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Published: October 30th 2014
From Sa Phin we began the long winding route to Ha Giang where we were to sleep that evening. Despite Tuin not being our official guide he certainly took it upon himself to find us accommodation each evening. That evening he said that we were to stay in a homestay outside Ha Giang city. We stopped to wander a couple of the villages - one appeared to be deserted but I guess mid morning most people would have been out working in the fields. I did discover two full back baskets, both loaded with wood, outside one house. We started to pass low terraces of tea plantations and in some of the smaller towns we saw the dried tea leaves - which were quite large in size - piled onto plastic sheets for sale on the footpaths. As well there appeared to be an a lot of traditional medicine bulk products (mainly roots) for sale so this was obviously another of the cottage industries of the region. There were also more fields of stalky aloe vera.
Lunch was the usual point and cross the fingers! Sometimes we're lucky, sometimes not.... Tuin always managed to empty most of the bowls for
us though. Australian health and safety practices certainly aren't evident - all the kitchens were black grimed with grease, most of the dishwashing was done on the footpath and in the restaurant we had lunch in that day when we asked to use the toilet we discovered it behind the kitchen and full of ducks in cages.
The highlight of the day though was the countryside we drove through after lunch. Many of the photos of the Ha Giang region show twin mountains which are affectionately known as women's breasts though their official name is Quan Ba Twin Mountain. It was pretty obvious why they are called this but in reality they are only two of many similar karsts which dot this area. The whole outlook from the couple of viewpoints we stopped at was gorgeous - though still hazy it didn't appear to be as heavy that day. These two peaks feature on all tourism information about the Ha Giang region. We had certainly totally overdosed on scenery the previous few days.
Ha Giang city was surrounded by the karsts and they were a fabulous backdrop as we drove through the city towards our homestay which was
in an outlying village. We waited in the car whilst Tuin checked it out. He came back shaking his head and saying 'dirty, dirty' and drove back into the city. He had paid for his accommodation on other nights (I think the drivers get free accommodation in most places they take tourists to) but in this instance he asked that we cover his room in the hotel he took us to in Ha Giang. We obviously had no problem with this - the hotels weren't expensive - and I was actually happy to be staying in the city as it looked a pretty town. That evening we wandered along the river bank, again lined with cafes, under blue tarp roofs, full of tiny low tables and stools, ate dinner at a tiny street side stall and admired the reflections of the coloured lights on the river.
Next morning we left early after our usual street side breakfast of baguettes, bananas and coffee and began our final day with Tuin as we drove back to Hanoi. The roads got progressively busier the closer we got to the city, though Tuin spent the majority of the day on smaller roads as
apposed to the main highway. We passed more tea plantations and dozens of road side stalls selling dragon fruit. Tuin pointed out the plants it is grown on and we realised what we had thought was stalky aloe vera plants was actually the bushes dragon fruit grows on! The dragon fruit grown here is purple pink inside, very juicy and sweet and makes visits to the toilet a little colourful as well..... I discovered this when I overdosed on it! We also stopped at a war cemetery where there were many graves of North Vietnamese soldiers who had been killed during the 'American' war. To get into the cemetery we had to clamber over the fence - we followed a well worn path so the gates out front must be permantly locked...
We also passed a funeral - a very ornate gold coffin was being drawn through the streets by a horse. All the mourners walked beside the coffin and most were holding gold staffs with black and white flags on them. In front of the coffin walked a man dressed in a very ornate red and gold costume and wearing a grotesque mask. I presume he was chasing
away the evil spirits. Tuin indicated that it was a Vietnamese funeral of the old traditional kind. We had already seen, on another day of this trip north, an ethnic funeral where the coffin was lying on a brightly coloured pedestal under a tent which was also strung with paper decorations in vibrant colours.
We arrived on the outskirts of Hanoi mid afternoon. The roads were lined with hotels with interesting names such as 'Love Hotel' and 'Massage Hotel'. It didn't take much guessing to know what market they were aimed at! Soon we were back in the chaos and noise of the old town and as Tuin edged the car through the motorbikes, bicycles, traders and tourists along the narrow streets we were very sad that our wonderful six day adventure was over. Tuin had been fabulous - as helpful as he could be with his limited English, a driver who we had felt very safe with in what were at times trying driving conditions, considerate and kind with a ready smile. He left us with a hefty tip, which he deserved, and a cheery wave.
When we checked in again at the lovely Hanoi Guesthouse we
were greeted with a 'Love You' message spelt out on our doona cover in rose petals..... We felt like we had checked into the Love Hotel by mistake. Next morning I watched the staff decorate a room next to us which had been booked by a couple on their honeymoon. Four women spent over an hour decorating their room with rose petals and heart shaped balloons!
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