Our three drivers Bon, Ding and an older man that we never quite caught the name of met us at 08.30 giving us time to walk around the famous Sunday market. The colours, noises and smells were fantastic. It was divided into sections of fruit, cooking, textiles, plastics, gadgets, meat and live animals (chickens with their heads sticking out of baskets, pigs tied by the ankle, puppies and buffalo).
We bought gifts after some soft haggling, snacks in the form of greasy fried local dough and checked out of the hostel. My black motorbike seemed in charge of the group. We raced along watching mountains, padi fields, villages and trees whizz by, occasionally glimsping water buffalo wallowing in pools or school children dancing in unison. Many stranger sites too such as traditional village dress, elderly women hunched over sewing brightly coloured cloths or carrying the world in baskets anchored to their heads.
We soon realised the Vietnamese talent for fitting ANYTHING on the back of a motorbike from huge bamboo rods or big water bottles to some less than ideal treatment of animals - piglets crammed into crates, screaming as they bounced along and a live chicken strung upside down by it’s ankles in front of the drivers knees, it’s head painfully close to the ground. Not for the faint hearted.
All in all though the journey was spectacular, unrivalled scenery, shared meals with the drivers at hidden local spots and the chinese border! We passed back through Sapa and on to the Tram Ton Pass where we climbed the Silver Waterfall for 3000 dong (<1$). Here we had a mini barbeque with some locals. The rest of the journey was plain sailing.
We spent the evening in Lai Châu, a wierd place, I didn’t like it. The main road had six lanes and was empty, food wasn’t great and I had a pretty bad stomach so I didn’t venture as far as the old town in the North West. The new town had no charm and the guest house was dirty, cramped, had spiders, cockroaches and even a frog livign in the bathroom. Yet we were still charged 200 000 dong ($10). Compared to the normal standard it was a rip off .