SO lush and green

Welcome to another edition of ‘let’s look at green rice terraces’ . . . .

I make no apologies for my boundless delight in cataloguing the delights of Northern Vietnam. It really is some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen.

The endless rice fields are broken up by the occasional little hamlet with corrugated tin roofs and mud banked walls.

But even high in the hill of Sapa you can still hear to incessant, and annoying, drone and pop of the ubiquitous moped – the plague of Vietnam’s roads!

The fox sums it up – I really do feel lucky to be here and experiencing this wonderful country again.

A slightly nerve wracking river crossing to be negotiated just as the rain starts to fall . . .

We are going to stay overnight with a local family of the Dzay minority

We will be having a cooking class to learn how to cook some traditional Vietnamese food too.

We’re nearing the homestead just as the heavens really start to open!

Trekking tourists

Brace yourself for lots more pictures of the Sapa rice terraces!

April is still a wet month so the terraces are really muddy and slippy.

Look at the gorgeous bright green of the baby rice shoots starting to poke through.

The terraces double up as duck ponds with a view for local wildlife.

It’s thirsty work trekking so we stop off at a local restaurant for a bite to eat and a fizzy beverage.

I might be a bit hopped up on sugar here……..

Enjoy some more grainy footage of our wanderings…..

The rice fields change with the seasons so depending when you visit you will see a very different scene.

April is when the fields are still being prepared so you won’t see the endless greens until about June or July.

But you can still see the amazing structural elegance of the terraces, enjoy the sunlight bouncing off the mirrored glass of the watery fields and start to spot the baby rice!

Sapa trekking

After a good nights kip at the wonderful Sapa Vista Hotel we’re all set to start our two day trek into the rice terraces of Sapa.

I have been waiting for this moment for 10 years! Ever since I returned from my first trip to the south of Vietnam I have been a trifle obsessed with the verdant terraces of the North.

And here they are!! Every bit as amazing as I had hoped.

We start off in a group but then head off on our our with our diminutive local guide, who tells us her name is Cuckoo!!

She’s a tiny ball of energy, bouncing from rock to rock like a nimble mountain goat as we struggle to keep up!

Cuckoo is from one of the local hill tribes, as are most of the guides.

Meaning she has an impressive knowledge of the area, plus seems to know everyone we pass!

As we visited Sapa in late April, the rice planting is just starting, meaning that we didn’t get to see the fully green terraces.

But the vivid lime green areas you can see are where the tiny new rice shoots are starting to grow.

At this time of year the terraces are full of water, which when hit by the sun, are almost blinding. Hence their name ‘broken mirrors’

Tiny clusters of houses cling to the terraces, almost in the middle of nowhere and add to the charm of this amazing area.

We’re heading for our evening rest stop in a local hill tribe homestead. More to come!

En route to Sapa

I am finally dragged away from the fantastical Bac Ha market and we’re on our way to Sapa, our final destination for the day.

Enroute we visit one of the many traditional hill tribe villages to get a sense of what life is like in the green hills around Sapa.

This is Trung Do village of the Tay minority. Situated in the stunning verdant hills, it is a very simple, basic even, way of living.

The villagers main employment is farming and livestock and you can find animals everywhere! Many of which will end up at Bac Ha market.

The landscape in this rugged terrain is simply incredible. It’s one of the greenest places I have ever visited.

Here’s some very grainy footage of some of the amazing scenery as we wind our way upwards to Sapa.

We can already start to see the rice fields, laid out in little squares and terraces.

And a photo stop at a viewing platform gives me the first proper panorama of the rice terraces, something I have wanted to see for over a decade!

Absolutely amazing! And there will be LOTS more where that came from!

But for we now we can sit back and relax in Sapa with a cocktail and a view to treasure forever!!

Rainbow women

We’re carrying on with our fascinating snoop around Bac Ha market in Sapa, North Vietnam.

Some of the sights make uncomfortable viewing for more western eyes including huge vats of horse stew – a delicacy here.

As a life long vegetarian I am fair happier, and in my element, in the colourful fresh produce section of this sprawling market.

It’s also the ideal place to watch / stalk more of the wonderfully attired local hill tribe ladies.

I think the rows of rainbow bright women above belong to the Flower H’mong tribe. Famed for their colourful clothing, a mix of traditional and modern man-made fabrics.

Another typical sight is the traditional conical hat – not just a sterotype but a very real, very commonly worn article in Vietnam.

The iconic headwear, known as non la, are handmade from bamboo and palm leaves and protect farmers from the scorching heat that can reach over 40c.

Sugar cane, rambutan and a whole host of delicious, colourful delicacies can be found heaped high in every corner.

But it’s not just edibles that you can buy – oh no – anything from brooms, saucepans and wellies to house bricks, cattle and even, sadly, cats and dogs for eating.

Or, if you’re one of the elder gentlemen, you can literally drink yourself into a stupor with this homebrew!

Just decant it from the large plastic jugs into your own container and weave your way home!

Colourful chaos

Carrying on with our exploration of the incredible Bac Ha market, we’ve taken a break for a refreshing beverage.

