Monday, October 18, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam -Chapter 1

If I could ride a bike, and being a good rider, I would take my adventure on the less travelled roads of Northern Vietnam on a bike. But I can't.....I could only charter a jeep with an experienced Vietnamese driver to visit this enchanting land. It was a memorable trip my sisiter and I took in 2007

Among the less travelled roads in Northern Vietnam, the northwest loop is the only one accessible by jeep. Other less travelled roads could only be accessed by bike and of course, by foot if you have the time. The experience of travelling on the northwest loop is awesome, even though we did not get to travel by bike. I can't remember exactly, but I think we paid US$530 for the service of a jeep and a driver for the 3 days 2 nights journey with a reliable travel agent, Handspan, in Hanoi. We didn't hire a tour guide but we had expressed our interest with the tour office when we made our booking. One experience I learnt from travelling in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi is a penny for a penny. Prices equal to quality. I would rather pay a little more to a reliable travel agent than to get really frustrated. We had a good driver and though the jeep had a punctured tyre, we arrived safely at Sapa.

Our journey started from Hanoi, passing Moc Chau, Mai Chau, Sonla, Thuan Chau, staying overnight in Dien Bien Phu, continuing to Lai Chau, Tamduong and ending the second night in Sapa. We did'nt hop on the jeep on the third morning when the driver made the return trip to Hanoi on the less interesting highway passing Yen Bai as we wanted to spend more time in Sapa and tracking around. However the charges remained the same as he had to drive his way back to Hanoi.

We met different tribes for the first time along the journey. Amongst them are Muong, Black Tay, White Tay, Blue Hmong, White Hmong, Moc Chau local branch of Flower Hmong, Black Dao, Sa and a few other tribes I was unable to name. They were distinctively different in their costumes. Our driver, Mr. Kiew, found us very funny with our reaction each time we spotted new tribes on the road. Later, when he saw any hill tribe, he would excitely ask if we would like to stop.
The Muong family shared with us Vietnamese tea 
and in return
we shared with them Lipton tea.
This Muong lady was camera shy.
The first stop we made was in Mai Chau, visiting a Muong family and had tea with them. The Muong and Tay people live on stillt houses. We used "sign" language and little translation from our driver to communicate with the Muong family. Then we continued our journey to a Tay village where they provide visitors for homestay. It was a nice environment with modern toilet built for tourists. A little commercial but nevertheless not a bad idea as the locals who live there carry on their usual daily lives.

colors parade
Tay are great weavers and their appiliques are beautiful. The new pieces are less intricate than some of the beautiful old works I have seen in a shop in Hanoi. The journey from Hanoi to Tay village in Mai Chau takes only 2 hours. It is good to make a 2 days 1 night trip there if you don't have time to travel further up north.
Hello, anyone there?
In Moc Chau, we visited a blue H'mong village. The driver was waiting for us in the jeep while we explored on our own in the village. How wonderful if we could visit their homes and see their beautiful needle works, but the village was quite as most of the aldult were working in the orchards or fields. Dissapointed, we left for another local branch Flower Hmong village. 

Freeze... intruder! No photography!

What do you want?
That was a big village with many people around and we were happy to see the crowd with their beautiful costume on. But the people around there weren't as friendly as around Sapa. We spotted a group of ladies sitting in the foyer of the house, chit-chating and sewing. The moment we walked near them, some of the ladies frowned and stared at us with unwelcome gestures. We asked for permission to take some photos and were rejected sternly. We were desperate to capture the scene, I pretended to take my sister photo with these Moc Chau Flower Hmongs behind in a short distance. They were furious; and a man in house rushed out and shouted at us. We thought we might get beaten and our driver was nowhere near us. Thank God, the little commotion ended just like that and we quickly left the place and went another direction into the village.

Hmong kids had fun with skipping rope during school recess. Tyng joined in.
Years of sewing had deteriorated
her sights.
That was a good lesson we had learnt and from then on we were more cautions. Then we came across this old seamstress who was friendly and allowed us to take her photos. She showed us some skirts when we expressed our interest in making purchases. How wonderful if we can communicate and get to know more about her. Thereafter we explored further and discovered this beautiful Hmong skirt drying under the sun and flapping in a seductive manner. It was the most beautiful Hmong skirt I had ever seen. I went into madness of having this great desire to acquire it. With sign language I asked someone in a house nearby who was the owner of the skirt. The young girl came out from the house and and looked at us strangely. I am not sure if she understood what we meant or she was not happy with the price we offered. Or simply she had no interest in selling it as it was quite a new skirt. 

Come and get me!

Tourists venturing into this area was not a common sight and the Flower Hmong here are obviously better off than the hill tribes up north. Our presence was unusual and perhaps they found our approach somewhat too odd and warm. 

We continued our journey to Sonla passing the bare and dried earth, withnessing the effects of deforestation for shifting cultivation.

P/S: to be continued in chapter 2 

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