A half hour after our scooter incident, the heavy fog began to burn off and the roads dried out. With the weather having shaped up for the rest of our days ride, we carried on through the dusty villages and towns on our way to Son La.
Now three days into our visit to Vietnam, I am still struggling to contain my overwhelming excitement about the place. Although motorbikes and cell phones have made their way into every day life here, the threads of old tradition still frame every day in Vietnam. As we cruised along our route, we passed tiny village markets women selling fish, waterbottles, and everything in between. Huge groups of school children on their way to and from school excitedly waved and yelled “hello” as we passed. Minority village women carry huge loads of food or tools hike up and down the road on their way to their agricultural posts, and everyone wears traditional conical hats as they work in the fields. It feels like we pass something interesting at every turn. As we pass by, almost everyone smiled and waved at us as we went by.
Along the bottom of the river valley, we passed a bamboo suspension bridge that led us into the tiny village of La Ken. I was tentative to even walk on the rickety old bridge, so I was terribly surprised to see one of the village residents riding his scooter over it! We walked around the village of wooden huts, observing the way village and the river seemed so inherently connected. We waved at the kids out riding their bicycles and showed them their pictures on our camera screen. They giggled and waved at us as they headed back off to school.
Back on the scooters, our ride slowly wound out of rice paddies, each being carefully cultivated by hand, into the dusty town of Son La. From the outtake, we didn’t care for it much, but once we’d located a place to stay, and took off on foot, we ended up really enjoying ourselves. After our visit to the barber, we visited the market right next to our hotel where we were the only foreigners in site. The minority women were selling meat, vegetables, bread, drinks, and a huge number of items we couldn’t identify. We settled on something wrapped in a banana leaf and some pineapple for dinner.
The contents of our banana leaf meals were primarily made out of rice, but the filling was too much for either of us to stomach. We’re not sure what it was made out of, but at least we tried. Once we had eaten, we set out to walk the streets and check things out. We walked around taking pictures and poking in and out of shops. The excited “hellos” from everyone we passed continued well after the sun had gone and we wondered how anyone could possibly tell we were foreigners in the heavy blackness. We can’t help but feel a bit like celebrities here!
We had read plenty of reports of visitors in Vietnam who felt unwelcome or taken advantage of, but I simply can’t imagine where that sentiment must have come from. Everywhere we go, we’ve been greeted with huge smiles, waves, and friendly hospitality. They’ve gone to great lengths to point us in the right direction when we’ve been lost, helped us to find each other in the middle of our crisis, and warmly served up our bowls of soup. Every encounter we have with the locals living in these tiny villages leaves us with huge smiles and a deep gratitude that we’ve been able to visit such an incredible place.
I think Ben must be tired of hearing me say so, but I absolutely adore this country.