When we went outside the hotel to get soup for breakfast, we saw Cambodia  a valley, and then a row of mountains that is already in another country.
After breakfast, we went back to the hotel for coffee with Nip and Quan, as next to us sat a bunch of giggling women who spit shells of seeds on the floor. I had a feeling they were laughing at Roni and me because they were from the outskirts areas and hadn’t seen a lot of white people in their lives.

Before nine we were on the bikes again, back on the roads.
The sun was beaming and strange tan marks began to form on my thighs.
We stopped here and there at monuments for the war fatalities, and on a narrow road inside a jungle. Quan showed us a small rough fruit you can eat its soft inside and said in broken English that they used to eat that in the war to survive. He saw a root with a strong perfumed scent, and said you can chew on it if you have a fever. We continued the ride, stopping here and there in front of landscapes that broke my heart.


We reached at a relatively big village with 10,000 residents, and Quan took us for a walk in the marketplace. Curious children followed us as we looked at the vegetables and meat, tubs of seafood, live poultry and one crab that escaped a tub and walked in the market’s alleys. Outside we met Nip, who waited by the bikes. We bought some fresh fruits, had sugarcane juice and continued.

We passed by a field of guavas and Nip bought some home, and then stopped at a Mường village  a minority in Vietnam. Girls walked around with school shirts and colorful skirts and some kids stared at us while we sat on a bench in one of the yards.
Nip said that minorities get support from the government, so they have electricity and TVs in their homes. He also said that the Mườngs often get married to their relatives so the children might be underdeveloped. And stupid, he added quietly. I peeped at their faces and saw that indeed some of them seemed to look underdeveloped, physically and mentally.


After that we stopped again in a remote town, to look for lunch. The skies got dark and as soon as the afternoon rains began we got under a shed at an old lady’s yard.
We sat by a long wooden table as the nice woman took out rice, fried pork, greens, small bowls of soup.
Heavy raindrops dripped from the edges of the roof.
While Nip and Quan talked, I could already understand some words. Even when he spoke Vietnamese, Quan pronounced long slow letters.


As the rain stopped we began with a long ride of 70 kilometers to the bus station, where we will take the bus to Hồ Chí Minh.
Above us were red and green mountains and above them the big skies, beneath us a valley and lakes with floating houses. It was raining lightly part of the time. Once in a while we passed by a truck or a bike that emerged from beyond the road’s curves, and here and there we stopped to stretch and look at the view.
I don’t know how long this ride took, perhaps even hours.
Eventually, more vehicles appeared and we arrived at a town, and then to a bus stop.
We paid Nip and Quan, thanked them and said goodbye.
 with this strange feeling of letting people go.


A clumsy sleeping bus approached the station.
The ride took forever. Pretty quick it got too dark to read, and I’ve forgot my phone at the hotel in Đà Lạt so I couldn’t listen to music. After three days of open roads, it was weird to sit inside the bus, on the bottom bed near the floor, as bare feet passing by.

Towards ten PM we began to see through the windows some buildings, skyscrapers, colorful lights, and eventually the bus stopped at a broad main street. Lots of cabs passed by and one driver asked us where we need to go to. After we gave him the address of the hotel he said it was just a few minutes away, and showed us where to go.
Inside the block he was pointing at, was a hidden ally that led into a crazy maze of narrow streets.
We arrived at the small hotel and the owner, a young woman who said her name was Miss Vy, greeted us kindly. After she gave me my phone, that was sent there by Hien from the hotel at Đà Lạt, she showed us our room and said to ring a bell by the entrance if we go out and want to come back.

We went outside to the busy street and found a small place for dinner, and as we ate I looked at the people.
For a second I’ve felt like in Bangkok again, at the Khaosan, because of big groups of tan European and American tourists. It was full of music and bars everywhere and the locals seemed to be more modern than in other places  young women with mini-skirts leaning against motorcycles and smoking, flirting, two fancy transgender tip-toeing on high heels, merchants with small wagons crossing the streets and selling dried salted octopuses, drunk men laughing loudly.


The next morning I woke up early but stayed to cuddle in the bed, and eventually went down to the lobby at nine.
We sat with Miss Vy on the couch and she showed us on a map places to go to. She then took us through the narrow alleys out to the main avenue to a woman that sold Bánh  outside. The recommendation was great. We ate the Bánh  at a park across the street and then kept walking along it and had iced coffee, and then went to the market. The sun was high in the sky and inside the market building it was shadier than on the streets and very crowded, and people from all around tried to sell us things.

We passed the hot hours with watermelon juice and lots of iced tea, and after a quick shower at the hotel, we went to “The Bánh  King”.
With hair dyed black and huge rings on his fingers, the Bánh mì King rules his small kingdom, and his staff produces dozens of crispy Bánhs with huge amounts of butter and pate, which makes the Bánh  taste divine.
We ate standing under a roof while the heavy rains began to fall.

