So after a few days with Tassie mates Wendy and Roscoe in Hoi An, participating in a cooking school, a fitting (at one of over 400 tailors in town) for a new shirt and copious cocktails – Brunyfire bids farewell and continues on. Flying from Da Nang up to Hanoi, trusty Buffalo Tours is there to pick her up and redirect her to the train station’s holding lounge. A Victoria Express staff member arrives later that same evening to pick up the suitcase and other passengers who’ve also been waiting, to board the classic Hanoi to Sapa overnight express.This is an 8 hour, bone shaker of an experience, but a travel highlight to date nevertheless. Passengers are settled in for the night and then awoken in the early hours of the following morning with a cup of coffee and a croissant. A Buffalo Tour driver is at the train station in Lao Cai and the meandering 35km hill climb up to Sapa is done in about 45 minutes. This can be a hair raising experience for the uninitiated. The road is narrow – there are no guard rails on the precipitous edges – scooters and motor bikes weave in between oncoming traffic – no-one pays any attention to red lights (on the rare occasion they appear), bufalos and kids wander freely and without heed. But it seems to work.
Finally able to venture forth into town after a lengthy wait to be checked in at the Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa, Brunyfire heads downhill into downtown Sapa for lunch, recklessly tackling some tasty looking street food at the local market. And whilst it was reassuring to see the wild mushrooms in rolled pork, the tube of sticky rice in bamboo and the pigeon being barbecued at high heat……..……..there was no accounting for how long the raw ingredients had been sitting on the table. The explosive results of such reckless dining was to be felt in the early hours of the following morning and was not an auspicious start to a planned 5 hour round trip to the Bac Ha Sunday market.
However, optimism and stubbornness being a Brunyfire trait, and accompanied by a driver, a guide and fellow travel companion (a Canadian), we all arrived at the market unscathed. Bac Ha Market is the biggest minority peoples market in Northwest Vietnam. Alive with the bright colours and extravagant costumes of the local people, the Flower Hmong (Red Hmong) predominate, but other ethnic minorities in the area include Dzao, Giay (Nhang), Han (Hoa), Xa Fang, Lachi, Nung, Phula, Tay, Thai and Thulao. In the past the market was a centre for trading horses but now that motorbikes have replaced them it is more common to see buffalo, cows, goats, fish and other livestock. To see the real action amongst the locals, one needs to get there early in the day, for this is when the trading really happens. By the time Brunyfire’s entourage arrived, many traders were just starting their midday meal…….. ……..such as stir fry horse meat, horse penis, silk worm grubs and a more palatable deep fried sweet potato. According to our guide, this is all washed down with rice wine, usually the menfolk who get plastered at the end of the day. This little old lady offered to let us try some, but our guide assured us, that despite the thimble sized cup she held out, it had the kick of a mule!