Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Bac Ha

Took a night bus to Bac Ha. There is a very touristic town of Sapa nearby, and a Sunday market in Bac Ha. After doing a trip to a floating market from Bangkok and not listening to LP advice of coming to that town an evening before, so you could enjoy the traditional feel of the market with the traditional way of life, and instead we came and all we saw were tourists overshadowing the locals with their big cameras. I decided not to repeat the same mistake again, and base myself in Bac Ha, so that I could enjoy the market before all the tourist buses will come from Sapa. When the bus stopped for food break, nobody but me was eating anything. I just pointed my finger at unknown food, one of them was some weird gooowey black paste that tasted like nothing at all :) These tourist buses are made for tiny locals, the beds are short and narrow, and impossible to sleep in. At the back the 5 of us snuggled together and stopped paying attention to various foreign body parts touching us :) The bus went straight to Sapa, and they stopped especially for me at the town in the middle at 5:30 am. I walked to the bus terminal and on the way some guy started walking with me, asking me where I'm going, and pointing his finger at the bus terminal "you need to go there". "Yes, thank you, I can see the buses". Why is he walking with me I'm wondering. He speaks decent English, and dressed properly with clean cloths. Red light starts to appear. He shows me to the bus, takes my luggage in, the bus leaves at 6:30, and I'm the only one there. He then says that I need to pay now. "Red light, red light is flashing!!". Out of curiosity, I ask him how much. He tells me 400 ($20). 400??? First I thought that I must have misunderstood him, cause he gave me an unreal price, something from fantasy movies. I opened lonely planet, in there it says 50. I show it to him, he says, no 400 is local Vietnamese price. I remembered the short movie that I saw in the museum where the street vendors make $20 in 2 weeks, I highly doubt that they'll spend these $20 on a 2.5 hour bus ride. I got pissed off, what do I have "stupid" written on my forehead?? I got out of the bus, looked around the bus terminal and saw another bus going to that town. I came there, asked him how much, he said 50! When is he leaving? At 7am, just half an hour difference. I wanted to come back to my bus to make a fuss, but they were already gone, not to be seen again. I took my luggage and started to get out when the driver saw me, run towards me to try and stop me, he said ok 90, ok 70, I kept pushing him out of my way with my suitcase. ok, ok, 50. Fine, I put my suitcase down and sat. I was really mad and was mad at least an hour later. What are we?? Walking wallets?? I still should have left the bus and taken the other one, so he'd learn his lesson.
Bac Ha is a very small town, I'd even call it a village, with nothing to do and nothing to see. If you were just there, you wouldn't know of all the beautiful scenery it actually sits in. I found out that Vietnamese people are very aggressive. You can't ask them anything, any question would lead to accusations, and very much raised tone. There were practically no tourists in the town, maybe 10 max, and that limits my possibilities for tour selection, negotiation and bargaining. In the only touristic restaurant I saw 2 girls booking a tour. I asked them if they mind me joining them, they said that they didn't. I managed to negotiate the price a little bit before he started yelling at me. There are no other choices of "tour operators" and when regularly I would've went out and never looked back, here I didn't have any choice, unless I took a bus to Sapa. I agreed for the tour which was a 2 day hike, with a stay at a home of a local family.
In the morning, I woke up early to go to the market. For the first 2 hours I was the only tourist in there. I just sat for breakfast of noodle soup while everybody was setting up their stalls, was looking around, absorbing the atmosphere. Modern girls with tight jeans, t-shirts and iPhones help their traditional mothers with skirts and head-wear, preparing food using the traditional methods. Everything's home made, locally grown and locally killed. Then I started noticing the flower H'mong people coming in. This market is famous for them. There are many indigenous groups living in the Northern mountains of Vietnam, most of them are H'mong tribes. Then there are black, green, blue, red, flower, depending on the color of cloths they wear. The flower H'mong are the most colorful ones. They're dressed like a rainbow head to toe, all looking alike, all buying the cloths that they already have, and carrying their babies on the back. I saw a woman picking up a shirt, an identical shirt which she was wearing, and carefully looking through it. "I wonder if I'll look good in it?" I can hear her think?? Kind of reminded me of the locals in Andes in South America. I remember once we took a bus with the local people where the women were all dressed alike, I thought then, how do their husbands differentiate between them?
Next was an animal market, so many animals, so much noise. I felt very bad being there. Especially the pigs squeak so much, and some of them were already tied to a branch in preparation for bbq. Well, at least they had a good life before that day, running carelessly around instead of being stuck in the cage all life long. On the way back a woman stopped me and told me that she's selling tea. I thought, tea, why not, I still have plenty of time. She poured me tea and passed me peanuts with coconuts, yheeei free peanuts. So yummy! When I ask her how much, she told me 50 ($2.5) for the tea, 100 ($5) for the peanuts. This is not Canada I tell her! It's even higher than in Canada! I started arguing with her, at the end I brought it down to 50, gave it to her and walked away boiling. But I'm mad at myself again, should've given her 20 max. Every day in Vietnam is "should've, could've, would've" for me.
