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Hilltribes from Yunnan, Laos,Vietnam, Yuanyang

And a bit of Bangkok, KL and Angkor Wat


mapA detailed map of our travelplan

The photos we made.



Wednesday, 11 November: We get up at 4 in the morning to catch our 7 o’clock flight to Hanoi. The taxi drives us at high speeds trough the deserted streets of Bangkok. Thanks to the new MBK trolley we have no overweight and 2.40 hrs later we arrive in Hanoi.

Aware of the taxi mafia at the airport we had pre-arranged a pick-up from the airport and for 18$ we arrive in less than an hour at the Tung Trang hotel in the old quarters of Hanoi. Again a hotel we found via travelfish.org. Although it was good enough, we did not like it very much, especially as were given a room on the fifth floor with no elevator, but for 22$ a night I guess it was fine.


Prayersticks at the temple of literature

Hanoi has a huge motorcycle population; everybody seems to be riding around on their bike at the same time. They are all over the place and just crossing the street is a major operation that involves blood, gut and tears. In fact we are on the look out for an old lady, as you do not get old if you are no good at crossing the street. So you need to find an old lady and ask her to get you safely on the other side. Gone are the times it used to be just bicycles and things were a lot less noisy.


Some local belles doing a stroll

We decide to start our tour of Hanoi with a visit to the temple of literature. Our guidebook describes it as a must see. Well, we are not that impressed. Already at the ticket counter they try to short change me, but my scam radar is on red alert. Angrily I get thrown the remaining change. The 1000-year-old temple was dedicated to Confucius in 1070 by emperor Ly Thanh Tong, and it later became a university for the education of the mandarins. I would not call it a highlight but then I am a barbarian.

We decide to take a taxi back, the guy's taximeter shows three times the amount that we paid getting there (3 euro instead of 1€). I say no way, 1 euro or we get the police involved. I get a “Fuck you” as an answer and some more of that. I throw him the 30.000 Dong and get out. I am not going to take any shit from theses guy’s, but it does influence my opinion about Hanoi in general which I do not like that much anymore. I get suspicious at every person approaching us, suspecting a rip-off.

In the evening we have a nice dinner in one of the many touristy restaurants around the old quarter.

Halong Bay


Halong Bay traffic

Thursday, 12 November: We have booked a two-day, one night boat trip in the Halong Bay. The travel company comes to pick us up at our Hanoi hotel and we drive to the port in a comfortable minibus. The tour guide is a funny young Vietnamese who entertains us most of the way by giving us information about live in Vietnam. He explains the dog eating as follows: “we believe that the dog is a lucky animal and by eating it we get some of his luck, which is not so lucky for the dog” and a dog passes by “O’ there goes my lunch” which invokes the necessary protest by the tourists. The atmosphere is good and everybody seems in a good mood. Actually we are also very excited as this promises to be one of the highlights of this trip. Tough not cheap at 154$, the photos on the website looked so tempting that we decided this was worth the splurge.


The restaurant onboard

On board we are immediately given a copious lunch tapa style, each time a delicious plate is brought with veggies, chicken, fish etc. Each plate is wonderfully presented and the lunch gives an excellent idea of what the Vietnamese kitchen can be. The rooms are indeed as on the website (excluding the flower petals on the bed) and are completely walled in teakwood, they have excellent AC and a lovely bathroom. We love it. Also the company is great; two Australian couples, 1 with a small girl, two Orientals from San Francisco, a young German couple from Baden Baden and ourselves. We get along very well and have a great time, especially with the excellent wine and beer available. It pays to pay a bit extra. We can only recommend this company as it delivered what they promised and I start to feel a bit more relaxed in Vietnam.


Topdeck - lookout for Pirates!

In the afternoon we make a visit to the “amazing caves” with is beautifully lit and worth the walk around. Our guide does his utmost to explain in detail about all the facts and figures and seems a bit disappointed that I have more interest in photographing the cave than listening to him.

amazing cave

The amazing cave: amazing!

We then sail to a more secluded spot in the Halong bay area. Here we have a dip in the warm seawater. It is terribly humid and I sweat constantly. The evening ends with another superb meal with a continuous flow of delicious dishes. Wine and company make it a memorable evening.


Ready for some excercise

Friday 13 November: When we get up we immediately notice that the weather has turned and it feels a lot cooler today. Our guide mentions that the past days have been extremely hot and that winter is slowly coming. We start the day with a perfect breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon and several kinds of fruit. I could start all my days like that. Still we have to rush, as we are about to do some sea kayaking.


