heya all, after the many (too many!) nights in the scanky hostel in Yen Bai and after some vietnamese lessons and cooking lessons (i now know how to make spring rolls! lol) we set off to a nearby (an hour and hal;f drive) village where the Hmong ethnic vietnamese nomadic tribes live. we were due to stay in this homestay one night and experience their culture. when we arrived i was extremly grateful of my walking boots coz those with flip flops on just got covered in mud ewww. the car dropped us off half the way and we trekked the rest coz the house was in the mountains and forest. the homes are wooden and on stilts and the animals are kept below and then we were to sleep on bamboo above, very weird sensation and we all felt like we were going to fall thru coz we english are alot heavier than the asians! hehe. the homestay had pigs and chickens and buffalo and lots of rice paddy fields surrounding it, it was so remote. they just fend for themselves, grow everything they need to eat and survive in amongst the ethnic community. they originated from china and then moved to vietnam in 19th century i think so they speak their own language so the project leaders couldnt even really communicate in vietnamese! we lit a little campfire on the bamboo upstairs and cooked some yams...really long time to wait for a small little potato to cook! lol. but that wasnt our lunch luckily and they had made us some rice (yes more rice...getting so sick of it!) and some meat and veg. we set up our little beds on mattresses then went for a wander through the paddy fields. its tradition that the homestays invite you into their homes and u drink rice wine shots, like neat vodka which was quite strong, like petrol! so it was hard to refuse or they got offended so by the 5th house we were invited to it became quite a laugh walking back through the paddy fields and the mud. on the way back a lot of drumming was going on and we asked waht it was so they took us to go and see, it was a funeral and celebration of the life of one of the farmers whom had died. it was v surreal and i was abit scared - thought i was going to be sacrificed or sumtyhing! lol ive seen too many scary movies! lol. neway we sat and chatted to some of the relatives - well we took pics and did a bit of sign language! the kids were really cute too. then we staggered back (!) to our homestay for dinner and an early night because it was dark and no lights really. ok so that was officially the WORST nights sleep ive ever had! there were pigs squealing, buffalo mooing, frogs making the most noise ive ever thought possible out of a frog, then the clock chimed every half hour and on the hour then shaun snored then the baby cried. so i was pleased when we could see light again and get up! i was shattered and v dirty! lol. the asian toilets are squat ones so its disgusting to have a wee here! have to take ur head torch and ur loo roll! i feel like im camping! lol. got lots of mosi bites that ngioht, eww. hehe. then after a noodle soup breakfast we trekked with our big bags up to the Lake, it took quite a walk and lots of falling in the mud (well it was probs poo more like it) later we arrived at a v beautiful lake and climbed aboard our boat which would take us back to Yen Bai., the village we had been staying in for the language and cooking lessons. The boat journey took an hour and half and the scenery was spectacular, but i did fall asleep for half of it! i was too shattered after no sleep the night before! the sun was out for the first time though since ive been here so it was a really nice time to be on the boat. it wasnt scorching but at least not raining! That eve in Yen Bai we found a hotel that said it had karaoke, and a bar, so we willingly go to find out in search of some entertainment! only to be usshered into a little hotel room with a tv and microphone! lol. they brought us up a few hanoi beers in the room and we were then encouraged to sing! lol. it was the weirdest thing ever. but i guess we made the most of it,. and i think we woke up half the hotel in the mean time! the next day was sunday and we had a free day to ourselves just to explore the village - we walked to the local lake and rewad and got an ice lolly etc. was nice just to relax a bit and catch up on sleep! Monday morning was spent learning about buddhism and meditation then we had a v early lunch (11.30am!) before heading in the bus to the buddhist monks temple (pagoda) which was about 3 and half hours drive away. it was baking hot - shame we were in the car all day. neway we arrived at the monks pagoda and had to lug all our heavy bags up a million steps in the soaring heat, i thought i wud faint! then they gave us some sexy monk robes to wear and showed us where we were going to stay that evening. once we had dropped our bags off we were ushered into a massive room with a big buddha and then suddenly this drum bonged and we all stood there expected to chant for an hour as soon as we got there! - i thought i was going to faint in the heat and in the robes they had made us wear. we couldnt show ne skin so i was roadsting in trousers and shirt and the robe! it went on for sooo long all this weird vientamese chanting and they kept getting on the floor and praying and then up again, it really wasnt much fun! lol. esp in the heat. i was glad when it was finally over but then we were given mats and a little bum stiool and were taught to meditate. bassically they sit for 40mins with their legs crossed thinking of nothing it seems! we were taught to relax our minds and think of nothing at all but to be honest it wasnt v coimfy with ur legs like that and ur back up straight! but that night we were only expected to do it for a 15min session...long enough tho..but i wasnt to know what was to be expected the next morning!! the monk said i was a natural (!) lol and wanted me to shave my head and stay in the buddhist retreat for my life! i was sooo scared! its not a good life in my eyes!! lol then we went to our rooms and ate some pringles and sweets in hiding! hehe. the nuns and monks only have breakfast and dinner and theyre forbidden to eat after 12pm so we hid in our rooms eating crisps! lol. the nights sleep was ok but we had to set our alarms for 3am so we had maximum 4hrs sleep!