We planned on staying for two days at Hồ Chí Minh before traveling south and then back to the city, and on the first visit it seemed to me cynical and alienated.
The huge main roads busy with hundreds of motorcycles, the tall buildings, the nights when neon lights ignite and the streets fill with tourists.
It was hard to see what’s real and what’s not.
Young women were standing at each corner with fake smiles, belonging to the sex industry and not happy at all.
By the evening I had the same feeling I had in Bangkok, like meeting somebody radiant and glamorous that would never let me into their heart.


On the morning of the second day, we went to a travel agency to book a bus to our next destination, Cần Thơ.
Fans on the ceiling swirled the air lazily as a sweaty agent suggested some deals for tours and sightseeing in different towns by the Mekong, and said we didn’t have much to do in Cần Thơ for more than a day or two. Yet we refused for the deals and only chose a bus ride because we preferred to not be tied to schedules.
We went back to the room and packed some stuff. Then we went to the mail post to send a few things home and save space and weight in our bags. We found the one clerk that spoke English, who wasn’t particularly friendly, and it seemed we were bothering her. She unpacked our things and checked them one by one, and then repacked them into cardboard boxes that didn’t seem to be strong enough to survive the trip. The packings and paperwork took almost two hours.
When we finally went out it was pouring rain and we were hungry, so we ran to the marketplace building nearby and ate rice and fried pork.
After the rain stopped we went back outside, and passed the day lazily.
As evening came, I began to like the city. The streets are huge, but inside every block of buildings there’s a web of tangled alleys that amongst them there are peaceful everyday lives.
Later on, the night market was opened, and the sleaze I’ve felt the night before turned into a feeling of life and freedom. There were mostly clothes and shoes in there, and I found the perfect pair of shoes at a tiny crowded store that was run by a loud woman. I decided to wait and buy them when we come back, so I don’t have to carry them during our trip to the Mekong.

We finished the day at a BBQ place on the street where we had meats and cold beers, and went to bed early.

We got up at seven-thirty, got dressed and went downstairs for a hot coffee and bread with butter at the lobby.
I looked at the town, that on daytime seemed different – a main road, a square, small houses. Next to us sat the blonde who traveled alone and had coffee with her guide, and I thought about how easy it was in this country to just travel alone with a stranger with no fear.

The bike ignited and we rode into the mountains until we stopped above Lak Lake. Nip said the lake’s height changes dramatically with the rains, and when the water level is low enough they grow rice on the damp ground.
We walked uphill for a while until we reached Lak Lake Resort, some sort of hotel with a museum dedicated to a king who ruled there, not so long ago. He had 2,000 wives (Nip said it must be tiring), and anyone who got caught looking into his eyes would be killed.
There was a black and white photo on one of the walls, of the king when he was a child, surrounded with grown-ups, looking seriously directly into the camera.

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We drove back down the mountain and through a straight road, between fields, and stopped in front of a small church that was burned during the war. The black ruins were surrounded with green thick plants, and from inside what used to be the main hall you could see the white skies. Nip told us about the warriors, that had to start fires for food etc so they put sets of tubes on the ground that dispersed the smoke away, so they won’t be seen inside the jungle.


After that, we arrived at a small village, matriarchal too. Loyal dogs barked at us from the yards, and the houses were built upon polls over half-open pits in the ground, as the farm animals were protected inside them. Chickens picked the ground with groups of nestlings running around their legs, and little children peeked at us curiously from inside the kinder garden. Here and there were burning piles of logs, that was being used later as coal.

We moved on to a tiles factory, which left me with a bitter feeling.
It was a big yard where men and women worked hard loading clay into a large machine that created the tile shape, taking them with wagons to the area where they set them to dry, and putting them into furnaces.
Some of the women had small children, who couldn’t stay alone at home. A middle-aged woman carried a heavy wagon as her children helped her.

We also visited an artist’s yard, where he created stone and marble statues combined with gemstones – frogs with coins in their mouths were a recurring subject. We walked in the yard and examined the smooth shiny sculptures as the artist looking at us with smiling eyes. A big dog and her puppies barked toward us if we got too close.


Before lunch, we passed by a black-pepper field, which grows like tiny green berries on bushes that climbed around polls. Lots of white butterflies flew around.
Roni took a few fruits, and we drove to a restaurant where lots of trucks were parked outside – as mentioned, that’s a sign for a good place. They served free-range chicken that was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, rich with bone marrow, together with steamed rice, some soup, and iced tea. We were hungry, and the food was tasty and filling.

