Bac Ha market

My last day in the Sa Pa region was a Sunday. And the reason I stayed the extra night was a big local market in Bac Ha. Pick up was suddenly way earlier and at 7:30 After I had my usual Pho for breakfast

 I was downstairs waiting for the guide. I met Marsha from the long trek in front of the hotel and the off we went, collecting other tourists along the way.

It was a three-hour ride to get to the market and once we arrived at Bac Ha it was clear that it was very popular.

Our guide led us through a side street to the market and walking there we passed the horses and the birds.

    In this busy side street was our restaurant for lunch and from here on we explored the market by ourselves.

Marsha and I walked around together and we had our first stop after two minutes to a bean drink/dessert. It’s basically ice with red beans and then all kinds of jelly, shredded and toasted coconut, peanuts and more, topped with bean juice. Very tasty!


Other impressions from the market.

                

Look at this variety of greens/herbs.

  

When we passed the fish market we saw a customer choosing a fish. So if you’re squeamish please look away.

                    

And here is one who got away. I didn’t know if we should say something but then I could see that the sales lady had already noticed the runaway. When we left the stall it was still alive.

At this market you get everything from buffalo to your next dress.

                     I tried one of these fried balls, it was not overly sweet and filled with a yellow bean paste. Yummy!

And other food stuff I didn’t try (so far).

  

Then we went back for lunch which was boring and bland after everything that we had seen at the market. So let’s just forget about it.

After lunch we stopped at a local minority village to see how the tribal families lived in the area. The house that we visited had one room, the sleeping area was quartered off by curtains but the rest was one big space in which they worked and watched tv. There was a small table, probably for the meals and homework, but only one chair.

 

 

Here child safety was not an issue.           

A short bus ride later we got off at the Hang A Tuong Palace just north of the market in Bac Ha. It was swarming with the tourists but you still see the beauty of the building. Designed by a French and Chinese architect and built according to Feng Shui guidelines, the palace was the home of the ‘Kings of the north’. Father and son from a Tay ethnic people ruled the north with a 70% H’mong share. They exploited what the could but at least the palace is still left, now for everyone to see.

      

There was a small shop in the palace where I saw an old woman weaving.

Back on the bus we made our way to Lao Cai to catch the train. One last stop in Lao Cai for all though. What I hadn’t realized when I had arrived here three days ago was how close the Chinese border was. It was just across the river.

  

After the last stop three other girls and I got off at a small hotel near the train station, shared dinner and then took the night train back to Hanoi. Yours, Pollybert

PS: The food tasted how it looked, boring and bland again.

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Riding the elephant

Our last day at the Hermitage Hotel started again at 6pm. This morning there was no breakfast waiting but rather a cup of tea before we headed off to the elephant meeting place at the edge of the jungle.IMG_1097

Sylvia and I were the first to get on and the third person with us on board was an American Greenpeace worker from Peru. Our driver was clearly used to all kinds of tourists because from the first he started to entertain us. But not only that he also turned out to be gifted spotter and with his help I finally saw a rhinoceros close up in wild life (Sylvia, ever the sceptic, thinks that these rhinoceros are part of the show). We actually saw a lot of other animals too, but I figure that wild pigs, deer and wild chickens are compared to the rhinos not so interesting, plus the pictures didn’t turn out so great.IMG_1102
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And this was our elephant Sirkaly (or something similar).IMG_1226

And then it was time to move on again. After all the bananas were fed to Sirkaly we wanted to have breakfast as well. So back to the hotel to have breakfast and to pack our bags and on we moved. We were supposed to have a driver to bring us to Pokhara but he fell victim to the changed circumstances and our agency put us on the tourist bus. Which in itself should not have been a problem, merely a six hour ride instead of four. But that at the narrowest part of road a mountain slide happened and we would get a 10 hour stay on the bus in the end… this was a bit a of a downer. IMG_1241
Water became a rare commodity along the route and resourceful entrepreneurs started a cucumber business.IMG_1243IMG_1248

At least the scenery was beautiful and got only a bit marred by all these buses on the road.
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Eventually though we made it into Pokhara, organized a taxi and made our way to Castle Resort Hotel our safe haven up in the hills. Here we met the dutch people again whom we had already met the first night in Kathmandu and the Austrians from Chitwan. We had dinner, Momos for Sylvia and Dal Bhat for me and quickly called it a night. It had really been a very long day. Yours, Pollybert
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Looking for a tiger

The next morning started with a 6am wake-up call and shortly afterwards breakfast. A bit after 7am we left for our canoe ride with a group of Czech people. Their tour guide was busy on the phone because she had two persons at the airport in Kathmandu poised to go home but of course this never happened on the day after the earthquake. The airport was closed for a while but she managed to organize them a hotel nearby.

