a White Tai village
"The bus climbed up and up, winding along drop-offs so steep that straggling vegetables barely clung to the hillsides. I caught brief glimpses of tiny hamlets nestled deep in the mountain folds, their checkered fields glinting in the morning sun like flashing strobes. Without thinking I got off the bus and hiked down a narrow dirt road. At its end I found the village of Mai Chau, an island of tidy huts and fruit trees in a rippling sea of the greenest fields I had ever seen."
Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam
Mai Chau is west and slightly south of Hanoi. Take Highway 6 for a few hundred miles until you come to this unmarked dirt road right after your second or third big pass. If you get to a sugar-cane juice seller's stall you've gone too far. (you may want to download the picture at the top of the page for reference. Make sure you arrive in March or it won't look anything like that). Mai Chau is about a mile down the dirt road. You can't miss it.
Little gemlike valleys surrounded by high mountains. Think Shangri-la.
It gets incredibly hot in Mai Chau. The chickens dig depressions in the dirt and hunker down in them. The dogs just lie there and pant, too hot to chase anything around. And that was in the spring.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR:
- Check out the scarecrows. I have no idea what they're for (the birds all got eaten long ago) but they're very intricately made.
- Look for the homemade flintlock rifles - if any wildlife is left it has at least a fifty-fifty chance - these guns only seem to fire about half the time.
- Weavings: The women of Mai Chau make lovely weavings. The women always work in the windows (where you can see them) because they need the light. Often you can see a large group of women carding the warp under one of the stilted houses.
- A walk around the village will put you in the path of all sorts of cottage industries - brickmaking, well-digging, coconut-harvesting, rice threshing.
- If you feel like trying your hand at planting rice (or harvesting, depending on the time of year), just ask. They will almost certainly welcome you into the paddy. Take off your shoes and don't be too concerned if you step on a snake or a crab in the mud.
- Most of the cement ponds in front of the houses hold carp. You can buy one and have it cooked for you.
- There are several families living along main street who will be happy to take you in for the night. You may even get lucky and end up in the house of a little old man called Tang...
- Every morning the women get up at six and trek high into the mountains to gather wood for their cooking fires. Follow them if you dare...