We continued the long ride through villages and towns.
children finished their school days and drove by us on the rural roads with their small bikes.
Nip bought a ticket at the entrance of a nature reserve, and we went on. We went down a bumpy road surrounded with jungles, once in a while a blue-green lake is peeping from within the trees, way down.
We stopped where the road split into a dirt path. While Nip waited by the bikes Quan led us down the path, between rocks and boulders, thick plants, grasshoppers, dragonflies, black mosquitoes. The path was steep and there wasn’t always something to get a grip on, and the skin ached from sweat and stinging ants. Once in awhile the pool emerged, each time a bit closer – turquoise and chill, a body of water amongst small waterfalls.
As we arrived Quan left us there to swim, told us to go back in half an hour, and began climbing back up.
We got undressed into swimwear, and I made my way on the muddy ground into the water. Big cobwebs blocked the way but nothing scared or startled me anymore, so I shoved it aside and went inside.
The water was cold and I didn’t know its depth, and water plants made it so turbid you couldn’t see if anything was lurking inside. By the edges, there were rockier areas you could stand on, and once in awhile seaweed, or tentacles, stroked the feet. Climbing plants created small caves on the water with their branches. Water dripped into one side of the pool from higher rocks, and on the other side, a gentle drift led into a small waterfall, blocked by boulders.
I’ve felt myself tiny, on the head of a narrow water pit with endless depth, as any moment a huge hand might emerge from depths and take me down. Somehow, this vulnerability feeling was soothing.


After about half an hour two French tourists with a guide arrived, as we were just getting out of the water and sitting on the rocks to dry. The French took their time getting inside, which associatively made me think they must be on the beginning of their trip.
A light rain began to fall as we went back up and I thought it might make the ground and rocks slippery, but the treetops kept the path relatively dry and it was easier to go up than down.
We went on the bikes again and drove towards the reserve entrance, where we had hot coffee with a curious kitten who peeked from under the table. When we finished our coffee Nip showed us where to go to get to a big waterfall, so we walked towards the direction and went down some stone steps. The steps led to a small bridge that turned into a trail, which was half inside water. My feet were soggy anyway so I walked carefully inside the water, and Roni somehow managed to walk on rocks without getting wet.
After a short walk on the simple road, we reached a huge spectacular waterfall and sat there together on a rock in front of the storming wall of water.

On the way back the light rain got stronger. We’ve met three Russian tourists with a local guide who were also on their way to the huge waterfall, and stopped to talk for a while. The guide knew a lot about Israel, and mentioned the names of leaders from the past. He said Israel was interesting for many Vietnamese because of agriculture, since we’ve learned how to grow crops in the desert – in countries with tropical weather things grow easily, and they don’t need advanced technologies.
As we got back the rain started pouring. We sat under a pagoda at the cafe and I poured out all the water that gathered in my shoes, and then we put the raincoats on and continued with the ride.
The rain was getting weaker and stronger and weaker again until it stopped completely, only a black cloud appeared here and there. We drove in open rural ways and crossed towns with orange muddy ground. We made a stop at a field of gum trees, that dripped white stuff that hardened into actual rubber, and another stop at a cocoa field with heavy cocoa fruits, some white and some red.


Eventually, we parked at another small town, right by the border with Cambodia, and went up a curved stairway of a small hotel.
After showering, Roni and I went for tea at a quiet place, where aside from us sat only the employee with her friends. The sunset a while ago and aside from that place it was utter darkness, only a street lamp shed light on a part of the road.
At six-thirty we met Nip and Quan again at the hotel lobby and went to a BBQ restaurant. We had Saigon beer and ate some sort of big rice cracker, and then the food arrived at the table – first the grill itself, on which we fried the meat, and then the food – soft and yummy goat meat, its leg and tough udder, and another part of the leg that arrived in a lemony salad.
We ate and drank and talked about the generation gap. They said that the adults begin to be exposed to the gay community and it seems very strange to them, but they slowly realize that they don’t have to understand different people as long as they don’t hurt anyone.
Around nearby tables gathered groups of people, mostly men, adult and young ones, all drinking heavily and talk and laugh with loud voices. Since the city was so dark and empty, it felt like sitting in the last happy spot inside a void.

We ordered small empty glasses to the table and drank with small sips the rest of the rice wine – “One person drinks, makes to people happy”, winked Nip.
We walked for several minutes in the darkness towards the hotel, where we sat at the lobby with a strong ginger tea that relieved the body after another long day of traveling.
As I lay in bed later, between sleep and wakefulness, I felt like I was still in the lake, ready to be swallowed into it.



If the strong tasty coffee we had at the hotel didn’t wake me up, the motorcycle’s growls on the rugged road and the wind on my face sure did.
After about thirty minutes of driving out of town, we stopped at a rose farm, where we got off the bikes and Nip told us about his life, and life in general.
Nip had a strong roaring voice, like his bike. He spoke passionately, with extreme facial expressions and wide gestures.
Quan, on the other hand, didn’t have good English, so he talked flatly as he’s spreading syllables while he’s thinking about the next word.
Nip spoke about the American war, the one we’re calling “Vietnam War”. He said they are a communist country since but it’s a matter of a generation or two before they become capitalist, since that’s what the people really want. “Communist here,” he said and pointed at his head, and then put his hand on his chest and whispered, “But capitalist here”.
He pointed at the flowers surrounding us and said that poor people care more about having food and clothing than to give flowers to their wives, and then told that his two sons are learning engineering and one of them wants to move to Hồ Chí Minh City, and his wife is always crying because of that.