See how happy we look at this time of the day? I am sure I never look this much relaxed in Vienna at 7:30 am.IMG_1059

The canoe ride turned out to be super short after all. We were first told that we would go for the jungle tour in the morning and then after a lunch break at the hotel for the canoe ride. This all changed with the addition of the Czech group and all of a sudden we already started to walk shortly after 8am. In the beginning it was really interesting, searching for animals. Our guide Madan stopped every couple of minutes, listened for a while and then moved on; I had the impression he was doing this solely for the purpose of keeping us tourists happy and on the move. Still, we saw some animals, foots prints of different animals and so on.IMG_1067
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The grey blob on the last picture was a rhinoceros, just so you know that we “saw “one. There were actually two, mother and baby rhino.

Then it was finally lunch time because around 11am I started to have enough. Three hours of walking around in the jungle was my personal limit. We came upon a little clearing that looked as if every jungle tour stopped there for lunch. But first we saw some kind of fruit (not edible for humans), had to cross a bridge and saw some leftover antlers. The former attached parts to these had probably been eaten by a tiger said the guide (or maybe the antlers had been conveniently placed there for us tourists). IMG_1390IMG_1075

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And then finally we saw the clearing and sat down for lunch which had been packed by the hotel. Hardboiled eggs, a sandwich, an apple, a banana, some cookies and a juice. By then I would have eaten anything (also a tiger), walking around in concentric circles (or so it seemed to me) really made me hungry. Finally I could relax a bit while reading my book; Sylvia used the time to lie down.IMG_1389IMG_1081

Just 30 minutes later we were on the go again, still looking for the imaginary tiger. Ok, maybe not so imaginary because there are still over a hundred tigers living in the Chitwan National Park. Still no tiger in sight which was probably better because we “saw” some foot prints and the longer we walked the more Sylvia freaked out that we were walking around here in this park just waiting to be served up as tiger snack. That was the least of my problems, tiger or no tiger, I just had enough of all this walking. We were promised a tour of three hours and ended up back at the river at 3:30pm. So after seven hours of walking including a short-cut in the wrong direction, I was bone tired and needed a little rest at the hotel.

Refreshed we met again at 5pm to see the elephant breeding station. We drove through the village and stopped at a small river which in monsoon times is way bigger. The bridge over it is removed at the beginning of the monsoon season and installed again after it.IMG_1088IMG_1089

The elephants were less interesting than the bridge, but maybe I am just saturated with all the elephant programs. They were always behind fences and I was not convinced that they looked happy. Sylvia even less, you should have heard her berating the guide.IMG_1092IMG_1093

After a quiet dinner with our German neighbors we went to bed early and got some sleep. Walking in circles made us bone-weary.
Yours, Pollybert

Going to Chitwan 

The next morning we got ready and carried our bags the five floor down ourselves. I definitely had packed too much, the thing weighted 18kg at check-in in Vienna. We got it all down and deserved a good breakfast for it. In the cosy courtyard we ordered porridge with fruits and tea. IMG_0984

Not long after our driver came and brought us to the airport in Kathmandu. We were a bit early and had to wait in the hall until our flight was up on the board.IMG_0989
This time I had my passport copy ready (our passports are with the agency to secure the China visa) and we got our boarding passes without a problem. One more coffee and we were up in the air.IMG_0990

Even on a short flight like this (flying time was 30 minutes) we got water and a sweet. In no time at all we arrived at Bharatpur airport.IMG_0991
Madan, our guide from the Hermitage Hotel, was already waiting for us at the small arrival area and after a little discussion if we were staying at his hotel (but since no other two female tourists were on board, it was clear that it was us) we made the 30 minutes drive into the Chitwan National Park. Here we would stay for a three day – two nights jungle tour.

