Unconscious and bleeding heavily, two people carry the limp, helpless body into the street, a motorbike comes to a halt and she is quickly loaded on with a third person to behind to hold her upright. Just moments before as I drifted off to sleep I was woken by the sound of footsteps outside the door which was soon followed by a very loud banging sound, like a door slamming, followed by a second, third and fourth bang each one more aggressive than the last. The sound of breaking glass fills us with fear, what the hell is going on? People are talking very loudly, arguing it seems. I edge towards the curtained window to peek through the slit to try toget an idea of the situation. We are already regretting having chosen the cheapest hotel in town. Perhaps the pink lighting and the large 'Massages' sign just behind should have been a warning, though this is all too common in this part of the world. We want to leave but it feels more unsafe to open the door and risk getting involved than holding tight and hoping things settle down. The voicescontinue for quite some time and through a slit in the door I see a man hastily packing things into a bag, from the other window I see 5 or 6 people climb into a taxi and leave, finally we are able to breath easy and get some sleep in preparation for another tough day ahead.
Vietnam came and went all to quickly, we were welcomed and fair welled by endless mountains with not much relief for tired cyclists in between either. The small villages were brimming with wonderful, beaming children all yelling "bye bye" continuously like wee stuck records, each one too cute to not acknowledge. The adults were for the most part happy to give us at least a smile and a wave, or invite us for a thimble sized shot of the rather potent local 'wine'.
The immense diversity of these mountain people was evident from the ever changing pallet of colours and styles of the women's outfits, each one of spectacular intricacy and decadence, painstakingly handmade with utmost care. The advent of modern materials is replacing these works of art with printed substitutes as well as more modern but far less faltering attire. The men and children have all but abandoned these traditional clothes.
The all too familiar site of massive earthworks for hydro dams made for two rather dirty, dusty cyclists at the end of each day and made me a little sad to think that all these old villages we were passing through will soon be drowned beneath the 'progress'.
The catastrophic loss for the French and Vietnamese armies during the wars in the 50's made Dien Bien Phu an ideal place for a day off to explore the remnants of war and to ponder how it is possible that just half a century later we can freely visit this place and be welcomed so warmly. The 38,000 lives lost seem all so pointless now as we sit at the border checkpoint with the officers on their lunch break and sip tea from tiny porcelain tea cups, ready for more adventures in Laos.
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