Afterward, we stopped by a large coffee farm with a field of tall coffee bushes and a pen next to it full of weasels, who cuddled together in a furry pile inside wooden rooms. When we approached they took out their tiny noses and sniffed the air, and went back to sleep. By the pen stood a few tables with the coffee beans after they went through the weasel’s stomachs, got cleaned and dried.
Wooden steps led to a second floor, where they had a store and a cafe that served the fancy weasels coffee. Roni ordered for himself a cup of Moca beans coffee and I chose the Robusta, and we sat to drink it in front of the view of the farm.
Each cup costs about 2-3 Dollars, which is five times more expensive than a regular one, and the coffee has a strong fresh flavor.


The next stop was at a silk factory, where only women work.
First, we got into the room where they keep the hungry caterpillars and cocoons on a bed of strawberry leaves.
On a second, larger room, there were big containers full of hot water and the miserable cocoons inside, each one with a fine string attached to some sort of loom. They showed us two kinds of cocoons – with one caterpillar or with two, which are called “Romeo and Juliet”. On one of the walls different kinds of silk sheets were hanged.
In the end, they fry the dead caterpillars with loads of lemongrass, as a popular snack. It has a strong flavor of lemongrass and it’s crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, and pretty tasty once you forget it’s a bug.

Then Nip and Quan took us to the Elephant Falls, a big stormy waterfall.
The bikers waited for us as we went down some stairs which led to a bridge, that led to more stairs. As we went down the air got cooler and the vegetation thicker, and the ground damp and slippery.
We carefully climbed the rocks, passed some lizards and huge spiders, and when we almost got to the best lookout point of the waterfall I flinched and couldn’t move forward because I was afraid of slipping on the wet rocks. A couple of Australian pensioners passed by, the man with a mustache and the woman with white hair tied in two ponytails, and the man helped me move forward.
It really was a great lookout, right by the point where the stormy waterfall meets the river and sprays water drops. We stayed there for a while to look at the river and the people around.
Next to us, a few women sat with fancy dresses on the muddy tree trunks for a strange fashion shoot, and a large group of Chinese tourists walked behind us. When they got closer we cleared the view-point for them and climbed back up.
Next to where the bikers waited, we met the Australian couple again, and they told us they loved traveling and mountain climbing.


Before lunch, we made a little stop at a Buddhist pagoda, a beautiful and quiet place.
Nip told us about the monk’s lifestyle, different customs such as shaving their heads and chores they need to do during their training. Just as he said they eat only one meal each day, my stomach began to growl and we went to eat.
We stopped at a roadside restaurant where many trucks were parked, and Nip said that parking trucks are a sign for a good place.
They ordered the table chicken, pork, boar, fish, rice and morning-glory. We kept sitting there with the beers and talked for a while after we finished eating. I looked at a tall blonde woman who sat with another Easy Rider.

After eating, we deviated from the highway to a dirt road that led into a small local farm.
Some animals greeted us – aside from chickens and geese, a small dog ran towards us barking and growling but was too scared to get close. A few kittens were hidden inside a pile of bags with pig’s food and played, their tiny tails peeking out, and a nursing cat slept on top of the pile. A young piglet escaped into a pen with the muddy ground and clumsily climbed into its cage, where it felt safe. The adult pigs woke up from their nap and got up heavily, sticking their curious snouts between the fences.
Quan led us into a room where the family makes strong rice-wine and then move it into jars with conserved snakes. The room was loaded with big dark containers with flies buzzing around, full of liquid with a strong smell of yeasts. W
e said goodbye to the big family, and they gave us some of the rice-wine in a plastic bottle.


Close to the farm was a village, where most of the people and animals have already retired for their afternoon nap. We walked with Nip and Quan on the main street while they told us it was a Matriarchal village, where the women are dominant.
At the end of the street stood a wooden house and a few women sat at the porch, their limbs spread comfortably as they’re chain-smoking, a habit that is usually maintained by the Vietnamese men. In the center sat a middle-aged woman who looked at us confidently and greeted us. A young toddler, the only male creature around, began to cry and the women laughed and told us he’s never seen Western people before.
The mature woman, the alpha female, talked in Vietnamese and Nip translated. The men go to work and the women take care of the children, which creates a strong female community and the kids get their mother’s last names.
It was a Sunday and the Catholic village had the quiet and sleepy vibe of a holiday. As the woman spoke she made more eye contact with me than with Roni, Nip or Quan.
We said goodbye and went back to the roads.

During the long consecutive ride that came after visiting the village my mind wandered, to our country, to coming back home, to the future.
I thought about a job Roni and I were offered when we get back home, an offer that was too perfect to be real.
I imagined how I was going to do the job on the best side, without fear, being the best I could be. I ran it in my mind, like a movie, the day we will finish the trip with its beaches and roads and the wind in the hair, and on Sunday we will go to our new office for the very first time and work. And on the next day, and on the next one. But we will do something amazing, move forward, make money. And we will have an organized schedule, with normal hours and weekends off and vacations in the holidays, unlike the jobs we used to have until then.
And we couldn’t go to the beach on the quiet mornings on weekdays, but that’s fine, we will go on Saturday afternoon when everybody else is going, and it’s not too bad since we’ll be satisfied with our job.
There will be Winter days in the office, we will leave when it’s dark outside and work sitting above a table.
The bike went through convoluted roads between the mountains and fear began to seep in, so I stopped thinking about it and thought instead about a dream I had one day, about a girl I knew having a large tattoo of a white elephant on her arm.


