Between rice fields and rural villages: Mai Chau
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After visiting the province of Ninh Binh, we go to that of Hoa Binh. Here is a beautiful rural town called Mai Chau. The latter is located 160 km northwest of Hanoi. We reach it through a private car from Tam Coc. Journey time: 5 hours. It's only 140 km far but the road is not the best: there are many curves and many scooters in circulation so the average speed is 60 km per hour.
We stay at the Mai Chau Mountains (€ 10 per room) included in the tour we bought in Tam Coc, paid around € 55 per person (including transfer to Hanoi). The rooms are discrete with private bathroom. We arrive around 2 pm and the guide, that should have been waiting for us at the hotel, has not arrived yet so we decide to take a walk around the village. We notice that it is not a very tourist destination or at least not yet. There are various stalls with local clothes, bracelets and others with scarves, backpacks, etc. produced by local women.
We return to the hotel and meet the guide that takes us to dinner at another hotel: Sunrise hotel (the cost for a room here is 20 €). If you have a budget a bit 'higher than ours then we recommend it: it is in a great position overlooking the rice fields, in a very nice and relaxing atmosphere.
The following day we start the bike tour at 9 am with our guide, Ben, who explains that tourism has been developing in this area for only a few months. Fortunately, we have arrived at the beginning of this process and we can fully enjoy real life in this area. Who knows what will happen in a few years ...
We cycle through various green fields as rice has been planted for just 3 weeks and Ben tells us that every piece of land belongs to an owner and that most of the collection is used for personal use. Yeah, let's remember that Asians always eat rice: at breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the war, however, the communist government divided the story into villages, allowing certain quantities of food per month. It is, therefore, a great achievement for these people today to be able to own their own harvest, the result of the fatigue of a lifetime. Continuing, we meet various schools in different villages and children immediately begin to scream "hello" as soon as they see us. They are so cute!
Ben also tells us that in Mai Chau there are 7 ethnic minorities and that the most widespread is the Thai one (of which he is part). Furthermore, the various minorities live together peacefully despite speaking different dialects. Every small village has its own school because parents go to work early in the fields so they don't have time for moving from one village to another. Along the way we meet ladies who wash clothes by hand in some water channels and then spread them in the sun: oh yes, here the washing machine is a luxury item.
Most of the work in the field is carried out by women. It is they who patiently plant the rice while the men help them at the time of harvest or in about 4-5 months and then all the fields will change from green to yellow. When this happens it means that the rice is ready to be harvested, as it happens for the grain.
We also notice that the fields are full of water; in fact, in the rice fields, there is a particular water system in such a way that the field is always wet as an optimal condition for the growth of the rice.
After 2 hours we head with the car to another rural village called Mai Hich. It is located 12 km from Mai Chau and has not yet been discovered by tourists; we are in fact the only ones to walk through the streets. We meet many local people who smile at us and many children who come back from school by bike and want to communicate. Unfortunately, once again we have the problem of language but anyway we manage to understand each other with gestures and we take several pictures with them.
While walking we hear some music coming from a small street so we approach a house and meet a group of people having fun with local dances; when they see us arrive they start to take us by the hand and invite us to dance. Obviously, we accept and even offer rice liqueur.
What characterises this area, in addition to rice fields, is an absolute tranquillity. It is the perfect place if you want to take a walk surrounded by nature between rice fields and rural villages. The houses here are built of bamboo although Ben tells us that currently the government has imposed a ban on bamboo harvesting and therefore most of the houses built in the future will be made of bricks, as they are cheaper. It's a shame because the presence of these houses is what characterises these places.
We can definitely say that it has been a really extraordinary day. Walking under the sun that illuminates the green fields and meeting children happy and willing to play is all we need to keep exploring this beautiful land: Vietnam!