After a combination of bus, boat, bus and overnight train from Cat Ba I arrived in Lao Cai in the north west of Vietnam. Most people come here to visit the mountains of Sapa (something I would have done if I had had more time), so after all the other backpackers peeled off it turned out that I was the only one who was here to cross the border. It’s a very easy, walkable border – they seem to be aware that it’s almost too easy, as the guy at immigration wanted to make it absolutely clear to me that I couldn’t come back into Vietnam, just in case I was planning to hop over to China on a day trip.
Kinda excited to go somewhere different. I’ve loved south east Asia, but while the countries are all great, they are also fairly similar (at first glance anyway, I’m sure you’d get to know their nuances if you stayed put for a while), and that does make it feel like I’ve been in the same country for 4 months. I’m ready for another challenge now!
I possibly should have prepared for the challenge a little better. I was planning to go to Yuangyang rice terraces, and I had gone as far as finding out that the last bus there from the border town was at 9am. I crossed the border before 8, happy in the knowledge that I had over an hour, then arrived at the bus station just after 8 to find a guy hurrying me onto the bus as fast as possible because I had forgotten about the time difference. In all fairness, I did not deserve to catch that. Which does make it slightly less galling that the 4 hour bus ride actually took 7.
First impressions of China:
1. China got landscape, yo
Long bus rides are much more manageable when you have scenery like this. (I’m also nicely surprised to find some sunshine here! I was beginning to think I’d never see it again)
2. A lot of people here seem to be riding motorbikes in oven gloves.
3. The Chinese spit a lot. I really mean a lot. Not just discreet moisture removal, but horrendous hacking/snorting/scraping every last drop of phlegm from my throat before expelling it on the floor type spitting. ALL THE TIME. And it’s everyone – I’ll hear what I assume is some old heavy smoking man behind me and turn around to see a sophisticated young woman making the most disgusting noises with her mouth. What the hell? Do they have something wrong with their digestive system that makes them utterly incapable of dealing with saliva? Ugh
4. Communal dancing is a big thing
I’ve seen this in lots of places since, everywhere where there’s a public square or park you’ll find people doing aerobics or tai chi or ballroom dancing, or in this case marching in a big square waving their arms around.
I arrived too late to do any sightseeing really, so I spent the evening making my plan of attack for the next day. Like a lot of things in China, people have figured out that they can charge silly amounts of money now, so the most popular – and best placed for the sun – rice terraces have entrance fees. (Seriously, that is entrance fees FOR FIELDS) The cost is 100 Yuan (£10) for a combined ticket, plus you can expect to pay 400 for a round trip by minibus, which I would have to pay for on my own (it’s just about possible to do it by local bus, but not if you want to be early enough for sun rise or late enough for sun set, which is kind of the point). Alternatively, you can keep your fifty quid and go to Windows of Yuangyang on the high street, who will sell you a walking map of the local fields for all of 2 Yuan.
I may not have seen the most spectacular views, but I did get to avoid the domestic tourist crowds, and here you get to walk through local villages and meet the piglets
(I also seem to have someone’s sock in that photo. Sorry about that)
The terraces round here (from December to March) are covered in red algae, so now that it’s disappearing they have a strange patchwork effect.
All the women are working in traditional dress, which is awesome. I wish I had taken a better photo, but… I was too shy.
Coming back to the terraces at sunset is a must – I got out my trusty compass several times on the walk to see which one would have the best angle, because I’m a nerd like that. It’s worth it though, when the sun hits them they light up like a glass staircase.
All that, and not another shutterbug in sight.