We stopped for cold coffee at a tiny stop on the sides of the road where a young woman worked. She sat with me and said she’d learned English and wants to be a teacher, but there’s no demand for that.
We stopped again on top of a high bridge stretching above a river, with houses floating on it, like in Hạ Long Bay. During the rainy season, the river rises so the houses almost reach the bridge. Nip said they once made a trip with some young Israelis guys that were after their military service, and they jumped into the river with a perfect dive. They served in a dangerous secret unit in the navy where they learned how to jump into water from heights without being hurt – from the description I understood they were fleet forces.
I wanted to say I was in the navy as well, but didn’t feel like thinking about the long days in the office back then so I kept quiet and watched the floating houses.


The skies went dark and heavy rain began to fall as we arrived at a town and went into a tiny motel with heavy wooden furniture. Quan spoke to the owner and got the keys, and we settled in our rooms.
I found out I forgot my phone at the lobby in Đà Lạt when we had our morning coffee, but when Roni connected to the wi-fi we saw that Hien from the hotel contacted him via Facebook to ask where we’re going to stay in Hồ Chí Minh and send my phone there.
It was nice to be phone-less.
We showered, put our wet shoes under the air conditioner and chatted with the woman who offered us the job back home.
We went outside to find a place to have tea at. It was utter darkness outside except for a tiny spot, lit in yellow – some sort of shop, or a kiosk, or a cafe, where a few plastic chairs were spread.
We sat there as the tall blonde woman we saw earlier at the restaurant tried to buy cigarettes and the people around laughed, since they were not used to women smoking, or blonde people, or tall people.
Quan and Nip met us there and took us to a restaurant, that aside of the cafe was the only place that showed signs of life. We had a big satisfactory meal of noodles with bamboo leaves and vegetables, fresh vegetables, and duck stew. Together with the beer we ordered, Quan asked for four small glasses to which he poured the rice-wine we got at noon from that family.
We sat there for a long while and talked, and drank from the strong wine. When we ordered some more food Roni, that used to be a cook before the trip, asked to look at the kitchen and the way the lady who owns the place makes the food.
Lizards bustled around us and stray dogs nibbled on the bones on the floor, and I thought that I might miss working in restaurants. We paid and walked back to the motel, where I stayed up for a while to write about the long day.


I walked alone and listened to music, and tried to find the Crazy House – a place I saw marked on the map they gave us at the hotel but didn’t really know what it was.
I found the place after looking for it for a long time in a maze of small streets and alleys.
At the entrance, some Russian tourists stood, and local women sold merchandise and strawberries. I bought a ticket for 40,000 Dong (about a dollar and a half) and entered.
It was lovely inside, special and different, like being in a Doctor Seuss’s book.
It’s some kind of a museum that functions as a hotel as well, made of a few buildings with lots of steep staircases leading into and out of strange rooms.
Small, cozy bedrooms were looking as if they’ve been carved out of rocks or tree trunks. Hidden at the bottom floor of a building, there are a lobby and a living room with wooden furniture and maps on the walls, a funny gift shop is concealed somewhere, and amongst the buildings, there are yards with sculptures and hidden places, ladders, low porches.
If you go high enough, some of the staircases are becoming bridges that go over the whole Crazy House and whole Đà Lạt, and you can see the rooftops of the small colorful houses.





I went downstairs, where there was a small kiosk, and bought passionfruit juice. I sat with my book by a lake, while toads cackled with their gruff voices and groups of tadpoles swam in the water.
When I finished the chapter I walked around some more – I looked at a big cage where different species of fat doves napped on the branches of a tree.
As the skies got cloudy again I walked back to the hotel, where Roni was already waiting.
Rain began falling outside and after we showered we sat on the bed and watched “The Social Network” that I somehow managed to download to my phone, and by evening, as the rain stopped, we went for dinner.
We sat at one of the places where you get a small grill to the table and order skewers to roast on it, ate fresh meats and drank beer. Heavy rain was falling again, and when it weakened we quickly went back to the hotel.
It was cold and we cuddled in the bed, and continued watching the movie until we fell asleep.


In the morning we ate soup with mushrooms for breakfast. At the table near us, a woman with a Chinese look and an American accent tried Vietnamese coffee for the first time and admired its chocolate flavor.
We went to the market again to find me some shoes. At the hotel’s entrance, there was a place to put your shoes at, and in one of the days, my sandals just disappeared from there.
On the second floor of the market, there was an area with only different kinds of shoe shops, from practical ones for work to fancy ones, and I found flat colorful canvas shoes which I liked immediately.
I still have them in my closet and they’re starting to fall apart, but I can’t throw them yet because they remind me of Đà Lạt.


