We are spending tonight and tomorrow in Lao Cai and will catch the overnight train back to Ha Noi at 9pm tomorrow night. We decided that, because it was so cold and foggy up in Sa Pa that it would be more enjoyable to be back in the Song Hong (Red River) valley once more where the weather is milder and it will be interesting to look around this border town. This afternoon we went up to the border with China and stared across the river which we followed on the bikes for a while. Tomorrow we intend to go out of the town for a bit and have a look at some of the villages that are in a different direction from Sa Pa.
This has been an excellent trip and there are sections that I would love to do again one day, particularly the area around the “older” Lai Chau up into a place called Muong Te. That road from Dien Bien to Pa So was the best riding of the entire trip as the road followed a very picturesque river for most of the way and the twisting winding road was a great deal of fun.
From our first day out of Ha Noi when we stayed in Mai Chau until about 4 days later the only other people with European features who we saw were a couple sitting by the banks of a river next to their bicycles. How wonderful to be in a place where we were so immersed in the local culture and did not have to put up with hordes of tourists. That ended at the historic city of Dien Bien Phu of course as many foreign tourists go there but that was nothing compared to Sa Pa. Such a lovely place overrun by tourists being constantly followed and harassed by local minority people urging that you “buy something from me? you bring me luck, bring you luck, you no buy from her”.
Even this morning as we were struggling to pack our bikes with all of our luggage we were surrounded by sellers of blankets and jewellery and shirts and other objects. Honestly it nearly makes you weep with frustration and things will not be much better in Ha Noi as Hang Bac street where we are staying is also filled with peddlers of bananas and pineapples who also can be very trying as they will not leave you alone.
I realise that all of these people are only trying to improve their lives with a bit more income than what they would have if no tourists were around, but I really hate the damage that the “footprint of tourism” leaves on the landscapes we have visited. This counts for not only Viet Nam of course as when we were around the temples of Angkor in Cambodia last month the constant harassment from vendors and the pushing and shoving from busloads of tour groups nearly drove me spare.
So what a joy to travel the roads that we have traveled, often in almost complete isolation. This is an area to which I must return for a longer stay.