We arrived at 6am after a long night on the Orient Express – yes that’s right they’ve even copied the famous train! Mind you it’s in name only! We survived the treacherous drive with a maniac driver to Sapa high in the mountains and were welcomed to our hotel with a lovely breakfast. All the staff here are disadvantaged youths who have been trained in hospitality.
We spent the first day doing a 12km trek to our home stay at the top of the Black Hmong Village – amazingly without one complaint from the kids! We walked down buffalo tracks through some of the most picturesque countryside we have ever seen, it was picture postcard Vietnam. Tiered rice paddies as far as the eye could see. Oliver was estatic to meet a boy called Bam who was our houseboy for our stay. They got on famously despite a lack of common language and he was the happiest boy in the village when Oliver gave him the handball they had spent the last 2 days playing with.
Robin has been personally devastated by the weather. He has had to go out and get a packamac, worse still as everything is instantly wet in this weather he has bought himself a pair of what he lovingly calls Jesus boots! According to him this is definitely a new low!
Unfortunately due to the storm we were unable to get to the school as roads have become impassable – so we will just have to wait until Cambodia to give back to the local communities. Jemima and I have been diligently collecting all our soaps and toothbrushes along the way. Clare who is in charge of the Orphanage in Siem Reap has let us know what they need most.
We decided to do a cooking class. The chefs have all been trained at KOTO – the school for disadvantaged youth in Hanoi, similar in principle to Jamie Oliver’s not-for-profit foundation, Fifteen. Our ‘Master Chef’ Quyen explained the different cooking techniques and the eating habits of the local Vietnamese and Black Hmong people. We not only made the dishes ourselves we got to eat the spoils for lunch!
A visit to the markets that afternoon revealed all we had heard during our travels about Vietnamese eating everything and anything were true! We saw dog, all sorts of intestinal products, we even stumbled across half-skinned buffalo. There is no mistaking what it is when a large hoof is still attached to the end of a flesh-exposed leg!