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Our second weekend in Ha Giang we were invited to visit one of the student’s family homestays ‘Tho Homestay, Khuôn Lùng, Ha Giang’. It was in Xín Mần district, which boasts beautiful mountainous terrain, boundless lakes and home to the beautiful Thac Tien waterfall.

We rented a motorbike (200,000VND for 24hrs) and drove 3.5 hrs to the middle of nowhere. The roads were bumpy and covered with loose gravel, but we managed. The student’s grandfather named Tho, met us at the last turning; he was a kind faced, stocky old man with a big grin and a husky chuckle. Tho guided us along steep climbing meandering roads through small villages into the mountains. The views were breath-taking.

That evening we were customarily doused in rice wine, Tho invited some local friends to join us for dinner and we drank and drank, as that was the only form of communication we could share; toasting and drinking. Unfortunately the private room the student had promised us must have been lost in translation, as we shared a very large room with his grandparents. It was pitch black and they didn’t snore, so that was a plus! The sobering factor was that they woke up at 4:30am. Upon rising Tho had a few tobacco bongs (they are very popular in the mountains and you can have them anywhere from the mechanics to the man you buy your meat from on the roadside). After a few coughs and puffs they left the hut and we dosed off for another couple of hours.

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Breakfast was served at 7:30am, we were hungover to shit, heads throbbing and our hearts sank when we saw Tho collect the remaining 2L bottle of rice wine and 4 shot glasses. Now, we had been told that it was disrespectful to say ‘no’, and so far we had lived up to that, but all that had gotten us so far was Rick’s wallet stolen and very sore heads. We declined the rice wine shots for breakfast with many, many apologies ‘Xin Loi’ and hand gestures – still not sure how offended they were.

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We planned to head to Thac Tien waterfall which was 25km away up 10%-14% incline hills, leaving early so we could arrive when the sun came out. About 7KM up Rick said “at this rate we’ll be there by Tuesday’. It was very shortly after this comment his motorbike let out a high pitched scream and promptly died. We had to go all the way back down to the nearest mechanic and spent 100,000 VND getting it botched up. They told us it would get us home but not to ride it back up the mountain, disaster!

To cut a long story short, we made it to the beautiful Thac Tien waterfall (7,000VND entry fee) on the back of 2 motorbikes. Hilariously the shop that sells the tickets is filled with men drunk on rice wine, where we were invited to sit and drink green tea. WARNING: stay away from the monkey’s cage, he is extremely aggressive! In fairness, I would be completely mad too if I was locked in 1m2 cage my whole life. However setting the monkey free was not on the cards this time. It cost us another 250,000VND for the extra guide, but we were happy to get to the waterfall!

That evening we did a bit of fishing at the homestay pond. Rick caught a fish, but as it was only small, it wasn’t enough for dinner. In a flash the grandma went to plan B; ran to the chicken pen, retrieved a hen, and while holding it firmly, stabbed a chopstick straight through its neck, draining out the blood into a bowl as the life left the poor chicken. Seeing this right in front of our eyes came as a quite big shock to us, which as meat eaters, it shouldn’t have. There was just something about the blood running down the chopstick and the frisky look in the chickens eye that made us feel extremely uncomfortable. Within 5 minutes the chicken was fully plucked, staked and on the flames. She had done that before!

We pre-empted that evening’s inevitable rice wine fiasco and bought some beer to toast during the meal instead – this worked a treat. They were happy to drink beer and we were happy not to drink rice wine. After that dinner we decided to have a few vegetarian days.

We made it almost all the way home safely, but suffered a near death experience on the highway 5 mins from home. The trucks tend to ignore the white line indicating their side of the road. When overtaking, they simply beep their horns loudly and proceed into oncoming traffic, forcing motorbikes to dodge off the road to safety. A 100m ahead of us a truck veered onto our side, Rick moved to the edge of the road, but then a 4WD tried to overtake the overtaking truck. We had no more room to get off the road and the wing mirror of the 4WD missed us by just a few inches!

Price break down:

motorbike x 48hrs: 400,000

Home-stay with food and unlimited rice wine: 400,000 (100,000 pp/day)

1 day Tour guide: 100,000

Extra guide with motorbike: 250,000

Water: 60,000

Beer: 120,000

Bike repair: 100,000

Total: 1,430,000 VND

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Tho Kept Porcupines!