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The Roof of Indiochina

I'll Be Back


The old woman with two solitary teeth grabbed my hand with a vice like grip. I quickened my pace and almost sprinted up hill for 200 metres. Her pace never faltered. This was despite her age, looking about 83, although you have to add ten years as the Vietnamese seem to look 10 years younger. Was she the terminator adopting a geriatric disguise? At this moment in time however I had no inclination to father the son of a future rebel leader I just didn't want to buy anything from her store.

Let me explain. On 26th I took an overnight train to the hills to escape the carbon monoxide river that is Hanoi. This had all been arranged on a package from my hotel in Hanoi so it was all very easy. This even included being picked up from my hotel by motorbike taxi and taken to the train station. The rolling stock looked a bit old but the 4 bed sleeper cabin that I shared was spotless. It was all polished hard wood panels. I had a very good night's sleep.

On the 27th I was whisked away from the station taken to a hotel in the hill town of Sapa to freshen up . The place is surrounded by terraces of paddy fields. Indeed much of the local economy is based around the growing of rice as is the case of the Dzao community, several miles from the town centre. They are just one of the many Hmong descendents of Chinese settlers. Each community have their own traditional costumes and languages.

On that day I joined a bunch of Swiss, Dutch, Belgium and Spaniards and one solitary American. We embarked on an organised trek that entailed different villages. We visited a class of 7 and 8 year olds in a village school and were quite surprised to see that they were learning algebra. This could be because they are being bombarded with education whilst it ís still free (in these mountain communities until aged 12). Some of them are even married at 15.

It was an enjoyable day although we did get attacked by rather persistent villagers trying to sell textiles, from young children to the unstoppable old woman that I described. That evening was spent in a homestay in a village. This was basically a family home turned into a guest house. No luxury - just a mattress and mosquito net. It was clean, friendly and the evening meal was excellent, washed down with rice wine of course. Of course I was embarrassed as all the guests could speak at least two languages. I was sitting next to the American girl and felt quite relieved. There is no way, I thought, that she will know any other languages. Then she let the side down and spoke fluent German. I was not a complete waste of time. At least I entertained our host's 3 year old boy by playing karate space alien with him. It think he won though.

The following morning at 6 am the first light greeted the valley. The cockerel chorus had just woken me up when I saw my motorbike taxi driver standing at the end of my bed. Time to be taken back to the hotel to start my next trek. I had opted to leave the party and do something a bit more challenging. This was a 2 day trek up Fansipan. At 3100 metres this is the highest peak in Indochina.

I thought Fansipan was the filling that they put in Mr Kiplings cakes. Mr Kipling you tight arsed little git. Your cakes are not big enough for anorexic mice.

Sorry I digress. I was joined by a guide, a porter and fellow tourist (a Vietnamese Software programmer). I have just got back from the walk and it was no piece of cake. There were long stretches of 40 degree inclines. The path was quite rocky, often slippy in places. Although the view at the top was obscured by cloud there was plenty to photograph on the way, especially on the spectacular ridge. We spent the night at 2200 metres large metal shed construction that was protection of the cold wind as was the sleeping bag that had seen better days. Last night I tried to dream of soft fluffy pillows and warm duvets, hot showers and complementary soaps. Even ropey French soap Operas dubbed into Vietnamese. Anyway the walk is over, I am in the hotel and I am living the dream.

Posted by gavinbose 05:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking

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