Day 13: We checked out of our hotel and were picked up by our driver and guide Quyen, for a two and a half hour drive to the Bac Ha Sunday markets. The first sign that this day was going to be interesting was the distinct lack of functioning seat belts in the back of the Toyota Camry in which we were traveling. About 10 minutes into the drive down the mountain I couldn’t help but foresee my own death caused by rapid ejection through the windscreen.
In the end the drive to the markets was uneventful except for the dozens of close calls with buffalos and completely clueless idiots wandering onto the road.
The markets themselves were huge and full of the ‘upland’ people who still dress in traditional clothing. The markets were full of the usual meat, fruit, vegetables and tourist trinkets; as well as buffalo, horse, dog and singing birds. Quyen was ever helpful in explaining some of the customs of these mountain villagers. After wandering the markets for an hour or so we stopped for lunch.
After lunch we headed out for a tour of two of nearby villages. Quyen explained the daily life of the villagers to us and took us away from the usual tracks to see some of the crops and homes up close. The weather had changed and it was now extremely hot and humid; while it was uncomfortable to us the more overweight and heavily dressed tourists in the central village were much worse off.
At the end of the walk through the second village we boarded a river boat for a quick cruise on the Chay River. This was quite enjoyable in the cool breeze and Carly even dipped her feet into the water to cool down.
After a short break from the 40’C and 100% humidity we drove back to Lao Cai to wait for the overnight train back to Ha Noi. As we had a few hours to kill, we visited the Vietnam / China border and heard some stories about Vietnamese women being stolen for forced prostitution and people fleeing from both countries.
Finally we boarded the train to Ha Noi and soon we were off into the Vietnamese night.
Day 14: Our train pulled into Ha Noi at 04:30. Unlike last time’s shuddering stop to wake us up; soft music played over the speakers before we came to our sudden halt.
Once again it was a mad rush to get off the train and after a few minutes palming off the not so reputable ‘taxi’ drivers (possibly organ harvesters) we found our driver and headed off to the hotel.
We were able to arrange an early check-in at the hotel and get some sleep before wandering the nearby markets and food vendors in the afternoon after the temperature dropped a little.