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Published: April 23rd 2007
The Mai Chau Valley: We found a good tour guide (Manh), in Hanoi, and decided to hire him and a driver (Thanh) for a 6 day trip into the north of Vietnam. Our first stop was Mai Chau. Thanh dropped us off on a dirt road and we began our hike to Ahn Que village. We walked by endless rice paddies and stilt houses...everyone waving and saying hello as we passed. Manh was serious about sustainable tourism. We ate at local places and did as the locals did to the best of our abilities. We would stop from time to time in various huts along the trail and Manh would talk with the locals. He was a master at small talk. He told us about growing rice and all the other local vegetables that grew in the area. Tonight we would stay in a White Thai minority village.
The hike was relaxing and extremely scenic. After climbing over a small mountain ridge covered in forests with men cutting timber by hand, we dropped into the Mai Chau Valley. As we dropped into the valley we passed locals carrying wood and grazing water buffaloes. I enjoyed the water buffaloes. We joked
with the locals as we went...I even carried a large log for a while - in an attempt to help a woman out. The wood was heavy and dense. People were working all over in the valley - tending pumpkin patches and rice paddies. When we arrived at the stilt house where we would stay for the night the sun was dipping over the edge of the hillside. It reflected on the water in the rice paddies and made for great pictures. Our host family welcomed us in and invited us to shower off in the shared facility in front of their house. The water was diverted from springs in the hills into a holding tank. We dipped buckets into the tank and cupped cool water over us to clean up. Unsure about modesty issues, Kelly inadvertently washed her only change of clothes while showering. By the time we were finished, the wife and daughter had come in from the fields and were hard at work on dinner. Interested, we joined them in the kitchen in the preparation of pumpkin leaves, rice, peanuts, spring rolls and soup. The daughter taught us a song about the Mai Chau area. We sang
it for days. Manh later told us it was a popular love song. Before we ate, the husband brought out some local rice wine. Manh explained that we couldn't eat any rice until we were done drinking the rice wine. After many shots we were allowed to dig into the rice. The meal was one of the best we'd had in Vietnam. We all sat on the floor of the house and ate the meal in typical Vietnamese fashion - family style. We giggled and smiled as dinner was finished and we relaxed on the hardwood floor - while Kelly struggled to maintain her modesty in a bath-towel skirt. The family had an interesting assortment of things hung on the walls of the house. There were paintings with the dates the house had been finished, a picture of Ho Chi Minh, various clips from western magazines, a cuckoo clock, wedding photos, family photos and a calendar. They had a radio and a TV as well, but the village generators turned off at 8pm. So, all was quiet except for the cows, pigs, dogs and chickens roosting under the house. The family was very proud of their house. The husband had
built it himself. After a few more shots of rice wine and some tree bark tea, the husband pulled a guitar down from the wall. He played it for us for a long time. He had learned to play while in the army. As I lay on the floor listening to him play I could imagine a group of young army men singing love songs somewhere in a distant forest around a fire. It had been a day to remember. When he was finished with the guitar he passed out a few more shots of rice wine and then moved on to the flute. We tried our turn at it, and couldn’t even make one note sound through. He made it sing. As he played the wife sat by and smiled while the daughter studied in her bed about 5 feet away. Eventually the concert was over. We clapped and thanked the family for a wonderful night. With our heads full of rice wine we climbed into our mosquito nets and floor mats and slept silently.
The next morning we hiked through to the other side of the valley and Thanh was there to meet us. While hiking Manh gave
us a history lesson on Vietnam and the complete story of Ho Chi Minh. It was nice to hear it from a Vietnamese perspective. After lunch, we drove on to Cuc Phuong National Park. It was raining when we got there. We had some dinner at the lodge and watched Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Vietnam. It’s not hard to be a millionaire in Vietnam as there are 16,000 VN Dong to a dollar. Manh and Thanh were into it. They tried to translate when possible. In the morning we stopped by a monkey rescue center. After the rescue center we checked out a cave where bones of prehistoric man had been discovered. The forest was lush and thick. From Cuc Phong we headed off the Ninh Binh province. Along the way we were pulled over by police officers at a road stop. Thanh was freaked. They checked all his paperwork, then took his paperwork and told him to drive back to the station up the road. He was really worried. It had been a random stop…he certainly wasn’t speeding. It turned out they thought the truck was gray and the registration said green. Thanh snatched the paperwork
from them when they said he could go and got out of there fast. But not too fast….he still drove pretty slow.
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