In the afternoon we went again to the Crazy House because I wanted Roni to see it too.
I was glad to go back because everything was so cute and strange, and Roni liked it as well. Meanwhile, the evening came slowly.
It was our last day in Đà Lạt and I was a bit sad to leave – the sweet homey hotel, Hien the receptionist, the chill city.
We had dinner at a place similar to the night before, with a small grill served to the table, and for the first time I tried a roasted chicken leg. It was nice but poor with meat and had lots of bones. A local mother sat next to us with two little girls who were scared of the grill’s red sparks.

We moved from there to the night market, which was closed to cars and very busy with people and vendors.
At the central square stood two people with huge costumes of a Minion and Hello-Kitty, and some teenagers pushed them to make them fall down. We walked around a little, Roni got himself a pair of shoes, and then we had ice-cream at a small cafe.
We went back, organized our backpacks and went to sleep.

We got up at seven AM, got dressed quickly and went downstairs for check-out.
We sat with Hien for a breakfast of rice leaves rolled with meat, and coffee.
Her sweet sister joined us too but her English wasn’t so good, so she mostly smiled in silence.
A rough rolling sound broke the silence – Nip and Quan, the motorcyclists, parked their heavy motorcycles outside. As we loaded our things on the bikes Hien gave us scarves as a gift, to cover our mouths and noses during the ride.
Roni went on the bike behind Nip, a middle-aged man with a thin mustache, and I sat behind Quan, a quiet man with moon-face that seemed age-less, even though he must be over 60.

The motor ignited and rumbled beneath us as we made our way through the heavy morning traffic. After we passed by the central square we caught up with Nip and Roni, who disappeared in the distance for a while.
The bike accelerated and the wind began blowing through the hair as we left the city, towards another journey.


After breakfast, we checked out and sat outside with our backpacks and had coffee.
The Easy Riders showed up – Mister Lam, with flames painted on the front of his heavy motorcycle, and Yen, with a big red motorcycle.
They began loading our bags on their bikes as Quoc and his wife Giang were also getting ready for the trip, Quac with a small sports camera attached to his helmet.
When we were all ready Roni and I went on the Easy Rider’s bikes – me behind Yen and Roni behind Mister Lam. The bike ignited with a loud growl, and we started navigating our way outside the city as Quac and Giang driving ahead of us.


In a short while, I got used to the motorcycle’s tremblings and its metallic feel and leaned back on my bag that was tied behind. I took a big orange scarf with me which I bought back then from an old woman in Sapa and covered my mouth and nose with it, and a plastic part of the helmet protected my eyes.
We stopped right outside the city by a small shack with a big yard, where three middle-aged women sat and weaved rugs in red, yellow and green. Two of them worked on a rug, as one adds more strings to the loom with a long hook and the other arranges the interwoven ones. The third and oldest woman sat on the side and talked with the two others.
They let Roni and I try it in turns, and we managed to slowly weave a clumsy line.


We drove on narrow roads between fields and small houses in faded colors scattered here and there.
We stopped by a rice field – tall plants growing like wheat, with small tough rice beans inside the leaves.
We passed on a long shaky wooden bridge stretching above a green river. Mister Lam said the rains start at November and the river overflows, so the locals break it apart and put it together afterward, a process that takes three months.


We made a brief stop in another shack were some women made flat crunchy pastries made of rice and sesame, which goes great with the hot spicy food.
They make some kind of mush out of the ground seeds and pour it on a hot plate which in minutes consolidate it into some kind of a soft pancake, which they then move to a straw surface and take it outside to dry for several hours in the beating sun.
Lam said they begin their work at 3 AM and finish at 1 PM before the rains begin.
Quoc and Giang were there with us as well and Giang said she hardly ever sees those rural people because she doesn’t leave the city much.


They took us to a workshop of a sculptor that works with wood.
He lives in a tiny house with a huge yard, where four barking puppies are tied. On the bare ground tools and wood chips with a strong smell of wood were scattered, and the place was full of statues in different levels of finishings.
The ready sculptures were smooth and covered in wax, and most of them described fat laughing Buddhas with big earlobes – a sign for luck, long lives, riches, fertility. Other and smaller ones were of gods actually coming out of the logs, which is a part of their bodies.
An impressive furniture was standing on one corner – a big tree lying on its side with bare roots, forming into a long bench, and on the other side there’s a smiling Buddha sitting, all made out of one piece.
The sculptor said it’s very expensive furniture which only rich people with a big house can afford.




We stopped by a local village, where Roni and I explored the place by foot while the bikers waited on the other side.
Some curious children looked at us, and small pigs and poultry strolled around at the sides of the trail. We were accompanied by two dogs who barked at us from a safe distance, and a black puppy that was playing in one of the yards. A
t the village’s entrance there were stalls with diagonal tables, where dozens of yellow palm-like bamboo leaves were placed.



Outside of that village, we passed by a sugar cane field and Yen chopped us small branch from one of the plants and told us to chew. It’s tough and fibrous, but after you work on it a sweet fresh juice come out. We moved on, now on open and free highways, driving much faster. I felt my feet vibrating near the motor and the scarf flapping behind me. The longer we drove, the higher the mountains around us became and the air was colder, and the wind felt like tiny tinglings on the skin. It was freshening to finally feel a cool breeze after weeks on the humid shoreline.



