trip. I try to ignore the flinging of plastic bag after plastic bag of sick tossed out the window (and into oncoming traffic).
Part way down, we stop and pick up another passenger. There is absolutely no room for her, but she squeezes in, stands on the step of the van and off we go. We soon reach a small village where we stop and a local chap hops out. Two more take his place. I’m praying for an end. My legs have seized up and my nose is finding it hard to take in the scent of vomit. Two and half hours later we are delivered to Lao Cai.
Unfortunately the hell-trip is far from over. A few hours later we’re on the train, jolting down the line to Hanoi. I’m still scratching myself stupid with the bedbug bites from the previous night-train, and after searching every corner of the cabin, pulling the sheets and bedding apart, we then lie almost comatose with all the lights blazing for the whole of the trip. There will be no more feasting.
Dawn is just breaking over Hanoi when we arrive but we don’t find a sleeping city. Even at 4:30am Hanoi is whirling about. The streets are filled with runners – ‘they’re game’ I think, casting my mind back to the obstacles on footpaths – and cyclists in lycra (even here they have mamil’s!) Bikes and scooters filled with produce zip around and street markets are a hive of activity. Amongst it all however, plays out a choreographic scene that looks oddly out of place with the frantic pace. The graceful wave and bend of t’ai chi flows from parks, footpaths and on street corners. Hundreds of tranquil faces stare into space, some by themselves, others in long lines.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Embroidered into the swirl of vibrancy in Bac Ha.


 We’ve enter a world of bling. Where rows of chandeliered beading envelopes around vibrant kaleidoscopic hues of pink, blue, teal and purple and elaborate hair clips and brooches - entwined through lush volumes of thick black hair that cascades down the back – wink in the sunlight.
The Flower H’mong people radiate in their bejewelled colours, as beautiful as the Blue-throated Bee-eaters with their glorious tail streamers, their sparkles and dashes of colour blaze in the sunshine and their infectious laughter and smiles send an electric vibe into the atmosphere of sleepy little Bac Ha. 

It’s Sunday morning, seven am and the weekly market is already in full swing. There’s barely room to walk down the streets as we jostle for room with the locals and villagers from the surrounding hamlets who have all converge on the main market square to buy and sell their produce, essentials and special something's.

Covering numerous streets and a large market area it is a hive of activity with pigs being unceremoniously lifted from their plastic seed-bag holders and walked wheel-barrow style for the buyer, receive a prodding and eyeballed test, and are lifted squealing back into the bags.  Ducks sitting patiently with feet tied are haggled over, then draped across backs of scooters, and water-buffalo, shy eyed and squeaking, sounding more like mice then large bovines with lethal horns, are inspected with thorough intensity. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Joining the stampede of footprints - Sapa

I read the slogan across the top of our mini van and shake my head. 'Come to Sapa and leave more than footprints' it reads. What bright spark of a marketing guru thought up that catchphrase!  It's in  stark contradiction to the motto 'take only memories, leave only footprints' and, as I look around I can see that the leaving more than footprints suggestion is well and truly being followed in the picturesque sounds of Sapa. 

We arrived by night train which was surprisingly comfortable (despite the horror stories I'd heard and later I will find myself adding to) to the border town of  Lao Cai and then quickly bundled into a mini-van-cum-moving cave (we could barely see a thing through the almost black-tinted caked with dust windows) to be driven for another hour to Sapa, a former French hill-station famous for its rice terraces and minority groups.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The sweet frangrance of life - Perfume Pagoda.

We are in Hanoi for five days, but by the dawn of the fourth I need to escape.  Hanoi is just too energetic for me.  Everywhere we turn there is a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of activity - be it dodging bride after bride in stunning outfits and serene smiles striking the pose -along with their grooms – as we attempt to stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake and try not to 'photo bomb' the happy couples (we stop counting couples when we hit the double digits), or ducking into the Vietnamese Women’s Museum only to find it is hosting a book fair in its courtyard and moving through the throng of excited bibliophiles is like trying to cross ‘beer corner’.  I couldn’t even dive in and join them as most of the books were in Vietnamese and the extent of my Vietnamese is ‘xin chow',. Or being brought to a sobering thud when we visit the Military Museum to try and make head and tail of the horrors this nation has endured for thousands of years, only to find the museum is hosting an event for the dignitaries of the 132nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly conference which is happening in Hanoi right this moment.   
Booking a private driver for the day, we make an early morning start and zip out of the city away from the mayhem and buzz.  Away from the old quarter we soon discover there is a very modern side to Hanoi and we pass high-rise after high-rise and upmarket suburb after suburb.   Soon we come to the countryside and the pace begins to become gentler – rice fields and duck ponds flash past the widows and every now and then we spy a village.  An hour later we arrive to the small sleepy village of My Duc with ornate pagodas surrounded by ponds filled with scruffy yellow adolescent ducks and a backdrop of white limestone karst cliffs of the Huong Tich Mountains, or sweetly nicknamed – the Mountain of Fragrant Traces.  Next to where we stop is a waterway, filled to the brim of blue aluminium row boats, some seating ten, some only six, and a couple with beautiful dragon head bows.  Our driver – who introduced himself as Brian, but is actually named Tan – organises a small boat to take us to the delightfully named Perfume Pagoda complex, five kilometres up the Day River. I have visions of me tumbling into the waters as I try to keep my tourist paraphernalia of cameras, water bottles, daypacks and handbag up out of the water as we clamour over the bobbing vessels to reach our boat which sits practically in the middle of the ‘harbour’.  Why is it I always turn into a hoarder-cum-baglady whenever I go on holidays? I think to myself. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Fifty cent beers and crossing the road in Hanoi.... what traffic?

My pulse is racing and the adrenaline pumping,  I'm in the thick of everything crazy. Frenetic and vibrant. Where just about anything goes and if it doesn't fit, it soon will.  I've dived into Hanoi and been hit with a tsunami of traffic - both people and vehicle.   I have never in my life seen so much chaos and movement on a street in my life.  Everything from scooters, cars, push carts, bicycles, rickshaws, strange little three-wheeled trucks and six seater golf-buggies to conical-hat hawkers with bamboo poles across their shoulders carrying the freshest of fruit, the heaviest of hazelnuts and the sweetest smelling flowers, spill across the street in a crashing of horns, bells, yelling and above all chattering and laughing.  The sights and sounds send my senses reeling as M and I alight from the taxi after an all nighter flight and along with our luggage, we carry our jetlag across a crowded footpath, dodging red, kindy-size stools, tangles of power lines that hang dangerously low and another sea of scooters -this time parked- to our hotel. 

We've jetted off to Vietnam to celebrate a milestone birthday and re-charge the batteries, and judging by the pulsating vibe of Hanoi, we are going to be well and truly energised and zapped to awake.  Our hotel is situated in the Old Quarter, up near the 121years old Hang Dau Water Tower that looks like an elegant but fading wedding cake.  After stowing our gear, showering and collecting a map from the front desk, we take life and limb and step out onto the road. And it is literally onto the road, because there is absolutely no way we can even contemplate walking along the footpath.  
It is chokablock full of parked scooters.  Or scooters driving onto it to park, or reversing off.  And where there is no (or little) scooter parking, there are thousands of tiny red plastic stools around tiny plastic red and blue tables in front of small makeshift kitchens cooking the most delectable smelling culinary delights. Tiny little stoves atop with bubbling pots and open fire flames lick across grills. Next to them sit plastic dishes filled with meat, vegetable and edibles I have absolutely no-idea of.