09 Nov - 14 Nov 2012 Bac Ha

Southeast Asia
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Bac Ha
Nga 5, Thi tran Bac Ha
Hoang Vu Hotel +84203880264 HoangVuTours@hotmail.com

Adequate twin room with private bathroom and wifi inside the room for VND 200,000.- or US$ 9.60 per night. Helpful and friendly staff, no English.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Hoang Vu Hotel in Bac Ha, which we would recommend, and for directions:

Exploring the small and unhurried mountain town of Bac Ha (altitude c. 800 m), where chicken and pigs poke around the back lanes, and having our first intoxicating encounters with some Flower H’mong people, particularly with those formidable ladies in traditional outfit who sell their alcoholic home brews aka ruou (a potent corn spirit with an estimated alcohol content of more than 50 % alc./vol.) in the market for only VND 20,000.- or US$ 1.- per litre.

"My daddy, he made whiskey,
My grand-daddy did, too;
We ain't paid no whiskey tax
Since seventeen ninety-two..."

Heading out to visit the mountainous countryside, thus (i) discovering the ancient customs and traditions of a Flower H’mong tribe at their settlement of Ban Pho, an easy walk away from Bac Ha, and (ii) joining a colourful diversity of hill tribes (with mostly Flower H’mong and Blue H’mong) at Can Cau’s impressive open-air Saturday morning market (public bus from Bac Ha: 20 km, 1 hour, VND 30,000.- per person).

Letting the camera work overtime at Bac Ha’s intense open-air Sunday morning market, a riot of colour and commerce and a magnet for both local hill-tribe people and international tourists, but being unable to release the shutter in front of the many visibly and audibly suffering piglets, puppies and kittens who were on sale for consumption - a disgrace for the human species and a disgusting case of animal cruelty!
“Tragedy and violence certainly make powerful images. It is what we get paid for. But there is a price extracted with every such frame: some of the emotion, the vulnerability, the empathy that makes us human, is lost every time the shutter is released.”

Taking the first public bus at 06:00 a.m. from Bac Ha back to Lao Cai (c. 70 km, 2 ¼ hours, VND 60,000.- per person), resetting our watches from Indochina Time (GMT/UTC + 7 hours) to China Standard Time (GMT/UTC + 8 hours) and crossing uneventfully in two-heel drive the new border bridge between Vietnam’s Lao Cai and China’s Hekou thus leaving North Vietnam, a country whose people have been formed by historical periods of Chinese sentimentality, French fairness and American peacefulness, all this laced with the well-known communist sense of personal responsibility, taking thereafter a taxi (CNY 10,- for the ride) from the well-organised Chinese border post straight to Hekou’s brand-new long-distance bus station, hereafter a public bus from Hekou to the town of Yuanyang/Nansha (170 km, 4 hours, CNY 46.- per person; a scenic ride along the Red River) and a public minibus from Yuanyang/Nasha (altitude: c. 200 m) to Yuanyang/Xingjie (30 km, 1 hour, CNY 10.- per person; a dramatic uphill ride and steep climb of c. 1,400 m difference in altitude) where we were picked up by our close friend Ai Xiao Liang, certainly one of China’s most talented and experienced landscape photographers.
“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved...” 

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