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Published: October 21st 2014
We were heading to Cao Bang where we were to spend the next day which was around 100 kilometers away. Again it was really picturesque with endless karsts, rice fields, valleys of terraces below the road and tiny villages. The fields were busy with the rice harvest in full swing - some appeared to being cut by hand but most were using tiny machines. The rest of the process though was being done by hand. The rice sheafs were being bundled, tied together with another sheaf and left standing upended to begin the drying process. From above many of the fields were patterned with the different shapes and sizes of the bundles. The women were wearing long black skirts and purple blouses.
At 11.30am the roads became busy with streams of school children riding bikes home for lunch. We saw one boy on a motorbike with both his parents. The little boy had an adult's workman's helmet balanced on his head for a safety helmet. Most pillion passengers don't wear anything as protection - that little boy may as well have been wearing nothing...
Cao Bang was a busy city which we drove straight through as we still had
over a hundred kilometers to travel to reach the border and the waterfall. It was a very windy route and I was once again feeling a little queasy - not used to be a back seat passenger. Many of the villages were growing corn and piles of corn cobs were beside the road. It was being sold kernelled so each cob was being fed individually by hand into a small machine to remove the kernels.
Another village was producing iron knives and sickles. Tuin stopped at one of the small forges and it was fascinating watching them being made. The red hot steel pieces were hammered in sequence by three men - there were sledge hammers going in all directions! Razor sharp when they were finished and very cheap to buy. Tuin was as fascinated in the process as we were.
Lunch followed at a restaurant next to the waterfall. The usual pile of chicken bones and skin. This pile however included the head and comb perched neatly on top of the plate - Tuin waited patiently to see whether we were going to eat it before grabbing it in his chopsticks and eating it with relish... Meals
are always finished with tiny cups of bitter green tea and whilst this was being served Tuin took our passports and a pile of dong (Vietnamese money) to the police station to obtain the permits we needed to be able to cross the road and walk the couple of hundred meters to the border.
Leaving Tuin with the teapot we headed off to the falls - they certainly weren't the Iguacu Falls but they were very attractive. We had planned on taking one of the bamboo rafts into China (illegally but can be done as you don't get off the raft) but there weren't enough tourists on the Vietnamese border for the Chinese boatmen to worry about crossing. The Chinese side was very busy however and there was a lot of cargo crossing backwards and forwards on small rowboats. An enterprising lady was renting out bamboo mats for people to have picnics on and there were a few families enjoying the shade of the big trees.
We found out later that we had been in China as there was a stone marker close to the waters edge which we had walked behind. The stone marker was actually the
border marker. When the falls are in full flow they join together as apposed to be two separate ones the day we were there to form the border. We really enjoyed our time there and were very pleased that Vega Travel suggested we did the Ha Giang route from there. A few years ago you couldn't do it from there as the permits needed to get into Ha Giang weren't available from that side of the province.
Late that afternoon we drove the hundred kilometres back to Cao Bang where Tuin took us to a hotel - very Vietnamese in decor and we the hardest beds we have ever slept in. I ended up sleeping on top of the folded doona with winter clothes on as it was cold during the night but at least I managed to get some sleep. We liked Cao Bang - it had a nice vibe. We walked along the riverside which was lined with cafes to the city centre. No fancy shops just lots of tiny businesses and an interesting vegetable market which stretched along the river.
Cafes in Vietnam don't sell much food - in the evening people sit sipping tea,
A faded propaganda sign ..
They are all over Vietnam. I love them...
beer or strong black coffee with a layer of condensed milk in the bottom of the coffee glass. They may snack on sunflower seeds or sometimes noodle soup is offered. They squat on tiny stools or child size plastic chairs so are not the most comfortable places for our long legs to rest at for long. We had a lovely mango smoothie at one of them though before walking back through the dark streets to our hotel whilst unsuccessfully looking for a restaurant which sold food we recognised. We ended up eating baguettes and cream cheese cubes, fruit and yoghurt for dinner. I was pleased to discover however the fastest internet connection in our room and was able to upload all my photos onto a cloud server. This is usually a very slow process but in Cao Bang they uploaded instantly.
Next morning we ate breakfast at a street stall whilst watching the other hotel guests depart. We had heard them arrive during the night - a large group of very wealthy young men riding top of the range motorbikes. The underground hotel carpark was crammed with dozens of them and it was very entertaining, if somewhat noisy, watching
them roar off. They were accompanied by their girlfriends/wives who were being driven in shiny black mercedes 4 wheel drive vehicles. The women were wearing skin tight, short skirts or tight jeans and were dripping with all manner of diamante accessories. It was quite an entertaining procession. Tuin arrived just as the last one left, packed us into the car, drove half a dozen shops down the street, stopped and went into a cafe for breakfast. It was literally three minutes walk away..... And so ended our short time in Cao Bang.
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