Scented valley a haven from city bustle

A group of Duong Quang Chan’s friends from Los Angeles was very excited about a two-day home stay tour in stilt houses in Lac Village.

The village is located in the north-western province of Hoa Binh’s Mai Chau District, some 120km from Ha Noi.

Chan, who visited the village five years ago, said the village has gone through a lot of changes, with more of its Thai ethnic people currently involved in tourism compared to his previous visit.

“The road to the village is very nice, our car moves smoothly. The landscape is beautiful, too, with immense green fields and stilt houses going in and out of view as we pass through cloud covered mountain valleys,” said Chan.

“But we were amazed when we stumbled across Lac Village and the nearby Poong Coong hamlet, both nestled in a breathtakingly beautiful mountain valley. Gentle villagers did not hesitate to offer us food and accommodation, as well as a glimpse of a traditional lifestyle that has changed little by little over the centuries,” said Chan.

Lo Van Then, the owner of a stilt house, said his village has 25 wooden and bamboo hotels which have been built according to a plan approved by the district authorities.

“Many people called our stilt houses ‘hotels’ but they’re more than that because they are built out of wood and bamboo, and include modern conveniences such as bathrooms, toilets and massage rooms. They are all very clean and fragrant with the scent of the wild flowers that surround the area,” said Then, adding that almost all villagers earn their living from tourism.

The stilt houses are built in the traditional design. They’re very large, about 100-150sq.m each. For only VND30,000 (US$1.55), a traveller can enjoy a 1.2 by 2 sq.m sleeping area. A delicious meal for six costs only VND200,000 ($10.31) for the group.

“Our favourite memories of the trip were the community activities. Groups of travellers can join in traditional song and dance performances, such as the mua sap (bamboo pole dance), with young Thai men and women,” one of Chan’s American friends said.

“We will certainly never forget our comfortable and enjoyable stay here, especially the novelty of staying in a stilt house and the warm welcome we received from villagers,” said Chan.

Many of the local people have invested millions of dong to build stilt houses to serve travellers. They have also perfected specialities such as grilled wild pig and hand-made brocade and silk products, said village head Ha Cong Tim.

The village is about 700 years old. Its population is made up of the five key family lines of Ha, Lo, Vi, Mac and Loc. “Their descendants are very well educated because there are no social evils such as drug addiction or theft in the village,” Tim said. In the past, local people earned a living by growing upland rice and weaving brocade to sell to foreign tourists in Ha Noi shops.

“Since the hidden charm of our village has been discovered by many, including foreign travellers, our village has been visited more frequently. Lac Village has become an attractive tourism site and it has been included as a destination on the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism’s official tourism map,” Tim told Viet Nam News.

“We welcome visitors year round. During peak tourism season, we have to open all local houses to guests. We established an art troupe which is now very professional and we produce many souvenirs such as Thai skirts, and brocade bags and wallets to sell to travellers,” said Tim.

Thai men produce hunting instruments such as arcs and crossbows, as well as gongs for guests to bring home as souvenirs or gifts.

The number of visitors to the village has increased from a mere 400-500 in 1993 to 400,000-500,000 by the end of last year.

Hemmed in between the fierce Da and Ma rivers, Mai Chau is the gateway to Viet Nam’s vast north-western mountain region, home to various ethnic groups including the Thai, Muong, Dao, Mong and Hoa.

During their journey, travellers will meet Thai women donned in their customary colourful garb, commonly comprised of a tight shirt half indigo, half white, a white waist band, and a long indigo skirt that touches the ground.

Thai women always grow their hair long, but the style differs according to marital status. Single young women wear their hair loose, but arrange it in a chignon after marriage. The women also dye their teeth black after marriage.

Like women everywhere, the Thai save their best clothes for special occasions. Whether it’s the rite when villagers pray for rain, or the procession to offer new rice to the gods, Thai women can be seen wearing elaborately patterned costumes. They consist of a black and white shirt adorned with floral embroidery at the hem and a colourful waist band. Jewellery includes silver bracelets, jade earrings and small bells attached at the waist.

“These women make our life more significant and meaningful,” said Tim.

The Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism already invested some VND10 billion to improve infrastructure such as roads, electricity and internet to Lac Village, said Tim.

Trekking tours to grottoes believed to have been inhabited by ancient tribes and Thai cemeteries hidden among the limestone mountains had also been opened for tourists, said Tim.

Public buses from Ha Noi to Hoa Binh travel along Highway 6 straight to the village. Tim said that Lac Village in particular and Mai Chau District in general were still poor and the local authorities were calling on local and foreign firms and organisations to invest more to help it develop and prosper. — VNS by Ha Nguyen

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