day one hundred and thirty-nine: february 15, 2016:
After another breakfast of bánh cuốn, we visited several different villages belonging to the Nong ethnic minority and spent the night in a traditional Nong homestay with Mr. Nung and his family.
First stop, a village known for making traditional incense. Locals use leaves from the keo tree to make the incense. They begin by drying the leaves before grinding them into a fine powder using machines.
We sat with the guy below for about 5 minutes and watched him hand cut the incense sticks from bamboo with the hooked knife.
The bamboo sticks are then dipped into a water mixture and then shaken in the dust of the keo leaves. This is done 5-6 times before they are finished.
The incense is then dried before bunching together and selling.
As we strolled around the villages, we couldn't help but think that the backdrop of these villages was definitely not bad.
Next stop was a small village specializing in making paper. The paper is made from a pulp mixture of bark from the keo tree and animal fat. The thin layers of paper are peeled apart after they are stacked and stuck to the walls of their homes to dry. The paper is then mainly used to create fake money typically burned during ceremonies paying respect to those who have passed.
Our final stop was a metal working village where we would also spend the night. Here, every home was equipped with metal working tools and stoked fires to shape all kinds of different steel tools, many of which were different kinds of knives.
After lunch we headed to Ngườm Ngao cave (translation Tiger Cave). We weren't sure what to expect from the cave systems on this trip. After seeing Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, it's sometimes hard to be impressed by caves, but all the caves that we visited on this trip were quite impressive. Unfortunately, the preservation of these types of things is not as good as it is back in the U.S. since education on how to preserve the areas is not as well taught as back home.
The story behind the name of this cave is that there used to be tigers that lived inside this cave system. The tigers would often visit the local villages at night to hunt chickens. As the locals got tired of their missing chickens, they began to set traps and kill the tigers and eventually killed all of them long ago. So sad for the tigers!
One of the most famous formations in the cave is the one below, which looks like a giant lotus blossom.
Our final stop for the day was Bản Giốc Waterfalls which sits on the border of Vietnam and China. The headwaters of the falls lie in China, while the waterfalls themselves are in Vietnam.
Tonight was a cold night, especially for staying in a homestay. Another excellent home cooked meal by our hosts and more "happy water" in celebration of Tết! Honestly, some of the best spring rolls we've ever had.
We triple stacked our blankets to keep warm for the night and slept in all our clothes. We were warned about our early morning wake up call from the metal workers at around 5 AM. They were pretty much right on time along with the roosters and pigs!