While in Vietnam, we had a home stay as part of our Hike Bike and Kyack Tour. The home stay was a bit different from the one we went on in Mongolia, we were staying with the Thai people (who are an ethnic minority in Vietnam as well as a majority in their own country) in Mai Chau.
We arrived in Mai Chau after an overnight train from Da Nang to Hanoi, which was very similar to our experiences of overnight trains in China with the exception that I saw a mouse very close to my head just before going to sleep, so that was exciting. After our train ride we had a four hour bus ride, so we were all very glad to finally arrive in the village.
After arriving we dumped our bags in our accommodation for the night, which turned out to be a large wooden structure on stilts in which the whole tour group would sleep on mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets over them. We headed out for a short walk to see the village as well as some of the surrounding villages.
As we were walking our guide explained that the women weave their own clothes and that a woman is often chosen as a wife due to her weaving skills as she would then be responsible for weaving the clothes for the rest of the family. She told us that in the shops the women will claim that everything is hand-made but in reality it takes years to weave a piece so those are kept within the family and not sold, everything for sale was made by machine. The subject was radically changed when we saw something for the boys, there were cross bows, which one of our group got a go at and swords as well as a little simple version of a pellet gun which fired stones.
We continued along our way, luckily before my husband had a chance to try to buy anything, and came to a stall selling sticky rice. Our guide explained that instead of taking food that would go off quickly into the jungle, they would take dried rice with some peanuts and salt and could find bamboo and banana leaves in the jungle to cook these in, we got to try the sticky rice and it was quite tasty. We were also shown some rice wine that we were told we would be trying that night. It was in a jar and our guid explained that we would be drinking it through thin bamboo straws.
Soon we returned to our home stay for lunch, the food was all home-made and served family style. As with all the other food I have tried in Vietnam it was delicious, although not necessarily what you would associate with Thai cooking. My particular favourite was the chicken dish, unfortunately I am not sure what was in it or how it was cooked.
We got an hour to ourselves where most of the group went for a nap, but we decided that would only make us more tired so we stayed up and just chatted.
After the nap, we set off on our hike, we were told before hand that there was a choice of difficulty for the hike and the rest of the group had out voted me for the difficult hike. Fortunately for me it wasn’t what I would call a difficult hike, though there were some slippy areas and steep bits. We took our time because the views were stunning.
Our hike took us first of all through another village, but very quickly into the rice paddy fields which surrounded us with the most amazing green colour. The flat rice paddys surrounding us for miles were sharply contrasted with the karst mountains beyond.
We continued along our hike, which at that point was really more of a walk as we were on paved roads, until we came to a point where our guide warned us we would be going onto a track after that, at which point we entered the jungle. Although this was not the thick jungle I was used to from Malaysia, which I will get to on this blog (or even Peru from years ago) I didn’t feel claustrophobic from the vegetation and creepy crawlies encroaching on all sides and there were breaks in the canopy to see views but it was jungle none the less.
The jungle path stayed flat for a little while, and there was a mix of jungle and other farm land, but it soon became steeper, more uneven and slippery, but as I said not as bad as I expected and my trusty hiking poles together with the odd helping hand from our guide got me up there. There were some breaks in the trees on the way up reveling beautiful views, which of course I had to stop to take photos of.
We reached the top and there was a water way, while I caught my breath, I believe my husband decided to soak his hat in the water. There was also, of all things, a chicken coup at the top.
After a short break we started making our way down again. Thankfully we were on a loop because if the decent had been as steep as the ascent then I would have been in trouble and have a completely different view on the difficulty of the hike. Luckily for me and my knees the decent was much more gradual.
When we got to the bottom, we again made our way through a village with some water buffalo grazing in it, they were a little scary to pass as they are big animals with big horns, so we went for safety in numbers. While we were passing through the village some of us were propositioned by some local boys to join them in a game of volley ball, my husband and a few others were seriously considering it untill the boys hit the ball into a neighbouring garden. During this time we the five of us considdering this had fallen drastically behind the group. So far that we started wondering if we had missed a turn and were going the wrong way. We tried asking some locals but they just offered us beer.
thankfully our guide was on the ball and started coming back for us and before we knew it we were back into the rice paddys for what I believe photographers call golden hour. The hour fully deserved its name as the landscape looked even more beautiful.
Eventually we left the rice paddys behind for the village we were staying in and noticed that some of our group had gone into the sunset bar for sunset, so we decided to join them.
I had a fruit shake that took so long to make that I actually missed the sunset, but my husband took some photos for me.
Not long after the sun had set the rain started and we all sought cover inside the bar. At this point I decided to order a rum and coke, but the bar tender wasn’t there and the person behind the bar had no idea what to do. I tried to instruct her as I didn’t think a rum and coke was terribly complicated, but apparently it was. Suddenly I wasn’t the only one wanting a drink that wasn’t just beer but one of the people in our group took charge and ended up behind the bar making everyone cocktails.
We ended up hurrying back to our home stay for dinner as none of us wanted to be late. When we got there it turned out we actually were waiting a bit for dinner, but when it did come out it was delicious again. And the grandmother of the family we were staying with was there to welcome us with rice wine served from a tea-pot. I really enjoyed the rice wine although several of the group including my husband didn’t so I ended up drinking more than my fair share.
Following dinner we were treated to a show of the music and dances traditional to our hosts. The dancing was quite beautiful, but unfortunately the light was not the best so most of my pictures came out blurry so after a while I decided to stop trying to take photos and just enjoy the show. There was one dance I enjoyed in particular which told the story of a boy and girl who met and fell in love at a market, they were from different minorities and at that time marriage was forbidden between the minorities, so they made a pact to meet every year for one day at this market no matter what else was happening in their lives. The market became known as the love market and the dance is named after it.
The dancing came to and end with two final dances which we were to join in on. The first was a little tricky actually, we all joined hands and then had to step over bamboo poles which people at the edge were moving together and apart. I admit I stood on the bamboo a couple of times. The second was almost like their version of auld lang sein for those of you who know it. We were all in a circle and swung our arms out and in and went into the middle at one point, I can’t remember precisely which is probably to do with the fact the dance culminated in drinking rice wine out of the jar in the middle with the bamboo straws as our guide had described to us earlier.
The night went on and more dancing was involved, but I feel that is less relevent to this blog. Eventually we all went to bed under our mosquito nets and were some how up for breakfast at 7am the next morning. The breakfast was not what I expected from a home stay we had the best bread I have had since coming to Asia, eggs and bananas. It was raining that morning, but I felt the rain was also quite beautiful.
So we departed from our home stay with the Thai people of Vietnam in the rain.
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