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Red mud, rice wine and grasshoppers

Three days hiking the Vietnam highlands

rain 28 °C
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After hiking 20 kilometers in 6 hours through pouring rain, sloshing through deep, thick, red mud, I felt like I could eat anything. And then the plate of grasshoppers appeared. I am always game for trying the unusual and offbeat, so six scrawny legs attached to a little locust with disproportionately large eyes seemed no big deal.

In the event, it was a little disappointing. The grasshoppers ended up tasting like any number of other things deep-fried: they taste like what you put on them, or what they are fried in. In this case, I suspect the oil used to fry the tiny insects was a couple of years past its ‘use-by’ date, so the resulting taste was even more off-putting than being left with tiny legs stuck between your teeth. The locals were digging in, though. Perhaps this is some form of community service, as harvesting the insect also keeps them off the rice, in addition to serving as a low-cost beer snack.

Crunchy treats!


In addition to the tasty treats, our time in the mountainous northern highlands of Vietnam introduced us to two of the more than fifty ethnic minority peoples (Thai, Hmong) and amazing terrain that melds mountain, jungle and farmland.

Our trek was to start from a remote village, but heavy rains having made roads impassable (for trucks, cars, motorbikes and apparently Jacquie who managed to slip just a few minutes into our trek!), so our first day’s walk gained more than three kilometers. Luckily with no fresh rain, our first day was an enjoyable, albeit fast, hike to our initial home-stay, at a Black-Thai household. In this area, women use beetlenut over several years to deliberately stain their teeth a deep black color that is – surprisingly – pleasing to the eye. Younger women don’t seem to be following the tradition, so this may be something that disappears from their culture in the near future. Kids these days…

After a little trip in the mud


After our first damp night, the second day’s trek was probably one of the most miserable experiences we’ve had. It wasn’t so much the rain – we were already damp through anyway – but the mile after mile of thick, almost clay-like, mud that made every step precarious. We slipped. Boots threatened to be sucked into the mud. But mostly we just got absolutely filthy. And so we continued for hours, much of it uphill.


Making our way through the toughest parts of terrain and mud was made worthwhile by three things: stunning landscape, the warm reception of people as we passed, and the reaction of children. While it may have taken a smile of our own, or a simple “Hello” to win a grin from adults, the mere sight of our group of westerners walking by would bring the kids running and screaming, “Hello, hallo, heee-llo, hi-lo!” As with so many other places, I find the easy smiles of kids to be the universal common denominator of humanity.


Nothing compares to the reaction of kids wherever we go

Sleeping on bamboo wood floors, eating local cuisine and taking in the scenery gave us an appreciation for the local life, but the one thing I think we gained most from our days in the hills was the centrality and scale of the work that growing rice involves. Beyond the staple food, it is the primary export for the country, and Vietnam is 2nd only to China in its production. Seeing the harvest of rice in the paddies has definitely changed our perspective on something we have previously taken for granted.

New and old methods for moving the rice from the fields



Rounding out our home-stay, we enjoyed an evening of rice-wine (which tastes like a very mildly alcoholic apple juice) and a performance of traditional minority group entertainment by a local dance troupe. As you can see in the picture, the main living area is raised ten feet or so above the ground, and the floor is formed from flattened bamboo over wooden slats eight to ten inches apart. Essentially, the floor – as well as the walls! – are see through, so it’s a little nerve-wracking to walk on, so we needed the rice-wine to comfort us during the rather thunderous performance of the male dancers!

Rice wine for 7?

Home cooking


After another wonderful selection of Vietnamese dishes, including vegetable spring rolls, fried pork and catfish, we readied for sleep. Our clothes, damp from sweat associated with the day’s exertion, had little-to-no hope of drying overnight in the humid climate, but we hung them up as hopefully as Christmas stockings, and crawled under our mosquito net onto our one-inch thick mattress pads. With such thin walls and floors, the noise from our hosts and neighbours was considerable, but we were exhausted from the day’s activities, and sleep found us quickly. We’ll drive back to Hanoi tomorrow morning and stay overnight before catching the late night train on Saturday night, headed to Hue.

Posted by lloydthyen 06:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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