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Just to put our tree climbing into perspective, it was the equivalent of climbing up the side of about a seventeen storey building.

We continued our road trip to Bunbury and then to Perth. We took a ferry down the Swan River and across to Rottnest Island just off the coast for a fabulous day at a very special place. Rottnest is a sanctuary and there are no vehicles allowed there except service vehicles and the bus that goes around the island. We took the bus as far west as it goes and then walked three kilometres to the most western point of the island. It was a beautiful sunny day and the island is absolutely gorgeous. We saw quite a few quokkas. They are only found on Rottnest and are related to the kangaroo. They are very small hopping marsupials about the size of a cat. When the Dutch first discovered the island they thought they were rats, hence the name Rottnest.

Rottnest shoreline


We also saw many pelicans, and from the jetty four huge stingray swimming around. Huge – about six feet across and about eight feet long.

I am genius traveller! We are in Hanoi and I have found free, air-conditioned internet within walking distance of “home”. Sitting in air-con heaven. It is about forty degrees outside! There is a smile on my face 🙂 I wandered into the Sheraton the other day to use the bathroom and noticed several computer stations in the lobby. This morning we discovered, by doing it, that you could just walk right up and use them.

We are staying in Hanoi with our friend Ruth who is living here for two years, but she had to go away for a few days.

Hanoi is just about beyond words – a wild cacophany of noise and smells and people and traffic and crowded busyness that never stops. The traffic is beyond belief. The roads are crowded with cars trucks busses motorbikes bicycles pedestrians and the occasional horse and cart. And out in the rural areas add in water buffalo. There doesn’t appear to be any road rules, or if there are no-one follows them. Everyone just gets where they want to go however they can. One-way streets become two-way because a motorbike can squeeze down the wrong way, two-way streets become three-way because a motorbike can squeeze down the outside of oncoming traffic. And people on foot or bicycle are just as much a part of the traffic as any motorized vehicle. It’s crazy. And yet somehow it all just flows. Like a river. Everyone is super attentive. Because they have to be. And crossing the street is an art in itself. You don’t barge out, or hold back, but just ease slowly and purposefully out into the traffic and keep going as it flows around you. Sometimes you stop mid street for a vehicle to pass, sometimes they stop for you, and eventually you find yourself on the other side of the street. I’ve never been afraid crossing the street here, even as I’m surrounded by traffic. It all has it’s own flow. And you walk on the street because the sidewalks are filled with parked motorbikes and overflowing shops and people making things or cooking or eating.

Fisherman in Ho Tay (West Lake) near Ruth’s place

I am a bad traveller. I don’t know much about Vietnamese water puppets at all except it started as an art form in the rice fields and it is a puppet show in which all the puppets are in water and it is quite ancient. And quite wonderful. We went to a show. It was just delightful – fish puppets splashing about and children playing in the water, and dragons, and rice planting and harvesting, and special ceremonies – all the puppets in a big tank of water. We had front row seats.

Water puppets

Before Ruth had to go away the three of us took a four-day trip to the mountainous Sapa region of northern Vietnam up near the Chinese border – an overnight train trip, then two nights in a fabulous hotel that Ruth knew about, and then an overnight train trip back. There are several ethnic minorities in Vietnam. The region we went to is the home of the Black Hmong, the Red Zao, and the Flower Hmong.

I think all the following pictures will tell their own story. We went to the local markets, and hiked all over the region. We did an all day hike with a Black Hmong guide who took us up and down the mountains and rice paddies from village to village. She was a delight. Only twenty years old, married, and six months pregnant with her first child. She was very knowledgeable about the area and the Hmong way of life giving quite detailed descriptions of the indigo dying process for their clothes and how they make the cloth from hemp, and just about anything else we asked about. There are many bright orange butterfiles there. She told us she didn’t like them because they are dirty because they eat poo! Sure enough we came upon a bunch of them eating buffalo poo. She also said she’d like to leave not only her home village, but Vietnam, because life is too hard there. She said she’d learned English from the tourists three years ago. She said she found it easy to learn English, but harder to learn Vietnamese. When people asked her how she learned English she used to say she learned it from the toilet. We all laughed. She hadn’t quite got yet the difference between the words toilet and tourist.

Hotel balcony and view – Sapa

Black Hmong

Sapa market

Red Zao woman

Red Zao women

Don, Ruth, and Black Hmong women

Hmong farm and rice terraces

Terraces and mountains

Water buffalo wallowing

We drove about two hours from Sapa to Bac Ha for the Sunday market, and that afternoon did a short hike out of town to where the people have their farms. All the people of this region have incredibly hard lives. Subsistence farming is a hard life anyway. In the mountains even harder. They are very very strong and fit.

Flower Hmong women at the Bac Ha market

Bac Ha market food court

Flower Hmong women choosing skirts at the market

Flower Hmong child

We’re off to Ha Long Bay soon to stay on a junk and go kayaking in amongst the islands. More about that in the next post.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.