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Published: August 8th 2007
Mai Chau Scenery
The mountains are reflected in the rice paddies.
Saturday night we took the night train back to Hanoi, had some breakfast, and then sat at a cafe drinking much needed coffee for about an hour before hopping on an ancient bus to Mai Chau. Chi Sen commented that the bus looked older than she is (which is late 40's) as I pried open an antique window to get some relief from the oppressive heat in the bus. A woman came aboard trying to sell fans and fanned me in an effort to get me to buy. Normally I will make it clear that I am not interested, but the fanning felt good and I might have cruelly strung her along a little before refusing to buy. As soon as the bus got going the breeze took care of the heat. There was a new T.V. and DVD player hooked up in the old bus and we watched the same scenes from two 1980's kung fu movies over and over. In between the awesome kung fu moves were random scenes of Sears catalogue style fashion shots of two boys wearing ridiculous outfits a la page boy and wearing too much stage make-up. Bizarre.
Mai Chau is a village
Mai Chau Scenery
Working in the rice fields.
set in a valley among gorgeous mist cloaked mountains. Trekkers started showing up here as early as the 1950's looking for food and shelter, and tourism at Mai Chau developed organically from there. Eventually the homestay structure here became the model for places like Sa Pa that began offering tourism services more systematically. In the main tourist center streets are lined with numbered stilt guesthouses with the bottom floors exhibiting woven clothing and crafts. The White Thai minority that lives here are known for their weaving and most houses display their looms right next to their wares and will gladly give an impromptu demonstration. Despite and perhaps as a result of the long history of tourism in this village the people are a lot more relaxed around tourists than in Sa Pa. As I wandered from guesthouse to guesthouse, many of the sellers sat back and allowed me to look at the handicrafts without accosting me and would casually direct my attention to certain items without forcing the issue. One guy tried to show me how to work the sling shots he was selling. He demonstrated by shooting straight up into the air. I winced as I heard the stones
Roosters in Mai Chau
Transporting animals on motorbikes is something to be seen. I saw a man with three fat pigs in a crate strapped to the back of his motorbike. And he was speeding along while talking on his cell phone.
hit nearby roofs, but thankfully no one was killed. As for my skills, Goliath would have survived to old age.
I did not see nearly as many tourists as I did in Sa Pa, but all that I spoke with felt they got a more "genuine" experience in Mai Chau. I felt like a guest rather than a tourist myself. As I did my laundry (there's something satisfying about hand washing in a basin outdoors) I chatted with the son of the guesthouse owner who suddenly broke into a grin and told me that I looked just like a Vietnamese girl. I doubtfully said that my blonde hair seemed to be a clear give away that I was not Vietnamese, but he said that it was the way that I was standing with my wash basin on my hip and my pants rolled up that created the right image. After weeks of feeling like I had a neon sign around my neck exclaiming that I really obviously didn't belong here naturally, I felt pleased. While my Vietnamese is piss poor and I could never look the part, at least I fit in when it comes to doing laundry.
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