A Day in the Life

Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
Trip End Jul 08, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Vietnam  , (VM16),
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our visit to Mai Chau, a village in the mountains of North Vietnam, was especially intriguing because it offered the rare opportunity to experience the local culture outside the big cities.  We arrived at the Hanoi airport and transferred to a car with driver and guide to begin the taxing 4 hour westerly journey. With poor infrastructure, the 150 kilometer trip was a slow, not-so-steady panorama of roadside "cities" (more like villages), verdant mountains and fertile land. Aluminum-covered houses and shops lined the two-way highway with locals (almost always men) sitting out front on bright colored plastic chairs idling the day away. It's still not clear to me how they fill their days which I imagine start when the roosters crow and end long after with a bout of heat-induced insomnia.

Because of insufficient power supply, the centralized power company has cut off all electricity to the country around Hanoi save for a couple daytime hours. With the temperature easily in the mid-90s, the people are forced to endure the heat without so much as a fan.  After sunset, the streets came alive with locals seeking the tiniest breeze, all of them posted like sentries in front of their homes, until they finally decided to try for some sleep.

As we drove through each town, the blackness was dotted with the flicker of candles, the pale glow of a few generator-powered bulbs, and the even brighter glow of TVs.  Peering into open brick houses, we saw the same scene over and over and over again: silhouettes of floor-seated bodies around a rectangle of vibrant, emerald green.  They may not have been afforded a fan or futon, but at least they had The World Cup.

Nestled 3,000 feet above sea level and home to about 200 villagers, Mai Chau is predominantly rice paddies with craggy, nearly vertical mountains jutting up in the distance. We spent the morning touring the village by foot, watching the women, heads covered by the iconic non (conical straw hats), ploughing their way through the paddies. We saw rice as it exists before it ever lands on our plates, multiple grains on the tip of long grass-like willows. We visited the home of an 83 year old man for hot tea (yes, in 95 degree heat) and sat cross-legged on his bamboo-covered floor raised 20 feet above the ground on stilts.  We also learned that fried grasshoppers and cockroaches were a local delicacy though thankfully didn't find out firsthand. 

Another highlight for me was an education in world history. Across the street from our hotel was a hidden cave that once served as a hospital during the American War (better known to us as the Vietnam War) and French War. To call it fascinating is an understatement. The cave was cool and haunting and still open for business according to the many bats who nearly skimmed the tips of my ears. My imagination soared with stories of war and survival as I pictured this very cave lined cots and soldiers, explosives tearing off in the distance. We explored the nooks and crannies with helmets strapped on tight. Sam climbed 50 feet down a rabbit hole designed for an escapee. It was an awesome experience.

Initially, we considered a trip to Sapa, a rice-farming village akin to Mai Chau, but given our time constraints opted for a closer village. In the end, for what we were seeking, Mai Chau was as picturesque as they come and the perfect alternative to Sapa. We cherished how authentic this experience was and the lens it provided into a day in the life of a hard-working village people.
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Raj on

Once again, excellent photos and write up as if I am there. The most commendable is how in the world you get to pick this obscure corner of the world to visit. Curious about how the hotel stay was and the food you ate there? I hope not the fried cockroaches.

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