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Mingle with hill tribe peoples

Mingle with hill tribe peoples
We recount tales of sodomy close-shaves, unwanted breakfasts and future mother-in-laws to the rest of the group, and then leave on a private bus at 9.30am. Our destination is the Ngoi To Village, somewhere in the Vu Linh District (I'm reading this off my schedule sheet. Truth is, I rarely know where I am, who I'm with or what the fuck I'm doing). The village is located near Thac Ba Lake, which covers an area of 23,400ha and contains 1,331 Islands. It's a big lake, folks. Vietnam is home to around 54 officially recognised minority ethnic groups, and this is the first one we visit.

The morning doesn't begin well. My bodily functions have been all over the place since switching countries, and I'm sure the rice wine isn't helping. First, I found it impossible to stop pissing, to the point where I considered allowing myself to be bent over and fingered by a doctor to ascertain whether anything was wrong. That cleared up without the need for such measures, but as we bounce along over pot-holed roads, my guts start to sing that old familiar song.

Why is it always on the bus? Why is it always when we are in the middle of nowhere, far, far from anything that might approach a clean, sanitised western toilet? Images of dead dogs flash before my eyes, and I groan and swallow my last two diarrhea tablets. The others seem to be having a great time, laughing and chatting away. I'd love to join in, but my full concentration is required to hold myself in. After a couple of hours of sitting on the edge of my seat, we are there.

I rush along the muddy pathway through the village to where we will be staying with our host family. The toilet is surprisingly modern and well-furnished, though still a squatter. Then, after all the fuss and worry, there is nothing but hot air. Wonderful. The tablets have kicked in, and now I have a new kind of disorder - I suffer the pain and anguish of diarrhea, only to then be dealt the frustration of constipation. This is the fools gold of rectal discomfort.

We are staying in a wooden long house. The village is full of animal life - buffalo, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats. After drinking tea, we are taken on a tour. With each home we stop at, the response is the same; green tea, rice wine, sweets. At our second stop, we get given a new kind of drink. Still a variety of rice wine, it is pink in colour and filled with little pieces of what I'm informed is "medicine cheese". It doesn't really matter what they put in it - we'll drink it, good or bad. The head of the family seems very happy to have us, and after food and drinks, we all go outside and pose for pictures. This dude must really like me, because he can't keep his hands off my head, massaging my hair or holding me close in an embrace.

We return to our host family a little drunk. I have the choice of sobering up, or carrying on drinking, and for my sins, I go with the former. In the evening, most of us sit around, playing non-drinking games, and some sleep. After dinner, around maybe nine or ten, Trung informs us there is a festival going on in one of the other houses. Immediately, Craig and Gregg follow him, and the rest of us listen to the rhythmic sound of drums and drunken cheering.

Although not present, I hear an account of the night the next morning. Essentially, there was dancing, singing, and rice wine. Gregg was running around waving a sword, and Trung delivered one of the lines of the trip so far. Gregg and Craig try to impress their love of the country on their hosts, shouting "Vietnam no.1". The minority people aren't having this, though. They shakes their heads, and reply: "Vietnam no.10". Trung, who is fairly patriotic, turns to the boys with a look of disgust: "Fucking minorities."

In the morning, I'm the first one up. I shower and go for another walk around the village. When I get back, most people are surfacing. We eat breakfast (with the exception of the two ra-ra girls, who eat nothing, ever, and yet manage to maintain impressively large arses), and then walk around to the lake. We take a boat trip across, which lasts well over an hour. We pass women fishing, rowing the boats with their feet so that their hands are free. Trung points to a building on one of the Islands. Apparently, this is a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts. I consider diving over the side of the boat, and paddling across to it. Imagine the dope fiends within, though. They're miles from anywhere, in the middle of a fucking huge expanse of water. Those in the early stages of withdrawal must be like slavering wolves, stir crazy for a little bit of something sweet to take away the pain. Good luck getting it out here, guys.

The boat ride comes to an end, and we're back on the bus. I'm still unable to shit, so it's happy days all round. Back to Yen Bai. After the weekend, we're headed for a Buddhist temple. Better getting some sinning in quick, before it's too late.

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