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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Winding mountain roads Bìng Lư, Vietnam, Monday, 26 March 2007 3:00am

An earlier start today. We met Thế at 7 and got into another Jeep for a trip over the highest section of road in Vietnam, over a pass into Lai Chau province. The morning fog hung over the mountains, so there wasn't much of a view in the morning.

Our first stop was at Bìng Lư, where we looked around the market. We got to see cone hats being made and buckets of dye for the brightly colored patterns favored by the D'Zay and Lao minorities here. We were swamped by women who wanted to sell us clothing. Before Jessica knew it, she'd been given a makeover as a Lao woman. She ended up buying the skirt and a hat, but had to work to convince the rest of the people that their work was very nice, but that she didn't need it. I was sold another Black Dao jacket. This one not only fit, but was also of much better quality than the one I'd gotten in Sapa.

I think we were expected to spend a lot longer in the market than we did, but I'm not sure what we'd have done. Taken up the tobacco-sellers on their offer of a water pipe full of the local blend? Taken lots of pictures of the people in their market day finery? Bought even more clothing?

Thế discovered that the tour office had said we'd have a trek as part of our tour today, but there weren't great trekking opportunities around. Instead, he led us through some more villages. We got to walk past gorgeous green rice paddies and see how the Lao and Thai people live here.

There was a volleyball game going on at the local high school, and when we got back to Bìng Lư for lunch, we found that we were sharing a restaurant with both teams. Luckily, it was a very long restaurant. One team had staked out the back area, and the other the front.

The ride back to Sapa was beautiful. The fog had burned off, so we could see the blue mountains that we were ascending looming over the rice fields below. After a drink and a few games of Cassino, we caught a minibus from Sapa to Lao Cai, and were treated to the winding mountain roads that we'd missed in the fog on the way up.

We'd decided to take a minibus rather than a car, since the car seemed frivolous, but we quickly discovered our mistake. The minibus had at least three more passengers in it than seats, and honked so much that it actually wore out its horn midway through the trip.

When we got to Lao Cai, we found out that, rather than privately-run sleeper car on a direct train that we'd had on the way up, the Culi Cafe people had booked us berths on a local train. I scouted around to see if there were better tickets to be had, but to no avail.

Lao Cai beer: a lager with a distinctly malty taste.

Hung Huo Chinese beer: looked like lager, tasted like barleywine. Very sweet. The alcohol content said >= 3.3%, so who knows how strong it was...

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