After two days, we began to feel strange at Sapa.
I downloaded Trip Advisor and read some reviews about the hotel we stayed at, with creepy stories about the tall man with the yellow teeth in the reception. Additionally, we shared a porch with the neighboring room, where some noisy locals stayed and got drunk and sang loudly right in the shared porch.
The city itself had a heavy feeling, mostly because of the many tourists and the poor women who were so desperate to sell things.
We spent most of the afternoon in the market, had different soups and bought big kitchen knives.
By the evening we went to a busy BBQ restaurant. We shared a table with an Italian guy, and he told us that he’s back from one of the nearby villages. He spent the days at one of the women’s house, together with her husband and five children. He said that each morning she took him hiking, and at noon he joined the men at the rice fields. Then he gave us her name her number.
When he finished eating, and a couple of Australians took his place. They said that they don’t really like Sapa since it’s too touristic.
After dinner, we went somewhere else to get a drink, and I ordered a random cocktail without knowing what I’m going to get.
It was still noisy in the room, and there was no window apart from the door that opened to the porch where the drunk locals sat, so we’ve felt a bit suffocated.
We talked about moving on the following day to the next destination but we sent our clothes for laundry at the hotel, and we had to wait for it to dry.
We decided to stay for another night.
The next morning we went to the market for breakfast, and after a black coffee, we got back to the room to change to better shoes and went hiking outside the city.
We went out to the fresh chill air, and got to a small cemetery with high grass growing wild. We then strolled around in the dusty paths between the mountains and the small villages.
After a long walk, we stopped for coffee at a small place. It was viewing the beautiful terraces with the rice fields.
After the sunset, we had a brief shower at the hotel and went to have dinner at the BBQ restaurant where we ate the previous day.
It was a big place with many people and a big grill at the entrance, with some skewers and a big pig cooking slowly.
We ordered some skewers and a slice of the pig and sat next to two locals, who were busy with their phones throughout the whole meal.
The food was warm, fatty and comforting.
We then ordered beers and played with the idea of coming back to Hanoi. Now, it there seemed like a simple and easy city. Instead, we booked a hotel in Bắc Hà – a small town in the area that has a market each Sunday, and people from all the surrounding villages gather there every week.
We paid the woman with a twisted arm who worked there and got back to the hotel, paid for everything and took back the dry laundry and went to bed.
The next morning, we left early and began walking with our heavy backpacks uphill towards a red bus that waited in front of a small church in the city center. After about ten minutes we began the ride.
I couldn’t sleep because there were too many turns and jerkings, but the way wasn’t very long and after about an hour the driver dropped us at Lào Cai – another town on the way to Bắc Hà. We stood in the middle of a parking lot and had no idea where to go next.
Suddenly, a brown van stopped by and a young tattooed guy stood by the door and called “Bắc Hà! Bắc Hà!”. We joined them, since we had no better idea. He put our bags in the back and signaled the driver to go, and the van moved on while honking loudly. It stopped for a few moments at a garage to get something and I used to opportunity to go to the bathroom, where a little boy stood and held a huge dog on a leash.
We went on.
The young guy loaded the vehicle with more and more travelers, among them some very old women from the nearby villages with rice baskets on their backs, various items that people delivered, a coughing soldier, a man with a drum that was used as another seat.
The van was completely full and stopped once in a while at different towns and villages. It seemed endless to me as I was half sleeping, and felt awkward to wake up once in a while into this van with all those weird people.
Eventually, the young guy signaled us to get down at a station in the dozy Bắc Hà.
A shrunken woman led us to the main street where the hotel was, and a nice plump man greeted us at the reception.
After we settled in the room, we went for a walk in the town. Immediately we felt that it had a completely different vibe than Sapa – rural, calm, less touristic.
We finally had the first coffee of the day and went on to find something to eat. After we passed by some restaurants where mostly tourists sat, we moved on towards the market. It opened only in the evening and we only saw a few booths of fruits and vegetables.
Eventually, we found a small place where mostly locals sat, so we joined them on the low benches and ordered small bowls of soup, rice, meat, tofu and other things that you mix together and eat. They also served tap beer in plastic bottles, and everything was delicious.
The owner served us the food while holding a toddler with one hand and breastfeeding him with her exposed breasts. Very old local women sat there, probably at least 400 years old, and spat rice out of their mouths as they ate and chattered loudly.
We passed the afternoon lazily, strolling around the town and brooding at the hotel. When we were hungry again we went downstairs to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, which was surprisingly good.
Afterward, we looked for somewhere to get beer in the area of the night market.
We walked in the empty streets and followed the few people towards the center, where there were lots of people and a big stage with live shows. Some woman played such a strange up-bit music, that I told Roni that if he told me that this is a Gorillaz’s song – I would have believed him.
A skinny middle-aged woman with black clothes invited us to drink beer at her place, so we sat at the white plastic chairs as her young sons served us the beer and some snacks. She pointed enthusiastically towards some girls who danced on the stage and shouted “Bangkok! Bangkok!”. One of her sons, who didn’t speak English, wrote to us with his phone through Google-Translate that they are celebrating the many minorities in Vietnam. She sat next to us and tried to have a small talk as she is pouring more and more beer, and we managed to understand that all the people around are her children or grandchildren.
The shows on the stage changed every minute, and children and teens from different tribes and minorities starred in them.
When it was over, all the locals formed a circle and danced around a huge bonfire that rose out of nowhere. We’ve already been a bit drunk and the dancing people looked like dark silhouettes against the fire.
Then the whole place shut down at once and emptied, and we finished the day and went to bed.