When we arrived back in Sa Pa, we went out for dinner at a nice local restaurant. A few of us opted for the set menu, which came with spring rolls, garlic squid, and various dishes of tofu, beef and chicken (and rice, naturally). So far, the Vietnamese cuisine has been very aromatic, lots of lemon grass, garlic, ginger etc, but all quite delicate. Although we’ve seen chillies around, I haven’t had anything spicy yet. It’s quite similar to Chinese food, if you get the non-sticky non-Westernised dishes. We also got treated to rice wine. I now know that the drink we had at lunch time was flavoured with a sticky apple syrup, making it taste a bit like sweet brandy. The stuff we had at dinnertime was much stronger! They drink it to welcome guests into their homes (or restaurants), always with a toast and in a shot glass. After dinner we went to a local bar for a drink. It’s about 70p – £1 for a pint-sized bottle. We’ve been advised to avoid ice cubes, so even I’ve been drinking the local Hanoi beer.
We got back to the hotel at about 11 pm and I happily zonked out in my comfy double bed. It was my first good night’s sleep since the trip began. I felt so much more alive! We set off on our morning trek just after 9 and walked down into the valley. The view was amazing! We were followed as ever by locals, this time Hmong people, dressed in traditional costumes. They ask us our names and where we come from, and we ask them how many children they have. Most have 5 or more. They seem really nice and friendly, but ultimately they want us to buy something from them. They’re not begging though, they refuse to take money except in exchange for their handicrafts.
We stopped for lunch, which turned out to be my first Westernised meal since I’ve been here. We had fresh baguettes, ham, egg, cheese and salad. It was like having a Vietnamese-style Papi lunch! It all went down a treat after our morning walk. We set off again, taking lots of pictures along the way, and came across a cock fight. Apparently they weren’t fighting to the death, but it was still quite odd to see. We walked for a couple of hours and soon arrived at our accommodation for the night – a homestay with a local family in Lao Cai. The house was amazing! The downstairs area was all open plan except for a (clean!) toilet and shower room. The upstairs area was where we slept. It was all laid out with thin mattresses and mosquito nets were hanging from the ceiling.
After a quick beer, we toddled down to the river to climb rocks and do a bit of paddling. Our guide said that often he lets groups swim in the river if they want to, but apparently there had been a lot of rainfall, so the river was too dirty. Still, it was nice to chill out after a day of walking. When we came back, the family were starting to cook dinner. They showed us how to make spring rolls, and me and a couple of other girls were let loose on rolling them. It’s actually really difficult! The rice paper kept tearing and the filling didn’t behave very well, so our attempts looked more like splodges than rolls! As well as spring rolls, we had tomatoey tofu, gingery cabbage, lemongrassy pork, garlicky chicken and oniony beef. And the obligatory watermelon for dessert.
Then the homemade rice wine came out! Again, it was in shot glasses and tasted even stronger than the restaurant stuff. We toasted the family, our group, our tour guide, our trek guide, the youngest couple, the oldest couple, the soon-to-be couples (according to the wife), the food, the rice wine … you can see where this is going. After many many toasts and bottles of rice wine, we had each of the nationalities sing a song. There were some cute Vietnamese and German folksongs, and our British contribution was ’10 green bottles’ (though we started from 5). The Aussie couple obligingly sang ‘tie your kangaroo down sport’, even though they insisted that the Brits probably knew the words better than them. We all conked out at about midnight, no doubt to the relief of the family!
This morning there were quite a few sore heads, despite our guide insisting that ‘happy water’ doesn’t give you a hangover. Thankfully I’d retired around the ‘young couple’ toast, so I was feeling relatively perky. After a breakfast of banana pancakes, we walked down the valley and up the other side back to Sa Pa. It was much more rocky underfoot and all the local people following us actually proved pretty useful by showing us where best to put our feet and helping us across the rocks. I still managed to dunk one of my feet in a stream, though it dried quickly in the heat.
Our guide had arranged for the hotel to open a couple of rooms so we could have a very welcome shower before heading out for lunch. More beef, this time with lemongrass and chilli. Super yum! The pictures show my yummy lunch and the view of Sa Pa valley from the hotel. We’re just waiting for the bus to take us to Lao Cai for dinner and to catch the night train back to Hanoi. Fingers crossed for more sleep!