Vietnam 2012

This trip was organized by UCPA

The group arrives at Hanoi in the afternoon, where we meet our guide for the trip, an adorable Vietnamese by the name of Quyet. The road from the airport to the city center already shows the very typical architecture of the North of Vietnam, with narrow and high houses. 
Next day, we visit Hanoi, first with the Temple of Literature, where a school ceremony is taking place, making the visit a bit more interesting.
a rare peaceful place at the Temple of Literature

After this traditional visit, we head to Ho Chi Minh sanctuary where, despite the man's will, lies his body in a freezing cold room where you walk formally around it... 
Comes noon, Quyet leads us to a catfish restaurant, which is purely delightful. The catfish is served cut in cubes, and the pot fizzles with the most delicious sauce ever, that you can enjoy with rice noodles. I strongly recommend that you taste it if you're in Hanoi, because I guarantee it tastes like nothing you've ever eaten.
After a digestive stroll, our guide takes us to the Ethnography Museum, presenting the 54 tribes of Viet Nam (the Viets and 53 minorities). 
interesting figures from one of the minorities

Just like for China, we are then guided to a State shop selling lacquered items, but the fun part about this visit is that all the ladies of the shops looked surprised to see a 30-year-old group. That is the sad part about Vietnam, particularly for French. If you stay in the main cities, the tourists are mostly groups of retired people.

The next day is a road day under the rain heading North. After a few hours ride, the karstic landscapes will reveal themselves to you. We arrive at the Ba Be Park and its lake by the end of afternoon. The fog, the mountains, the paddy fields just add to the magic of the place.
isn't it beautiful?

We arrive at our host's house, where the largest room is prepared for us, mattresses lying on the floor and mosquito net for each of them.

The next day, there is no need for a wake up call, as the rooster is apparently in charge of waking us up while singing to the Sun... As we emerge from the room, we see that the fog is gone and we have a magnificent view on the paddy fields
50 shades of Green

Today is a walking day. After an hour of easy road, the guide tests us with a harsh ascent. We pass through a Doa village (Doa is one of the minorities of the region), we eat the lunch wrapped in banana leaves on the road, that we then follow for 8 km. Wherever you look, be it banana trees or bamboos, the vegetation is so rich.

When night comes, we hear music in the village, and Quyet suggests we assist to a village festival honoring the Communism Party with patriotic singing.

Kayak on the Ba Be Lake
The weather is grey when we leave the host house to sail on pneumatic kayaks. At the beginning, everything looks smooth, as we are protected from the wind, but as soon as we reach the open area, the wind and the rain fight against us, even though the landscape is just gorgeous.

We manage to cross the length of the lake and arrive on a river with little current. We stop at a sort of village where, for once, the men are cooking. After lunch, we walk 1 km to see a pretty fall, and we then return, freezing, to our departure point, but in a boat, this time.
we crossed the paddy fields on arrival, it was so picturesque

Road day
This morning, at around 4, our hosting family enters our dorm to honor their ancestors, with gifts and incense, as it is the equivalent of AllSaints for the Tais.
On the bus, the landscape changes rapidly, we leave the paddy fields and the very wet weather of Ba Be for a dryer landscape, and we finally see the sun!
Arriving at Cao Bang, we walk around town, its market, its central place with the statue of Ho Chi Minh. There is not much to do here.
sunset at Cao Bang

Today, after one hour of bus, we start with a tranquil walk among picturesque landscape.

At one point, an old man invites the group to taste his home made corn liquor (it was 11 AM), we then learn that "chuk suk hoe" means "cheers" and he also gives us green tea. After a while of this relaxed atmosphere, the woman of the house tells us that she knows a bit about France, through the information on the radio about the Paris  treaty between Americans and Vietnamese, that meant for her the return of her husband after 20 years of war. We were all dumbfounded by the casual tone she was using. From this moment, I was convinced that Vietnamese are good people, because a family genuinely inviting you to drink with them in their house after such an intense and recent past could not be anything else.

Today, 18 km of trail awaits us, guided by the man of the house. Funny how he seemed to know everybody, with greetings and laughters. Like this old woman crouching to cut sugar canes, that let the whole group taste and taste again from her canes. Or this other guy that invites us to another glass of corn liquor. For lunch, we stop at a small village with some festival activities, celebrating the founding of the Vietnamese Youth Association. 

We are soon surrounded by curious kids looking at us enthusiastically. We then decide to join the festivities with a tug-o-war between French city guys and Vietnamese country guys. The outcome was sadly predictable...
To "celebrate", they invite us once more to drink from their corn liquor, and we had to insist to our guide that we needed to go, otherwise they would have made us drink for ever... Vietnam is such a warming and welcoming country!
Strangely enough, the rest of the trail passed rather quickly...

The next two days were a trek under light rain, which passed rather easily, closed to the border with China.

And the 3rd day, we hit the road to Halong. On the 30th of March, we embark on our 3 days 2 nights on the Halong Bay, one of my dreams coming true.
beautiful screensaver, right?

The opportunity of kayaking in Halong allows us to enjoy a rather secluded part of the Bay, where we can meet fishermen from floating villages. 

At the end of the trip, on the 2nd of April, we go back to Hanoi, where we have leisure time. The whole group decides to hit the great market of Hanoi, where some Vietnamese refuse to sell us, which is surprising, but where I personally had the best meal of the whole trip on a food stand in a narrow street near the market. Street food is really the best in Vietnam!

On the whole, I really enjoyed that trip, because we stepped outside the main touristic tracks, and it was worth it. We could meet genuinely good people, full of smiles and laughters, it was the first time I felt intimate with a part of the world.

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