June 20, 2005

i'm filthy

ok. so the bus to bac ha wasn't like i was expecting. we took an early bus from sapa to Lao Cai. the bus was tiny and had 15 people with luggage in it. four people were travellers, the rest were locals. the bus was backfiring 10 times a second and smelled of burnt brakes as we went down the mountian. we continued along like this till we had a blow out and pulled over at the beginning of a hair pin turn. the worst possible place. then everyone got out and squatted behind the mini-bus while they changed the tire. the worst possible place to hang out. then we got to Lao Cai.

lao cai sucks. once here we had a bunch of people tell us there was no bus to bac ha, or that we had missed the bus, or the bus was going from the other bus station. all of them offered us a ride on their moto, or to stay at their brothers place, or to take their tour tommorow, or to wait at their cafe while they called the bus driver because he was their friend. it didn't help that there were two bus stations in town and that our guide book steered us to the wrong one. (and had a really crappy map.) eventually after getting ripped of for a few bucks and being ready to punch some really pushy vietnamese people we finally found our bus. everything was wine and roses from there.
the people on the bus were from the bac ha area and were really nice. (a lot of them seemed to be school children.) we met a little school girl who spoke some english and assured us we were on the right bus. we also met an older man who was married, had a one year old son, and didn't speak a lick of english. we had an entire conversation by pointing around in my translation dictionary. he eventually invited us to stay at his house but we turned him down.
bac ha itself was a very small and sleepy town. it was great. we got to see the market area before the market really got started and also after. at the market we bought some corn alcohol that we'll probably drink on the train tonight. the woman who sold it to us was estatic. (i think it was because she was expecting us to pay 500 dong, but we misunderstood and paid 5000 dong, which is still only about $0.34.)
in Bac Ha we didn't see too many other foreigners. we saw three non-locals the first night and about 5 after the market. (during the marked a couple tour busses brought in more people but not as many as i was expecting.)
the market had anything you could want really. the going rate for horses was between $200 - $400 USD, pretty pricy, so ronda didn't buy herself one.
after the market me and ronda went for a walk out to one of the local villages, Ban Pho. it was a nice walk out into the rural contryside. we got a little sun burnt on the hike.
one of the best features of Bac Ha in my opinion was the Bia Hoi joint we discovered. they actually served pitchers of beer for 20k dong. (about $1.33.)
this was great and we hung out there both nights when we were in town. the first night we had a classic beer joint experience. a really drunk vietnamese man at the table next to us started calling out "Hello" and "I love you." he then came over and procceded to drop his cigarette in my drink. then he went back to his table and me and ronda watched his friends give him a serious talking to and they tried to drag him out of the place. also, one of his friends then proceeded to order me and ronda a new round of drinks to make up for the intrusion. so afterwards i ordered a pitcher and refilled their glasses. then the other neighboring table decided that we were nice and started toasting us and it all ended up with people pounding glasses of beer at tables all around. a classic beer drinking moment. the second night was less roudy, but we got warm welcomes from some of the regulars we saw the night before.
all in all, i really liked the town. you could walk along the streets without the fear of getting run over by motos and there were a lot less tourists that in sapa. (althoght the food and weather were better in sapa.)
the bus ride out of Bac Ha was a trip. first it was a russian bus (i think) that was very high off the ground, bouncy, and had wooden planks for the floor. the bench seats were all really narrow and our seat was directly above the exhaust pipe. the road was in horrible condition (as it was when we came up.) flooded out in many sections and just a mud path on the side of the mountain lots of times. the pigs in baskets from the market were thankfully strapped to the roof. we were the only non-natives on the bus. also, there were lots of fumes (from our bus, other busses, and trucks) and since it hadn't rained in a couple days the mud had dried in many places and it was really really dusty. i was very happy to be off that bus and i'll be really lucky if i don't end up with a resperatory infection.
so right now we're in Lao Cai waiting for the night train back to hanoi, where i plan to ask how much it will cost to rent a room by the hour to take a shower. i'm really looking forward to that. (and i'm not looking forward to sleeping on a train in my currently filty state.)
tommorow night we plan to catch a second night train from Hanoi to Hue from where we will explore the DMZ and possibly My Son.

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