Rita is a bundle of nerves as she is absolutely afraid of anything to do with water. However, under the cheers of the fellow passengers she bravely gets into the canoe and after a few minutes feels like a fish (her constellation) in the water. The breakfast gives us the energy we need and soon we are al alone in a beautiful secluded surrounding. We peddle to a bay that is only reachable through an arcade, just big enough for a canoe to get through. It is quite relaxing and it never gets tiring, so before weknow it we are back at the boat. We still have some time for another swim in the water, the last shower and then pack our bags to go back to Hanoi by minibus. With much regrets we say goodbye to the ones who booked the two-night trip as they have another day of fun.

Back in Hanoi we pick up our bags and go to the train station were our train to Lao Cai is waiting. We take a taxi and see that the meter is covered in a glass container, showing it cannot be tampered with. Indeed the fare is cheap. Another tip for the fellow traveler to come!

Can Cau

We made a reservation from home for the night train as it can get crowded on a Friday as this is a popular day to travel north to visit the weekend markets. We have a 4-bed compartment, which we share with two young Singaporeans.

www.et-pumpkin.com : we booked the train + car to Can Cau

I am surprised at how relaxed the Singaporian couple are with buying counterfeit. The reason why we buy the LP knockoff is that the original is too expensive they say smilingly.

Saturday 14 November: We arrive at 5.15 am in Lao Cai where a driver is waiting to take us to Can Cau where there is a Saturday market going on. We are still sleepy and I do not see much of the countryside dozing of all the time. We have plenty of room in the minivan, as we are the only two passengers. We stop in Bac Ha were we book a room for the night as the Sunday market might fill the rooms quickly, and only the third hotel still has rooms available. We pay 25 usd for the room and get a nice breakfast. After that we continue to drive to Can Cau.


View from the Can Cau market

This is really beautiful, the market has the rice fields as background and because we have arrived before the hordes of tourists, we have to place to ourselves. The flower Hmong take up the majority of the local tribes and I am happily shooting megabytes of photos. Rita comes to warn me that another tourist her purse was stolen and tells me to be careful. Still, this is the best place I have seen so far.


A perfect background, colourful people and most people do not mind me shooting photos. Because of the sheer seize of the market the amount of tourist is never a problem. By 10 o’clock I have had enough, the crowds have become bigger and the nice shots have been made. On our way back to Bac Ha I decide to change our plan and to continue to Sapa as I am told that the Bac Ha market tomorrow is the same, but in a town without the nice background. The drive is happy to make some extra money and after we pick up our luggage, say goodbye to the friendly hotel owner and our already paid room and drive to Sapa. The road to Sapa takes us back to Lao Cai and then we start to climb. The sun disappears and we drive through a thick dense fog.




When we arrive in Sapa, the whole town is covered is fog. It is wet and cold so we decide to stay on our room in the hotel for the rest of the day. Only a dinner in one of the many restaurants can lure us out of our hotel room.

JoeSunday, 15 November: Sapa is still covered in fog but we decide to have a look around town. On our way to the market we meet Joe, a black Hmong woman who is selling hand made tribes trinkets. We agree to have her as a guide to Cat Cat in the afternoon. The market in Sapa is again a photographer’s gold, alas the fog prevents me taking the photos that I see with my eyes. So many missed opportunities that makes me even more depressed than the weather already makes me feel.




Joe, a local Black Hmong women


The majority of tribes in Sapa are the black and red Hmong and are very different from each other. By taking Joe as a guide we can ward of the other Hmong vendors as they can be a bit persistent, but it never gets annoying. They remain friendly even if you do not buy, and although it is the tourist capital for the region, it still resembles more of a hill resort in the Alps with the pubs and restaurants lining the main streets. We would have enjoyed it even more if the weather had been better, but then, hill regions are that unpredictable.

The walk to Cat Cat does not reveal much of the scenery due to the fog, but it is still a nice walk and we are surprised that Joe, although she has no formal education is able to speak relatively good English and Rita gets on very well with her.

In the evening we decide to have dinner in the hotel, which proves to be a mistake. We are the only guests and on top of it I decide to order wild pig. At night I imagine that the meat was dog as it looked as reddish as dog meat and this is enough to make me drive the porcelain bus.


Monday, 16 November: We agreed with Joe that she would take us to Ta Van, where she lives, via the village Lao Cai. So we start in the morning and first pass the market where Joe buy’s some things, as she will prepare lunch for us at her house. We ask for vegetarian, with yesterday night in my mind. The first part of the road is asphalted and not so interesting, but then we turn onto a dirt road and then things become more interesting. Also, because we are going down, the fog gets thinner and slowly disappears. Joe says that she prefers the asphalted road but tourist like to take the dirt road. Slippery it is and I do a mudslide twice, giving me a real close encounter with the rice fields.

