The Simple Life

Trip Start Nov 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 27, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Hoa Binh Province,
Sunday, February 3, 2013

Xin chao! After 2 hours in the Hanoi airport waiting for our baggage, we were finally ready to hit the road for a 3 and hour drive to the town of Mai Chau. Mike hired a car online and by the time we reached the outskirts of Hanoi we realized our driver spoke no English and was a complete maniac behind the wheel. I would have loved to have taken a nap, but the driver honked incessantly at every motorbike until we reached our destination. We arrived to the empty lobby of the Mai Chau Lodge at 8 pm and walked around looking for someone to help us, but no luck. Finally, a woman rushed in apologizing, explaining that they were having their staff New Year's party across the street.  She checked us in then insisted that we join her back at the party. We were very confused and didn’t understand that the guests were expected to attend. She took us up a stair case on the side of a mountain and led us into cave. When we got inside the large room covered in stalactites, we found about 40-50 Vietnamese people and a handful of Europeans enjoying a dance presentation while they ate, drank and sang. After 2 flights and a car ride from hell, we had to stop and ask ourselves, "Where are we???"

Mai Chau turned out to be exactly what we were hoping to find in Vietnam. The city is comprised of villages from several minority groups including the White Thai and H’mong people. Most of the villages are located in a valley surrounded by rice fields and mountains. The scenery seemed familiar, like something out of a movie. Besides the amazing scenery, the most enjoyable part of our experience in Mai Chau was interacting with the local people. Our lodge, a former government guest house, was very small and all of the employees live locally. We took a bike tour through several of the villages with our guide, Duong. He told us all about how the locals live their daily lives, primarily farming for themselves. What we were most impressed by was his enthusiasm to start his own business. He had borrowed money from the bank and was building his own homestay where he could bring in budget-seeking tourists. We found the locals to be very polite, especially the children. Every kid we rode by would wave and yell “hello!” to us. 

We took a kayak tour on the Hoa Binh Reservoir with another guide, Cuong. The kayaks were at a house at the lakeside in a nearby H’mong village. When we got to the house, Cuong told us to relax and go upstairs for some tea while he prepped the boats. Upstairs we were greeted by a cute old Vietnamese woman who spoke no English. She motioned us in to sit down while she made tea. She sat with us in silence just smiling, and although I wanted to talk to her, it was clear the best conversation was just a return smile. The only Vietnamese words we know are hello and thank you, which did us just fine in this situation. On the reservoir, Cuong showed us the local fish traps while we paddled along in our oversized life jackets. 

After massages and local dance performances, our last highpoint in Mai Chau was returning to the cave across the street, Soldier’s Cave, once used to store weapons for the North Vietnamese Army. It reminded me of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, except we were the only people inside and we had to wear bike helmets for protection. I thought this was overkill at first but was very appreciative after hitting my head a few times. The limited lighting and narrow crawl space made the cave exploration that much more exciting. Mai Chau was a great introduction to the simple life of Vietnam, now it’s on to the motorbike madness of Hanoi!

Until next time,

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