The plan for the last day in the North was to go to another market in Cok Ly. I pondered upon the idea because it was an alternative to go to another market that was different, in another province, but unfortunately , it was a slow day for that market, named Bin Liu, the high market days would have been between Thu-Sun. There are many minorities in the area and it was fun to see their customs and the dress they wear. On one side of the mountain are the Flower Hmong, Liu, Tay and Dzay. On the other are the Black Hmong and the Red Dzao and in another province are the Red Hmong and the Black Dzao. Probably there are more of them but is hard to identify them, after just several days of walking in the area. I was able to see the first group in the market in Bha Ca and Cancau and the second group in the market in Sapa, so Bin Liu market would have been perfect for the third group but in the end I decided to keep with the original schedule to go to Cok Ly. We woke up at 6:00am, said good bye to our hosts and left to meet the jeep (Russian) on the road. The village was awake and the water buffaloes were roaming the alleys. We arrived at the road but no sign of jeep, Bang called and eventually woke up the tour operator who sent a jeep with one hour delay. The way to Sapa is just 17 km from the place we were and we arrived when the clouds/fog started to lift and the views over the city were marvelous. You could see the city out of fog but the fog was still lingering under the city. Great view! I had breakfast on the Bamboo restaurant and left to the Sapa market, and do the last shoppings I planned for, some things that I already saw and wanted to buy and I had to pick up the custom made blouse-coat I got for Cristina. I went again to the market, where there were not too many Red Dzao like the day before and I went to see the church and a local temple.
At 10:00 I went to the hotel, pick up the luggage, got in the jeep and we left for Cok Ly market on a road that on its last 17 km before the market, was all dust and all our luggage and our lungs got dusted to a level like I never saw since I was in Tibet. The market itself was disappointing, very small with the same minorities. Organized travel in Vietnam is OK but the agencies do not have the creativity of advising people what to see and this is an issue when you don’t know the local customs. Instead of seeing three markets on the same side of the mountain, I would have opt for another from the other side. I walked a little in the market and I settled for some roasted peanuts for lunch, forfeiting my official lunch with Bang. But still I picked up this trip because after the market it was a boat ride on Chai River that it turned out to be very nice. I was very lucky that the weather improved in the last two days, and the cold spell from the last week went away, so I did not need my newly bought Armani jacket at all. It was warm for T shirt and extremely pleasant on the boat, that was going through canyons with caves and we stopped eventually to visit a Tay village. We had tea with the people in the house, a custom here, and always when we stopped somewhere people were offering Vietnamese tea that like their coffee is strong and bitter. They showed me the upstairs of the house, the Tay house having a lower level for animals, that they partitioned and made a living room also, and a top floor for sleeping. I wanted to go to the bathroom but no matter that they showed me where the location was I could not figure it out. It was a pig style there and some other huts but nothing to resemble what I know to be a toilet. And obviously I did not expected tiled ceramic walls and toilet paper! But still I could not figure out which was the toilet! We left the village and board the boat admiring the beautiful flowers of a local tree, called rice treat, and we rode the boat for another 30 minutes till we got to the road where the jeep was waiting for us. Another cup of tea in the shade, it was already very hot, and we left for Lao Cai on a beautiful sunset, cruising around the Vietnamese shore of the Lap River that is the border with China. In Lao Cai we went directly to the Chinese border and I looked to the constructions from the other side but I could not go there because I did not have a Chinese visa and neither a return Vietnamese one. Bang showed me the market building in the Chinese city and told me that the first floor is occupied by merchants and the second and third by the “Meat market”, prostitution in China being legal, (not in Vietnam). All the girls are registered and pay taxes. Two full floors in a large building! The Vietnamese can cross the bridge anytime for a day trip and if they want to stay overnight they have to arrange for a permit. Bang said that is cheaper in China that in Vietnam, in terms of food, accommodation and transportation. The buildings in the the cities are impressive, the Vietnamese built a Commercial center, business center that looks very modern and on the Chinese side was built up pretty seriously.
From the border we left to the railway station, where I went in a hotel to change, arranged by Bamboo/Sapa, I tipped the driver and I had another discussion with Bang, who told me that he may try to immigrate to USA, the dream of any young person in Vietnam. I told him about the visa lottery, that he did not know about and we promise to keep in touch. One stop, after Bang left, was to the Internet to post my story and do the the email but the computer/network was so slow that I could not post, so I saved it, email it and posted this morning. My stomach got a little upset yesterday, not bad but enough to have some shrills, and I got on my steamed rice and water cure that works miracles, better than any fancy drug, so till this morning everything was supposed to be in order. The train was leaving at 9:15pm. I got in the compartment with a German couple from Munich with whom I chat for about an hour. Friendly! I told them that I lived in Munich a while ago and turned out that they live very close from where I used to live. We went to sleep, the same uneasy sleep of the sleeping couches, and we arrived in Hanoi at 5:30 am, took a motorbike and arrived in Camellia Hotel to wake up the host who was sleeping in the lobby. I did all my repacking, because I bought a small backpack for local travel and I had breakfast, did my posting and email and I am waiting for the bus that will take me at 7:30 am to Halong Bay, a two day trip where I will sleep, tonight, on the boat in the bay. So no Internet!