Up at 3am we dragged our tired bodies up the may steps to the buddha statue and then put our robes on again. we had to chant again - this time only for 30mins (long enuf tho!) and then got given the mats and had to meditate for 40mins!! i thought we were all gonna cry coz this monk came round and hit ppl with a really hard stick if they opened their eyes or their back wasnt straight enough. i was getting such a dead leg and thought i wud be whacked! it was v scary and too intense! i felt like i was a nun already! they have this sort of favouritsm over the men, they kind of just disregard the nuns and so the girls were getting hit so many more times than the monks! neway at about 4.30am it was all over and we were taken to the kitchens where we had to help make the monks breakfast and wash up and mop - that was not fun! i am not a morning person as it is, let alone a housekeeper! haha. i had a good moan...LOL. the monks had their breakfast at 6ama dn then we were allowed ours on another table and then we got some kip in after. this isnt something the monks are allowed but they let us sleep! lunch was at 11.30amn so we slept til then and then had rice for lunch. we asked to leave the monks pagoda that avo coz it was all abit too intense and ppl were getting upset over the heat and the hitting! so we left after lunch in a taxi to Tam Dao Mountain....
Arrived in Tam Dao moutain on the windiest road ever up 4000ft and a scary drop but beautiful scenery! we wandered through the village and had a bit of a trek through all the forest, v beautiful. tomorrow we are going on a proper hike to a waterfall and to the top of Tam Dao Mountain. Im not sure how im going to cope in this heat! lol...
ok so got up early in morn and beared the long walk to the bottom of Tam Dao, was worn out already by then! hehe, but it seemed i wasnt the unfittest of the group, in fact i got a bit annoyed by the slow ppl at the back! lol..ooops i shud be more forgiving i think! hehe. neway it was a hrad trek but i was enjoying it alot, first proper exercise in a while and really felt id achieved something in the end of it, it took ages to get to the top and was vertical scree rock and forest most of the way, had mud all over me and was soo grateful i had walking boots on! not everyone had done so! most of the way we used bamboo to pull our selves up the rock, it acted like a rope altho not if u accidentally held onto a dead piece of wood (yes maybe that was me..lol) and the altitude made us so out of breath, its amazing how unfit it makes u feel! i felt wuite sick with the altitude :( thetop of the mountain was 1400ft so pretty good views all the way! the local guide was sooo fit! he never broke a sweat and he was wearing what u cud get into vodkat revolutions at home ! s*** and posh shoes! which never got muddy all the way!? ho did he do it?! lol. the view wasnt as good as id hoped when we reached the summit, the mist wasd too bad so couldnt see much which was a shame, it was oo hot at the top, the forest had saded us alot but out in the open at the top felt v strong., we sat and had some of our 'lunchbox' at the top, altho it was a bit manky! boiled egg, bread and a weird sausage meat thing! mmmm nice! i took a piccy of it, u can tell for urslef! i prefer the types of sunday walks we go on at home, coz at least the thought of a delicious home packed picnic or pub lunch keeps u going to the end! hehe, apparently they dont do such a thing over here! lol. the climb down was hairy, coz the mud was slippy and the vertical screes meant we slid down on our bums! nice. a well deserved cold shower and ice cre3am was definalty in order when i returned to the hostel.....
friday we left Tam Dao and the misty moutains and set off for a nearby village and the oldest vietnamese pagoda, there were soo many buddhas everywhere and nuns praying and leaving money in the hope of health and happiness, im a bit sceptical myself, coz after being to the monks retreat a few days before i know where this money goes to and its just spent on their fancy pagoda in the retreat. hmmm maybe i shud have more faith tho!? lol. had a walk around the village too, the usual ramshackled homes and markets stalls selling fruit and lots of greens! they absolutely love boiled greens, anything that looks like a leaf they eat! i guess its cheap tho. then wandered to a local host family and she had prepared lunch for us all, was quite a spread, tofu, pork, dog, beef, veg, rice and then a weird sweet dough for afters. lol. then we took the bus back to Yen Bai where im sat in the internet cafe right now, it took 3 hrous to get here and ive got to stay up til 1am now coz we're catching the midnit train to Sapa then, get to Sapa at 5am hopefully. Sapa is supposed to be less remote and more touristy so we;'re on the hunt for a english food place to have some lasagne! lets hope the lonely planet is not getting our hopes up too high! lol. shud be some shopping to do there and cool sites to see, before we start our week long trekking in the jungle next week...argh! im still achey! lol.
miss u all loads :( love melxxxx PS piccys are on facebook