Monday, June 18, 2012

Unspoiled nature in Mai Chau

How many people can you fit on a 28-seater bus in Vietnam? – 42…and 4 birds. I learned that the hard way, squeezing myself onto an overcrowded bus whose destination was more or less unknown. Trying to figure out the bus system in Vietnam is one of the most confusing and frustrating endeavours I have encountered thus far. As soon as we arrived at the station, every bus driver began shouting at us, promising that their bus was the one heading in our direction ("yes, yes, I take you!!!). However, once aboard - and still skeptical of the trustworthiness of the driver - I (thankfully) asked another passenger where the bus was actually going, only to have them point out a spot on the map which was in the complete opposite direction. After two failed attempts, the third bus was a charm! Three and a half hours later, I was in Mai Chau, a mountainous region in the Hoa Binh province, and home of the White Thai, Muong and Dao ethnic minority people.

A world away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, Mai Chau is a paradise of rice fields and rural villages, completely unspoiled by mass tourism or industrialization. Our group of 7 showed up, without reservation or notice, in front of a family’s stilt-house. We soon discovered that our hosts were in fact part of the ethnic White Thai minority, distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos, and China. Immediately, they took us into their home and served us hot tea and a seemingly endless amount of noodles. After settling our belongings on the upper level of the bare house (built on stilts to prevent from flooding), our host father's neighbour offered to take us on a tour of the village. We embarked on a 3 hour bike tour through the rice paddies and through the muddy and rocky dirt roads of the town. Along the way, we saw farmers harvesting their crop, kids playing in the narrow streets, and water buffalos going about their daily farming routines. 

That evening, our host family prepared a delicious Vietnamese meal, and by night, we had the chance to watch a traditional performance of song and dance, each act representing the different tribes and minority groups of Mai Chau. After the show, we walked up to the single-room of the house, and took our spots on our respective bamboo mats, falling asleep immediately after the long day.

The following morning, we woke up at 4 am to climb to the 1000 Steps Cave and watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain. Although it was too foggy to see the sun rise, we ventured deep into the cave and then made our way down the steps. We came home just in time for breakfast – bread (banh) with a fried egg in the middle. Fueled up, we then went kayaking in the Black River, surrounded by all the beautiful mountains of the region. Already having experienced a full-day’s worth of activities by noon, we said goodbye to our host family and grabbed lunch at a street restaurant serving bun cha (rice noodles with minced pork balls) on the main road of the village before taking a bus back to Hanoi - a bumpy (and frightening) ride.

The whole weekend was an adventure and a nice change of pace from the motorbike traffic and incessant honking of Hanoi. 

 Traditional vietnamese meal prepared by our host family
 Locals performing a traditional chop stick dance
Climbing to the 1000-steps cave 
 We made it! 

Farmers harvesting their crop

 The stilt-house in which we stayed overnight 
 Our homestay parents

No comments:

Post a Comment