We arrived at the hotel and were told to get settled in our cabin and then come for lunch. I had just taken a picture for Facebook and was getting ready to go outside when all of a sudden everything started to shake violently. Sylvia called to get outside and join her which I did after I locked the door. We stood on the lawn in front of the bungalows, joined by two German guys who lived next door and waited through the earthquake. It was a weird feeling but none of us were frightened since nothing happened except that the earth shook. So when it was finally over (took ages for the first quake) we talked about how strong it could have been while I took some pictures of the garden. Sylvia just hoped that it would not get in the media.IMG_1002

Eventually we made it for lunch where we joined a Chilean couple on the terrace. During the main course the second quake hit and I was more frightened by the screaming waiter who urged us to follow him down into the garden. Which we girls did while the guy from Chile kept on eating. I think Sylvia was more afraid that she couldn’t finish her meal. I know all this sounds weird to you especially after the quake made headlines all over the world and so many lives were lost. The  ramifications of it were not clear to us at the moment, but in hindsight we were super lucky. 90 minutes can make a huge difference.

We spend the afternoon in the garden looking down at the river and hoping for a crocodile to magically appear. Sylvia checked the internet and by then the quake had already made it into the news while was trying to update my blog (I am way behind, sorry).IMG_1004IMG_1006

Around 4pm we got ready for our village walk with Madan. We saw some traditional houses from an ethnic group that came into this region from the mountains. They built their houses from mud fortified with reeds which they also use as a roof. But since the reeds need to be changed after the monsoon more and more were covered with a corrugated sheet.

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On the walk through the village I finally got some stamps and Sylvia another Ghorka knife. And we saw some interesting transportations.IMG_1018
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The walked lead us to the river where we spotted our first rhino footprint, easily recognizable but its three toe nails which leave a distinct imprint. The elephant by the way  has five toes in front and four in the back. We walked along the river to spot some more birds (mostly too late for me to take a picture) and to get a feeling for the national park.IMG_1024IMG_1025
The destination for the village walk was the elephant station where the park rangers where training the animals. These elephants would come to warn us whenever another quake hit.IMG_1030IMG_1036
On the walk back the light had already a beautiful quality and the sunset looked very romantic. We made it back in time to have the last of sun at the hotel while enjoying a cup of coffee as sundowner (ok, maybe I had a beer).IMG_1048

Dinner was a tasty affair with the typical Nepali Dal Bhat and a picture for the worried relatives at home.IMG_1051
And to top this day we attended a cultural show at the village center. The tourists from all over the park got brought here to watch this typical dancing spectacle.IMG_1054
There were more quakes during the night and Sylvia felt each and every one while I missed most of them. I appear to be very insensitive in regards to tremors (and maybe other stuff too). We got woken by an elephant for a larger one during the night which I felt as well this time. But both of us made no move to leave our bed, we already knew that nothing would happen to us at Chitwan National Park.
Yours, Pollybert

Back on land

New day, same procedure. Wake-up call at 5:30 again and then off to the water lilies at 6am.
The boat had anchored next to a dock and from there it was a short walk over a high bridge in the woods to a large pond full of lilies. At least it looked like a pond but is probably a side arm of the Amazon.

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And look, I also saw a cayman really close. It looks very old and grey, in a way like a real monster.

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Then a bit a of shopping next to the dock (for this the boat always allows some time) and off to breakfast.
One more happening on the boat and this was to be the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon. Look how beautifully they come together.

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Sylvia was severely disappointed because there was no sighting of the pink dolphin. She even noted that on the feedback letter.
The weather was awful while on the boat this morning, overcast and raining. At around noon we were back at the Hotel Tropical and took a taxi to our own Pousada Chez le roi. A beautiful little place in the better area of Manaus.
We left our luggage and were on the way to the local zoo Cigs. On the way we stopped for a pastel, some kind of phyllo, filled with meat and cheese and then fried. Super delicious!

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The zoo in Manaus is run by the military and here we saw all the animals we missed on our boat trip. Beautiful animals, and interesting to watch.

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After walking around for what felt like hours in the heat, because by now we had sunshine and at least 35 degrees again, we stopped for a break and Sylvia had some Açai. She liked it better in the south where it was served frozen, here it looks more like a soup.

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By 4:30 we made it back to our hotel and enjoyed the pool and the garden. A real oasis in the city.

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We had one more dinner in Manaus, shopped a bit and had an early night. The next day would start again with an early flight.
Yours, Pollybert