After about 45 minutes of a consecutive ride, we stopped on a bridge towering above a big waterfall and went off the bikes.
Aside from us, there were only a couple of locals with big straw hats.
We walked across the bridge until we reached a small path with lots of stingy vegetation, and after we passed it and climbed over some black rocks we found the chill waterfall. We dipped our hands and feet in the freezing water.
It was dead silence there, as the plants absorbed every little rustle from the highway.


We went back to the motorcycles and started climbing over the mountains.
White clouds cruised around us like steam, sliding amongst the mountains and covering us. The skies got darker and it began raining – light at first and then fast and heavily, the raindrops stinging like hailstones because of the bike’s speed. We stopped on the side of the road to cover our backpacks and wear blue plastic overalls that protect from the rain, and moved on.
We reached at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere and stopped by a wooden house with a tall straw roof, and went up inside with a small ladder.
It was empty aside from a few long wooden benches. Mister Lam said this was where the locals gather up for discussions or special occasions, and such a building is a sign of a strong community.
There were similar buildings nearby, their roofs not as tall. The only living soul that could be seen around was a chicken picking in the moist ground, with its chicks hiding between its legs.



it was noon, and we were getting hungry. We stopped at a small place on the sides of the road, where a local woman served rice with fried pork and small bowls of soup, and sliced persimmon for dessert.
We gave the bones to a pregnant cat who was meowing under the table and moved on.
We passed by a strawberries farm and tasted the fruits straight from the ground. We talked with the farmer, a laughing bearded man, who said he was also growing potatoes and persimmons.
Not far from there we stopped again at a coffee farm and saw the red coffee beans – they grow on bushes, like berries.
The bikers told us that the coffee came with the French who saw Vietnam has the optimal conditions for growing it, and before that, they used to drink only tea. They said there is some kind of an animal (later on, it turned out they meant weasels) that eat the beans and then take them out whole, and it’s used to make high-quality coffee because of a chemical process the beans go through in their stomach.
Light rain was falling. Somehow the conversation rolled onto our country, and we tried to explain to them the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in simple words, a thing we do not really understand ourselves.


Towards the late noon, we arrived at Đà Lạt, which was surrounded by greenhouses and homes in various colors.
We stopped at a colorful pagoda which was heavily decorated with loads of sculptures of flowers and small animals and walked inside. There was a small garden in the center that had a pool with big orange fish swimming in it, and statues of dragons and people with three or four faces holding swords.
The place had a few temples where severe women with blue clothes sat by their entrance. We went up to the second floor, where huge Buddha sculptures were placed, and wandered in there for a bit.
After we explored the whole place we went downstairs and sat with our drivers, Yen and Mister Lam, and had coffee while they talked about the Buddhist beliefs.
Its symbol looks like a swastika but much more ancient and stands for Karma – what goes around comes around. After dying one can reincarnate as different creatures, depending on what the soul deserves basing on its actions in previous lives – animal, human, something higher than human or lower than an animal.
It reminded me of a Chinese book I’ve read before the trip – Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, about a man who dies in his village and reincarnate as various animals until he learns his lesson.


The last stop was an old train station, that according to what they told us all the hipsters in Vietnam go there to take artistic photos.
Eventually, they took us to Ken’s House – the hotel where we stayed together with Quoc and Giang from Nha Trang.
We thanked the bikers and said goodbye, and went inside.
It’s a small place, very colorful and clean, with wall-to-wall carpets in every room and a warm homey feeling, which fits well in the cold city in the mountains.
We checked-in with Hien, a beautiful receptionist who said her name means “Gentle”. After taking off our shoes and leaving them in a cupboard by the entrance, we went up to our room. It was charming, tiny with a floral painting on one of the walls and colorful sheets.
We were wet and muddy from the long ride and while we showered in turns Hien showed up by the door with a tray of tea and spring rolls, which was right on time.
We rested for a while and got ready for the evening since we scheduled that Quoc and Giang would take us to their favorite restaurant.


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.

On the morning of the trip, we got up early, packed everything and had coffee at the hotel’s lobby. One of the hotel’s workers, a woman with a narrow face, made us sandwiches for the ride and packed them, and then waited with us.
The bus to the North arrived, and we began making our way outside of Hanoi.
I had the chance to say one last goodbye to the streets and houses as the driver gathered more passengers from the Hoàn Kiếm and then drove through the highway, crossed a big river and went outside to the outskirts of the city.

We stopped at a gas station where several people were scattered around and sold strange foods. We got some steamed dumplings filled with pork and quail egg from a skinny wrinkled woman, and I tried some kind of meat rolled in banana leaves. I wanted to ask her which meat it was, but she didn’t know a word in English. After mimicking different animals, and using the few words I learned in Vietnamese, she understood and put her hands by her head like horns and made some low “moo” sound.