Coconut juice is just one of the many flavoursome drinks on offer, but caffine addict hubby is fixated on the strong local coffee!

We’re heading deeper into the market now and the vendors get closer together, the piles of fresh produce pile higher and we can really start to see some of the local characters.

We are also seeing more of the amazing traditional outfits of the many hill tribes who come to Bac Ha to trade, haggle and also meet potential marriage prospects.

These elaborately attired women come from miles around, often on motorbikes landed with veg, fruit and live stock.

One of the most colourful tribes is the Flower Hmong. Their cultural dress is a mix of traditional craftsmanship with modern materials.

Costumes cover women and children in a rainbows of colours from head to toe using heavy pin stripe appliqué, hand embroidery and beaded fringe work.

Other Vietnamese hill tribes include the Black H’mong who are skillful at using indigo dye to create their traditional dress, the red Dao and the Dzay.

Lots more colourful snaps from this incredible market to come. 🙂

Various vegetables

Moving swiftly away from the grisly meat end of the market, I’m back on more palatable ground in the colourful vegetable section of Bac Ha market.

Mountains of jewel bright carrots, onions, courgettes and bitter gourds tumble to the ground wherever you look.

Tiny, scorching chillies, quail eggs and all the fresh herbs you could possibly want or need.

Purple aubergines are cheek by jowl against ruby red tomatoes, zesty limes and bunches of spring onions.

It doesn’t get any fresher than this and watching the nimble bartering between the stall holders and the hordes of shoppers is a sport in itself.

Lots more colourful snaps to come from this frenetic and fantastic market.

Bustling Bac Ha

Bac Ha is one of the most colorful ethnic markets of all Northwest Vietnam.

It is a fusion of the many different hill tribes that inhabit the Bac Ha mountain district and here you can easily distinguish them by their different colourful traditional clothing.

I was in seventh heaven surrounded by the colourful typical traditional costumes of local tribes including the Tay, the Dzay, the Red Dzao and the Black H’mong.

The market is set out in distinct areas, one for handicrafts, art and fabric, others for fresh vegetables, others for meat and fish.

Let’s take a wander to the visceral end of the market first shall we . . .

A stall holder singes the hairs off a leg of pork, she’s wielding that blow torch like a seasoned pro!

Whether it crawls, gallops, squirms or swims, it is probably to be found in this section of the market.

You don’t want to mess with this tiny but fierce lady!

As a lifelong vegetarian, I am always appalled, yet also strangely intrigued, by the bloodier aspects of other culture’s cuisine.

In the UK people have a very sanitised approach to the meat on their plate, they rarely see it butchered or make the connection between the live animal and the tasty end product.

Here however it is unavoidable, grisly and rather stomach turning!

Rocking, rolling, riding

Leaving Hanoi behind again for now we’re heading on another adventure.

This time to a place I’ve wanted to see for over a decade, ever since I came back from South Vietnam, I have been obsessed with the incredible scenery of the rice terraces of Sapa.

So we’re heading further North, aboard the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai.

We planned the trip, once again, through Vega Travel and it all went fairly to plan (except for the poor girl forgetting to pick up the train tickets and having to hightail it back to the office on her moped to grab them!)

We’re bunked up in a cosy little cabin of four people, meaning we’ll be sharing with some total random strangers! But it is quite comfortable.

However don’t expect to sleep much as the train is nosy and clanks and bangs all through the night! (and use the toilet as early as you can as it becomes rather ‘ripe’ later on . . )

The whole journey takes around eight hours and arrives at Lao Cai at 6am!

From there we’re whisked off on a private tour of Bac Ha market, a traditional local hill tribe market and one of the true highlights of our trip.

Here’s a little taster to whet your appetite!

Traversing train street

We’re heading to one of Hanoi’s most unusual and hair raising tourist spots now – train street!

Trains rumble right through this narrow residential street and you can stand and watch.

Well you used to be able to – it has now been closed for health and safety reasons due to the number of selfie seeking tourists – so once again we managed to tick something off our list before it shut!

The train street is located between Le Duan and Kham Tien street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The exact lane the train passes along is called Ngo 224 Le Duan.

Either side of the tracks are tiny cafes and eateries, as well as little houses.

Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter the trains pass through just inches away from buildings and people’s homes.

Colourful artwork adorns the crumbling walls and chairs and tables are perched precariously close to the train tracks.

When the trains are due to pass by the cafe owners move their tables and usher people a safe distance away (however you’re still so close that you could reach out and touch the train – if you wanted to lose an arm . .)

Train street was built in 1902 during French colonial rule.

The train usually passes every day at 3.30 pm and 7.30 pm as it makes its way from Hue to Long Bien train station.

The whole neighborhood is only about 500 meters long and there are lots of households that have lived there for many generations.

The trains DO NOT SLOW down and when you actually see one coming, and feel it whipping past your face, it is quite terrifying but also exhilarating!

While waiting for the metal beast to appear you can take your pick from one of the many cafes lining the track.

They serve anything from beer and soft drinks to a peculiar Vietnamese speciality – egg coffee!

We’ll return again later in our trip to actually see a train trundling along the track . . .