This is the third time I have used the B-Tourist (Mr Linh's Adventures Travel), returning to Vietnam and wanting to further explore the north of the country. Mr Linh, based in both Hanoi and in the Ba Be National Park, knows that I like to explore; I like mountains and lakes; I like to see the ethnic minorities and I DON'T like to be with many tourists. He suggested a tour of the north west, a road not well travelled, and this
certainly fulfilled my idea of adventure.
Mr Linh put together a great 7 day trip. This included a visit to Mai Chau, a pretty little Thai village, a boat ride on the stunningly beautiful Ba Khan lake, (not another living person in sight on the vast lake) and a stay in a Homestay with very charming hosts.
Continuing through spectacular scenery there was lots of opportunity for photo stops, local street scenes, local restaurants, tea plantations and minority villages of the H'Mong and Black Thai.
After Son La, we found a trek near Muong Lay which was very special, leading up to a remote Black H'Mong village where children ran pell mell between the houses, flying barefoot down the steep stony paths. We drove through Pha Din pass which lives up its name (the place between Heaven and Earth).
Moving from natural beauty to history we spent some time in Dien Bien Phu, visiting the cemetery, the Museum and the A1 Hill. The spectacular scenery continued, passing gorges, with the road (currently under reconstruction, so a bit bumpy), that clings to the mountain side above the Nam river. Passing through Lai Chau and heading to Sapa we took in the endless breathtaking views through the magnificent mountain ranges, the passes of ChinCo and Tram Son, the view of Fransipan and the beauty spots of Heaven's Gate and Silver Waterfall.
Having been to Sapa before, I was a bit wary of the over touristy feel of the town and the nearest trekking valley, although it is still lovely to see all the ladies in their ethnic costumes. But we arranged for a guide to take us further afield and soon left the other tourists far behind, trekking to the village of Seo Trung Ho.
It was my mission to hunt for old textiles, Mr Linh soon joined in the quest and before long we were eyeing up a Dao dress even as its owner stacked logs. In the village word soon spread and our local restaurant soon resembled a jumble sale with all the old ladies incredulously offering their old clothes. (Two full sets of vintage H'Mong and Dao now decorate Mr Linh's Homestay).
The trip was special for many reasons. I ate great food every day in local restaurants with Mr Linh and Mr Bao the driver and we stayed in a couple of delightful Homestays. We feasted our eyes on the wonderful scenery and the usual Asian peccadillos, from pigs in baskets on the back of motorbikes to Black Thai girls with their helmets perched atop their high hair styles.
But the best fun was Mr Linh yelling 'Stop, stop' for great photos, for fresh fish, for 14 lemon trees, for locally made bamboo stools all stowed in the car with the 5 bags of special rice and our biggest treasure, our slightly damp, slightly smelly, but beautifully embroidered old ethnic costumes.
I can thoroughly recommend this tour, if you like to get off the beaten track
, if you like to be with the locals, if you like to boat, trek and drive in incredible scenery, if you are interested in the ethnic minorities and especially if you have a pioneering spirit.