After the market we went for a hike. The path went through the villages and beautiful country side. I finally saw up close how the rice grows, apparently it grows just like wheat. Kids are working in the fields, cutting and carrying the rice for processing, buffaloes help carry heavy logs. It seemed like life stopped for hundreds of years in this place. we then saw a muddy path up and were told that we need to climb up for about 3 hours. After an hour it started pouring down cats and dogs. We couldn't and didn't want to go up anymore, and told our guide that we want to go back to town. The path turned into a waterfall and the girls could've made an easier descend by sitting on it and sliding down, they were muddy all over and I kept thinking how hard is it to just look where you're stepping? Everything in my bag got soaking wet, I don't know when I'll ever learn to put everything in plastic bags when I go for hikes, hopefully one day it will finally hit me.
When we got back telling them that we want to cancel the next day's trip, they got VERY aggressive with us, telling us that we already paid! So what? Excellent customer service. Somehow, through I don't know what luck, they agreed on taking us on a motorbike tour of the surrounding area. I'm not enjoying much sitting on the back of the bike and being driven around, but it was the best, and I'd say the only option available. The weather was awesome, sunny with blue sky. The vistas were breathtaking, and they took us on roads on which I wouldn't dare to even look at. So at the end, everything turned out to be fine. They took us to the village where the locals were having lunch. Of course we were invited to join them. The village was empty, and all the locals concentrated in a barn like house all having lunch together. Women with children and men sitting separately. The men took us to sit with them. They gave us the best wooden chairs, while they sat on the plastic ones. Told us to eat everything, though nothing looked very appetizing. All the food is arranged in the middle of the table, and they pick at it with chopsticks. The pork fat marinated in lemongrass was actually ok. Then they got out shot glasses and started pouring us 45% rice "wine". That was disgusting. I barely finished one shot when they started pouring more and more. We told them that we don't want anymore and tried to hide the glasses, but they managed to find them and refill them again. They don't understand the word "no". When we started getting up because it was useless to talk to them, they aggressively took us by the hands and pushed us down to sit. I'm with the same aggression pulled my hand out of theirs. 12 pm and all men are drunk, what's the use of a husband like this? And while I'm on a lemongrass subject. I know it's hard to use ingredients which you don't know, but buy lemongrass and add it to absolutely anything to enhance the flavour. Fry it, deep fry it, add it to any meat or vegetarian dish, add it to soup, to tea ... wonderful herb!
Stopped at a school where kids where goofing around, on the table, under the table, the teacher is nowhere to be seen, I wonder what they learn, and I wonder if the girls get married at 16, have kids, and the husbands are drunk by noon, do they have to learn anything at all? In general, the kids are super cute, curious and super shy. What a difference from India. In here they take a step forward, a step back, a step forward, and when they see us looking at them or motioning them to come over they giggle and run away.
While sitting in the restaurant having dinner, I saw a group of men gathering at the opposite side of the square looking and point up a tree. Then a gun appeared, there were some shots and something fell from a tree. The killer took the squirrel by the tail with a huge proud grin, then gave it to someone to get rid of it. That guy went through the restaurant where I was sitting, with the squirrel bleeding and twitching. Anger spread through me like fire. I went after him and asked him if he's going to eat it. He laughed and said "no". I threw a tantrum. I started yelling at him asking him if it's funny for him to see an animal suffer, what did they kill it just for fun and now throw it still alive into the garbage? I intend to find the guy who did it, and tell him everything that I think about him. Suddenly our guide appeared from nowhere and assured me that they'll eat it, and the man who killed it is the boss who doesn't speak any English. Then I saw some whispers and looks towards my direction. It's the boss! He speaks English alright. He told me that everyone said to kill it. I told him if everybody does it, it doesn't make it right. He told me that squirrels kill chickens and steal the eggs. I asked him if I should kill the farmer who killed the chicken for my spring rolls!?
I talked to mom on skype when that happened, she told me what's the point of telling them what I think, it won't make any difference. I'm sure though that doing nothing will make no difference at all. It's the least that I can do.
It's no wonder that going to jungles, to the best national parks ever in search for animals results in huge disappointments. There are no animals left. After 3 years of travelling, of going to numerous natural places, I'm assuring you that most of the animals you'll see will be in the zoo. Just read that in the 90s 10 million turtles were killed each year in Vietnam for Chinese export because it's believed that turtle meat prolongs longevity. Monkey's brains are eaten alive to get smarter. Every purchase of animal products encourages that kind of behaviour. Think twice before you buy.



  1. и как это из таких очаровательных, тихих, застенчивых детей получаются такие агрессивные, крикливые и не очень-то симпатичные внешне взрослые?? загадка природы:))


  2. Yana

    It seems like a long time for this blog to arrive..
    (because we really look forward for them)
    What an interesting story.
    How different the the visiting people are treated.
    If you would like a pet squirrel, let me know :+)


  3. I can see myself getting into quite a few arguments there. Can't stand animal cruelty. You have my blessing to beat up the next killer you see (hopefully in time to stop it). And don't keep me waiting so long for the next blog! x