We have a superb meal at Joe’s place and drink plenty of rice and bamboo wine, which is the first time we drink it. The bamboo wine is a bit sour and is home made by yeasting the bamboo in a bucket for a couple of months. Not bad at all. We notice that the women also drink alcohol and the food is shared altogether using chopsticks. The equality of man and women is further evident as the men have no problem looking after the babies and help with the cooking on the open fire.


Joe and family in front of the house

On the wall hangs a photo of Ho Chi Min, which I find strange as I tought the Hmong were against the Vietnamese, aiding the American during the war. I decide not to bring up the subject as most likely they were all born after the war.

Then they remark the width of my arms, and indeed their calf’s have the same width of my arms. So is everything that big on me? They would love to see another organ but I refuse to pull down my trousers. They do have a sense of humour.

Joe and her husband seem to want their picture taking by me ans so I make so photos of them and their family. Then there is the problem of sending her the copies by mail as she does not have a house address, let alone an e-mail address. Bring it along next year when you come back she says. I reply that it will take at least two years before we come back. That is not a problem she replies.

It is already late and we decide to jump on the back of a motorbike to Sapa instead of doing the climb back. We have dinner outside the hotel and have ice cream and brandy for desert.


The Chinese-Vietnamese border crossing along the river

flagYuanyang - back to China



Tuesday, 17 November: We take the morning bus to Lao Cai – border and leave Vietnam for China. The Chinese officials are super friendly and super curious, we are moved to an interview room but our bags are not opened. Unfortunately the last bus to Yuangyang already left, so we have to stay overnight in Hekou. Hekou is a busy border city where everything involves getting Chinese goods to Vietnam. They don’t get to many foreign tourists, as we seem to get a lot of attention, we even have to pose for a couple of photo sessions. We kind of like the atmosphere and enjoy walking around, eating the noodles and dumplings that are for sale all over. We buy a bottle of bad wine and spend a quiet evening in our room.



Wednesday, 18 November: We take the early morning bus and arrive by late afternoon in Yuanyang, which looks very similar to Sapa. What strikes me is the absence of wealth and progress we saw in Xishuangbanna. Here nothing seems to have changed in twenty years.
It is cold, misty and it drizzles a bit. We find a driver that is willing to take us around tomorrow. We agree on 12 euro for half a day.

At the dinner I make a mistake when pointing at food on a table. I want the plate with what looks like spinach with mushrooms. I ignore the cook pulling at his ears until I actually bite in the mushrooms and discover that they are indeed pig ears. No problem, the fun in China is that you can just order another plate and that is just what we do! We have plenty of rice wine to keep us warm through the night, as the only heating is an electric blanket.

Thursday, 19 November: In the morning we visit the local market but again with all the fog I cannot make any great photos.  The afternoon we spend with the taxi driver around the place looking for the rice fields. I am convinced our changes at actually looking at them are pretty dim, but the driver knows his stuff.

He gets out of the car and watches which way the fog moves and then takes us to a place where we have to wait a few minutes. He looks to the sky and points to the direction of the sun, and indeed we see the fog slowly move away and suddenly we see the rice fields unveil in front of our eyes. This is an amazing event that only lasts for a few minutes and slowly the fog covers the whole view again. We do this a couple of times and I start to feel the movement of the fog and this allows you to guess where the next opening will appear. This was a wonderful experience.



Friday, 20 November: we take the bus to Kunming where we arrive in the evening. We have a dumpling dinner and a hot shower.

Saturday, 21 November: all nice things come to an end and so has our trip. A month ago we arrived in Kunming and today we will leave Kunming. Still we have until six in the evening and we spend some time shopping around. I have taken a liking the Mao hats. You only see the older people walk around with these hats and indeed we will spend the whole day fruitlessly looking to buy one. Plenty of hats for sale in town, even with American logos on, but no good old-fashioned Mao hat to be found. As an epilogue I can say that when I got home to look for one on the internet the only ones selling these hats were American internet shops. O what a times and what vices!

Carrefour, a french supermarket that is downseizing and closing its shops in Belgium. I guess the chinese like smelly cheese more than the Belgians

In the evening we board the flight taking us to Beijing and on to another 11 hour flight to Brussels. Back to reality….

suskeThe End







Back to KL,Cambodia, BKK Back to start







If you were not worried already you will now as you get these warnings in a flyer upon arrival































We used this travelagency - very recommended







These days we also keep dogs as pets in Vietnam. I also have a pet dog at home and will definitely not eat it. We will eat the neighbors’ dog instead.





A floating village in Halong Bay




A local vendor


halong bay

A romantic cruise in the Halong Bay














































click to enlage the map




Can Cau saturday market



The Can Cau market



The Can Cau market











Red Hmong




A thick dense fog cover the rice fields