Trekking in Mai Chau and Befriending the Locals
“Wake up, we’re here” – My friend exclaimed happily. As I woke up, I looked out the car window, cleaned the steam off the glass caused by the chilly outside and saw nothing but darkness. I grumble abruptly, “Ok, ok, 5 more minutes” and try to go back to sleep. I had fallen asleep during the 4 hour drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau on our North Vietnam luxury travel. Getting out of the car, my first step to the ground of the Thai village in the middle of a valley surrounded by terrace fields, I enjoy the fresh cold air blowing through my hair.
In front of me is a stilt house (a typical house for minorities in Vietnam). It was made out of bamboo and timber. As minority’s custom, they build the first floor higher then the ground; about 10 to 12 feet. In the olden days, cattle would be kept under the home, but as modern society slowly creeps in, they’ve now turned this area into a recreation space. As I walk upstairs, my host, who is White Thai, brings me to their family kitchen. The fire in the kitchen warms me up as I awaken from my sleep.
We were sitting together; enjoying grilled cassava and chicken porridge. The amazing aroma of cassava and the stream of hot chicken porridge mixed together provided for a cozy atmosphere. When we were talking with our host about our journey, his grandson ran into the kitchen, yelling at his mother to get some cassava. He suddenly recognized our appearance and quickly hide behind his mother, but quickly sneaked a look at us with his sheepish smile. He quickly became more comfortable with us and started singing.
He is 3 years old and his voice isn’t that clear but his cuteness had us smiling from the start. He took a scarf and danced while he sang. Later that evening, his mother called him off to bed, he reluctantly obeyed, but whispered to me; “I will sing for you tomorrow”. We couldn’t help but smile as he scurried off to get ready for bed. Our guide explained that we would have a long journey tomorrow and suggested that we go to sleep early. I couldn’t wait until the tomorrow’s trekking around Mai Chau, the area looked so beautiful from pictures I had seen before the trip.
Waking up early, we had a quick breakfast consisting of noodle, duck and baby bamboo. The weather was pleasant, the sky was blue, there was a breeze of fresh air and the sun was slowly poking out from behind the clouds. When our guide told me we would be hiking nearly 15km today, I was a little worried. I had never hiked that far before, luckily, shortly after starting our trip, I completely changed my mind. The scenery was so beautiful, I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. The clouds in the sky were fluffy white; yellow and green rice fields with small stilt houses scattered across the terrain; deep shades of green covered the mountains in the distance.
For every new corner, I saw new scenery and could see and understand why the locals enjoyed their picturesque life here. Women were drying up grains on the ground; children chased after each other laughing. In the silent of the highlands, the sound of children smiling seemed to bounce off the sun. The 15km hike seemed to go by very quickly while I was enjoying all the magnificent scenery along the way. As we hiked along the road, we met some of the local women in traditional outfits, carrying big baskets of dry wood. They collected dry wood for cooking and heating throughout the winter.
Only seeing and experiencing Mai Chau with your own eyes, can you understand why people come back again and again to this pristine area. My favorite part of the journey is all the smiling faces of the children, perhaps they are used to visitors here; they always smiled at us whenever they would see us passing by.
We enjoyed lunch at a local house with our guide, we had sticky rice and chicken. Sticky rice is a very enjoyable treat; rice seeds are longer than normal and drier but stickier and more chewy. We came back to the guesthouse late in the afternoon and we were all quite tired but eager to show off our photos that we took during our hike. We had hundreds of stunning photos to share and enjoy with each other while enjoying some tea.
That evening, we enjoyed a very memorable dinner with traditional foods prepared by our host. They served a specialized dish only in available in Mai Chau called Man Pig; it weighs about 8 to 12 kg and has black skin and short legs. I tried some, it tasted bitter but had a very delicious smell. With only one pig, our host created several delicious dishes for us to enjoy. Another interesting food that I enjoyed here was taro. It was sticky, smelled extremely good and tasted delicious. After dinner, as promised the previous night, the young boy prepared a very special show for us. He bowed and started dancing and was sure to smile whenever our cameras were flashing. We had a very enjoyable night with lots of laugh. As we left Trekking in Mai Chau, I realized how much I will miss all the friends we made here, fortunately we have lots of photos to remember them by until next time.