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 . . .

Fantastic fabrics

Established in 1889, Dong Xuan Market is Hanoi’s largest indoor market and is crammed to the rafters with a bewildering array of goods from fresh produce, plastic hair accessories and makeup to electronics and household appliances.

Let’s explore just a small section of it below – the fabric floor!

Being the daughter of an immensely talented, fully qualified tailor did not, alas, imbue me with any noticeable sewing talents, but I do share my mum’s love of a good fabric!

And they don’t come any better than here . . . in this maze of tiny shops and endless expanses of coloured cloth – it’s tiring work, just check out the man below if you don’t believe me!

Every colour of the rainbow is here and every type of fabric, from tulle and satin to lace and cotton.

Whether it’s patterned or plain, embroidered, weaved or stitched, you’ll find something to oooh and ahhh over (if you’re a fabric nerd like me!)

It can be hard to find space to walk between the narrowly packed in stalls, so shop owners just crawl and climb over their vast stock.

So many choices! Another place I had to be literally dragged out of . .. but never fear, there’s LOTS more markets still to come 🙂

Street scenes

You could spend years just roaming the back streets of the old quarter in Hanoi and never get bored of the amazing sights.

From gorgeous bouquets to a caffine addict’s dream, fresh street food to all manner of dried meats, herbs and other delights.

My love of markets has gone into overdrive and I am in seventh heaven. . . .

I could have spent years just on this one street, enjoying the rainbow of lanterns and the ladies in their traditional conical hats.

Below the hubby is instructed to look natural as I attempt to stalk one of the surprisingly nifty older ladies who hoick around woven baskets of produce.

Everything in Hanoi is done in the street, socialising, selling, prepping fresh meat and eating too.

I was spoilt for choice when it came to souvenirs on this trip! Shame I couldn’t take all of those jewel bright lanterns home!

We stumble upon a group of conical hatted ladies. I am not sure what the pural of street vendors should be!

Markets in Hanoi, as in the rest of the country, are very visceral. With meat butchered literally on the floor in some cases. While fresh food is cheek by jowel with pollution spewing mopeds and open drains.

Dong Xuan Market is the busiest and most popular of the markets in the city.

Established in 1889, Dong Xuan Market is housed within a four-storey Soviet-style building on the northern edge of Hanoi Old Quarter.

You can buy pretty much anything here and it will be the subject of several posts!

But for now take a walk with us through the tiny alleyways of the market! Careful where you walk!

Hoan Kiem Lake

One of the key features of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake. A large body of water in the centre of the city with a small temple in the middle.

Meaning Lake of the Returned Sword or Lake of the Restored Sword, it’s a fresh water lake in the historic centre of Hanoi.

Near the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island on which the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) stands.

The temple was erected in the 18th century. It was built in commemoration of Tran Hung Dao, a 13th century military leader

Centuries old rituals are played out in the temple every day, including the ritual sounding of bells.

Alters groan under the weight of offerings including fruit, cake and incense.

Colourful carved painted wood and sumptuous fabrics adorn the temple.

There’s intricate murals to the entrance of the temple, before you pay for a ticket, cross the bridge and head over the water.

Jade Island is connected to the shore by the wooden Thê Húc Bridge, painted vermillion red.

The bridge’s name translates as “Perch of the Morning Sunlight”.

Hanoi hustle

Our last few hours of tranquillity in Nihn Bihn are spent exploring Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam.

Behind us below is the temple dedicated to Đinh Tiên Hoàng that was constructed by local residents in order to honour Dinh Bo Linh, the first emperor of Vietnam.

Then our last moments of calm are over as we’re heading back to the hectic crowds of Hanoi.

As you reach the outskirts of the city, the traffic starts to pile back up!

We’re once again having a flying, one day visit to Hanoi as we’re heading off on another trip, but we’ve still time to explore.

One of my all time favourite things is markets and there is no better place to see amazing, colourful, bustling markets, than in Asia.

With the added bonus of the picturesque, traditional conical Vietnamese hats.

No matter what you’re after, whether its a cuddly toy, fresh fruit or colourful fabric, you’re bound to find a shop or stall that is flogging it!

Next up we’re off to explore the pretty little temple that sits at the heart of the city’s Hoan Kiem Lake.

Back on two wheels

Having ridden more in a week than I have in the past 20 years it’s back in the saddle to enjoy some of the stunning scenery that Nihn Bihn has to offer.

The incredible scenery starts literally outside our little hotel with towering green hills and placid ponds.

So many shades of green to enjoy – and so many uncomfortable bikes!

The sky looks grey and sullen but the humidity is through the roof – so ideal conditions for my lardy backside to be on a saddle.

The lush green rice fields stretch as far as the eye can see and I don’t think I will ever get tired of that view.

Pro-cyclist hubby has barely broken a sweat while I am trying very hard not to cough up a lung . . .

But the scenery quickly puts a cheesy smile back on my sweaty little face!

We cycle past isolated little houses nestled at the foot of huge limestone stacks.

It really is some of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen in my travels.

Reflecting on all this outdoor space, while self isolating due to the current coronavirus pandemic is starting to give me cabin fever!

We finally make it to our final stop, a tiny little local restaurant where we are stuffed full of local cuisine, including a Ninh Bihn speciality which is sort of like a large savoury rice crispy cake that you cover in sauce. Lovely!

Here’s the husband trying some goat wrapped in leaves!