The wind that blew from the window got colder as the bus climbed up on steep mountains. There were big hills with terraces of leveled rice fields all around, with different hues of yellow and green.
I saw that image so many times before, in articles about Vietnam, and I couldn’t realize it’s real, that I’m really there.
After a few hours of a ride between forests and clouds, we arrived at Sapa.

It’s a strange city. It’s cold and rainy and once in a while, a big cloud covers everything in heavy fog.
There are many minorities in North Vietnam, many different tribes and villages, and Sapa is some kind of a center for them – since it’s full of tourists. While the men work in the fields, the women walk around the town, wrapped with colorful heavy clothes, full of silver jewelry, some of them carry babies on their back, and sell things for tourists. Most of them sell jewelry, scarves, skirts, small instruments that they make. A weird woman with a harelip approached us several times and whispered “Hash hash, opium, opium”.
Some of them offer to lodge in their homes for a few Dollars, including meals with their families and instructed hikes.

It gave me an odd feeling. How poor are these women, that they need to open their own homes for strangers?

Among them walk around some very old women, like witches, with heavy scarves covering their heads and bony hands, peeking out of their tiny eyes and selling god-knows-what.


The bus stopped at a big parking lot, and right away about 20 women ran towards us. I saw them focusing on each of us as we descended the bus. Two women approached Roni and I as we got out and followed us, probably wanting to offer us lodging at their houses. Eventually, Roni told them we didn’t want to buy anything, and they left.

After we checked-in at a grungy hotel, we went outside to explore the city.
It took me a moment to realize that we are alone, don’t know anyone in the city and not depending on any schedule. Until then Belle from the hotel helped us plan ahead the days and the trips, and this was the first time since Bangkok that we were completely spontaneous.
We looked for something to eat on the main street, but most places were touristic and the food was just pricey and not interesting. Mostly Englishmen and Scots sat there and we saw a group of four Israelis, for the first time since we got to Vietnam.
After eating, we kept traveling around, going out of the main street to smaller ones. Since Sapa is built on mountains, it is very steep and full of narrow staircases made of white rocks.
We sat in a small place and had hot coffee, unlike warmer places in Vietnam where they drink the coffee cold. Aside from us sat there two Scots our age, and after they unsuccessfully tried to haggle on the price the man dived into a book and the woman wrote in her journal with her organized handwriting.


We went uphill from there, passing by a cute lake next to a school where many teenagers stared at us, some construction sites with builders that smiled at me, and eventually, we arrived at a market.
On the outside, they sold mostly fruits and vegetables that they put in boxes on the orange ground, and on an inside part that was covered with a roof they sold meat and by-product. It took a while to get used to the strong smell. In another part, there were tubs full of water with seafood and fish, crabs and oysters, and some silkworms.
We entered a big building, and at the entrance a woman invited us to have soup at her place, but we weren’t hungry yet so we moved on. There were mostly clothes and housewares, big knives and sets of plants and dried lizards, but the place was closing so after a while we returned to the woman with the soup.
We sat on a long bench in a hall where more women sold different foods and had a hot and spicy meat soup while the locals were staring at us.
I was glad to find a less touristic area and began to get used to the fact that we were the strange ones here.


We made our way back to the hotel to take a shower and get some warmer clothes.
The city was covered with a cloud and we could only see a few meters ahead, and the lake was covered in white and looked enchanted.
The shower at the hotel was leaping and creaking and I didn’t feel clean afterward, and while Roni took a shower I noticed that the room was very dirty. We decided to walk around and look for another hotel.
We checked the Lonely Planet book and went outside, and booked a room for the next night at a place that seemed nice and humble, ran by a tall man with yellow teeth.
Afterward, we went to a place that served fried meat, and had pork and vegetables on skewers, chicken wings and sticky rice cooked inside a bamboo stick, and beer. It was an open and big place, under the sky. A kid sat in front of a TV in the corner and watched cartoons.
We sat next to a young couple and a middle-aged witchy woman with black clothes, and they all watched TV together. I was fascinated by the witch in black. She held a fried chicken leg with her bony hand, chewing on it, spitting the bones on the floor.
She then switched a channel from the cartoons to an Indian movie dubbed into Vietnamese When the movie was over the child, that served us the beers, switched back to the cartoons and a loud woman with red clothes got mad and lightly slapped his scruff and turned the TV off. Later on, he climbed on her lap and fell asleep.

The family dynamic was astonishing to me.

We went back to the hotel and went to bed.
There were two single beds, each one on a different side of the room.
As a couple, it was weird sleep like that. It reminded me of sleepover parties we used to have as kids.

In the morning we packed and moved to the other hotel. It was difficult to climb the stairs to our room on the fourth floor, but the room was nice and clean with an okay shower and a porch with a wide view.
We went to get some coffee in some kind of a yard. You to climb some stairs to get there, and there are small buildings here and there. Somebody got a tattoo in one of them.
While we tried to plan ahead the trip, a few lazy dogs walked around with a small puppy that ran around and played.

I’ve felt complete freedom, that we can stay or leave whenever we want, without committing to anything.