City girl in the countryside

Trip Start Jul 07, 2004
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Trip End Dec 24, 2006


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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Yes, Im back...sooner than I expexted...and here is why...

I have actually attempted the infamous NorthWest loop road trip I have been reading the best reviews about. Well, Monday morning, my planned departure time was a bit delayed, when my dressmaker finally agreed to make the skirt of my dreams...and the only time she could squeeze me in for my measurements was just this day...and as early as possible...I just could not pass over this opportunity...so off I went, obediantly standing there, among hundreds of colourful silk fabrics of different textures...getting pinned here, measured there, turner over this direction and that. But finaly I decided on the colour (guess) and fabric, and with all correct measurements carefully jotted on my very own page (guess what...as per my request, they are keeping my measurements, so I can order things over email...oohh this could be a very dangerous thing)...I was finally released and allowed to set on my way.

I was really hopeful about this journey...and actually extremely excited to battle this long stretch of mountainous terrain on my own...using nothing but my own 2 legs and public buses. Oh this should be fun.

Anyways, I packed my little day bag, caught a local bus to the Ha Dong bus station, fought my way through the hungry moto drivers, settled as comfortably as I could on one of the tiny ancient minivans, and paid the man the 50,000d fare (which I later came to realise was way too much...sigh...but thats what happens on the local buses...it should be about 30-40,000d direct to Mai Chau by the way). Well at least it was not full, and I got my choice seat...and waited...and waited...and waited...about 1.5 hrs that is.

Once on our way, we went through the most breathtaking scenery...changing from dilapitaded outskirts of the city, to small town life, to limestone clifs, and finally up, over and down a spectacular mountain pass. The sun came out and illuminated the valleys below. Ahh...heaven.

The ride wasnt actually all that bad...apart from the annoying man sitting behind me. Could he be any louder? No that would not be possible, his tone was already at a super high notch....grrr....but nevertheless, I drifted in and out of a nice dreamy state. I was exhausted from the night before. The water puppet show I saw with James the night before was just way too exciting to handle...and we just could not sleep all night.

Anyways, my moto driver took me to a nice little Stilt House guest house (#20) and the owner greeted me with a warm smile. The village is mostly Thai...ohhh cool, I thought, I will be able to somehow communicate a bit with them. My Thai is much better then my Vietnamese, so I was excited. Well my happy bubble was burst, when I actually tried to speak with the people...this is not the Thai Im used to...its an old dialect from way way before...sigh...not even a SawadeeKa works here...sigh!!! Oh well, back to pictures and body language it was.

Luckily I befriended 2 Vietnamese tourists who were staying in the same place...they did all the tranbslations for me...thank god...as it dawned on me that I would have to eat there too...oh oh...what to do what to do.

You all know how I just love the cold, especially when Im not prepared for it...and when the place Im sleeping in is even worse off then me. This was not fun for me...shivering at 6 in the evening...and wanting nothing more than a warm cover or even just an enclosed room. This is not the place for it. The stilt houses are made of wood...somewhat sporadically placed bamboo trunks, and if you are lucky, some have glass windows...but not this one...the one I was in used cloth to "block" out the cold...sigh....

"What did I get myself into?" I thought. Grin and bear it for a night or 2...its bound to warm up...and you can always leave if it doesnt.

The family made dinner for us (yes, we had to pay for it...nothing in Asia is free)...and what a dinner it was. More like a feast than a 3 person casual dinner. There was so mcuh food...we were bursting full...and the best grilled meat I have ever had...NO it wasnt dog!!!! Believe me I checked...and anyways, dog meat is expensive...they wouldnt just serve it to anyone.

As I mentioned before, it was cold, no insulation, and no proper beds. We layed out our mats and covers and went to sleep. Well some did. I didnt. Im not a country girl...and every little "natural" noise kept me awake...from a roster crowing ALL night...(yes, this time not only at 3am...this one had a 24hr alarm), to the dogs howling and barking at the sneaky cats running past, to the crickets singing and the water flowing gently in the nearby stream. Then at about 6am, when I finaly managed to fall asleep, the baby started screeming. And did I mention I was cold all night long?!!!!

I was not a happy girl the next day. But I managed to eat my cold stale breakfast and set off on a short walk around the nearby fields, villages and hills with the Vietnamese guys. It was a nice walk...which warmed me up for a few short minutes...and then it was time for scrumptious lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent wondering around the many scarf and hand woven cloth stalls lining the village alleys.

Once again, I was cold...but dinner arrived...which was yet another example of culinary extacy. Wow...this woman can cook. I have fallen in love with another food item...XuXu...Dont ask what it is in English, as I myself dont know...but its some sort of vegetable, stir-fried with garlic and oil. So simple, yet heavenly!

In the evening I was invited by the girl next door to watch a traditional dance performance. Interesting...cool and colourful costumes...but the gilrs looked bored. Ahh the days of WiCi...everyone with the permasmile on our faces. Now I know why Pani Magda always yelled to smile...smile...smile. It just looks so much better.

And finally we come to this morning's events. As the previous night, nature's very own orchestra kept me awake all night...and I woke up even colder than yesterday. It was misty and foggy...and the weather didnt look so good. Not a great one for explorting mountain scenery...but I was determined...to a point. Everyone gave me good directions on how to get to Son La...the next big town on my route. Apparently there is a bus from Mai Chau...for about 40-50,000d...direct...cool I thoughts. I was in no mood to be hassled today. I hopped on a moto, and righ away, I could sense something was off...this was not to happen. Me proceeded to tell me he would take me there for 100,000d. I said no...it was cold, misty, and I was not about to make this 3-4hr trip on the back of a moto...

"No thank you. Please just drop me off at the bus station"

He did...about 5km further afield...where a herd of motos were waiting like vulchures. As soon as they spotted me, all proceeded to shout..."Moto, moto...go to Son La"

Now come on guys...think...I was just on one of these motos...why in the world would I get off this one, and get on another one if I wanted to go to Son La by a moto? No, I want a bus.

They flagged one...not really a bus...more like a rusted sardine can filled to the rim with gawking men...hmm...they loged me in somewhere between a chicken carton and the window...and wait...this is the best part...proceeded to demand 100,000d for this luxurious privelage. No way! I tried bargaining, but they werent having any of this...so I just gently hopped off and walked away. Where was I going to go? No clue...but not in that general direction.

Lucky for me, a bus to Hanoi just pulled up...and I hopped on. Once again (sigh...what is it with these people?), they tried the same trick...100,000d!

"No...here is a 50...this is what I paid to get here...and this is what I will pay to get out...no more!" A sweet Vietnamese girl stuck up for me, and told the cocky boy collecting the money off...and somethign else in Vietnames, which I think told him where to go...he he he

But my wonderful morning wasnt finished yet...oh no, the guys on the bus all decided to stare at me, like I was some sort of a creature. Now understand me, I dont care when people stare...let them stare all they want...but when they are 2cm away from you and breathing down your neck...well then that makes me annoyed!

The 4 hrs was up, the bus stopped in Hanoi...I jumped on a city bus, which deposited me near my hostel...and I was finally back in my safe haven. There is nothing better than the sound of buzzing motos, people hurrying past you, horns beeping...and all the joys of a city.

I will be here for the next 2 days...as my skirt is not yet completed...so another cold rainy day in Hanoi...and then off to warm and sunny Laos.

The thing I realised (which I think I already knew in my mind) is that, eventhough I like the mountains, a country girl I am definitely not!!!
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