Sunday, October 28, 2012

Leaving city madness for the countryside

We left Hanoi this morning with a new guide (Hung) and driver (Ting). Once again it was mind blowing going through the traffic. Even worse than other times because it was peak hour. Ting did a great job getting us through unscathed. It was a short drive to our first stop, the silk village, where we watched the women in action with their looms. It was fascinating watching the old machinery in action. The machines included the binary card to do the pattern automatically. They also had the silk worms there doing their magic. Naturally, there was the buying opportunity afterwards.
From there, we headed to the hills. The traffic was endless as were the street side shops. They just went on and on.
Eventually things quietened down and the traffic thinned a little. The views became spectacular as limestone krasts loomed from the ground. The condition of the road was pretty ordinary at times and we bounced around in the van. Lots of expert overtaking done, some of it a little scary. Mai Chau is in a valley and we stopped at the top to take in the breathtaking views of the town and the rice fields. It was a short drive down to the valley. Through the town to the Thai ethnic village to our house on stilts. Our hosts for the evening eagerly awaited our arrival, and it was Xin Chiao (spelling?) all around. Our cases were lugged up the hill and then up the stairs to our quarters for the night. A delightful lunch was put on for us by the host family. In the house adjacent, a funeral was taking place so there was plenty of action in the village. After lunch a stroll ensued for a few of us to the town of Mai Chau, about 1.5 km from the village. The town was fairly quiet in the middle of the afternoon, they may have been resting, out in the fields harvesting rice, at the funeral celebration, or at one of the many weddings that we witnessed today. Apparently it is a special lunar day (a full moon in a few days time). It is said to be good luck to get married on the lunar day. The first wedding that we spotted leaving Hanoi was about 8.30 am. The wedding cars are very decorated with flowers. Look very nice. The houses where a wedding was taking place would be drapped with colorful material and a private created from the road. (All these places are on the main road). Everybody rocks up on their scooters or walks.
Later in the afternoon, we hired some bikes from our hosts and pedaled around the town and countryside with Hung. We rode through tracks between rice fields, where the manual harvest was well in progress. Many people involved doing very hard work. We stopped at a local rural kinder to say hello to the kids and taught them to "high 5". Then into town to stroll through the market which was coming alive. People were out collecting fresh food for dinner. Variey of fish, meat, (including dog!), chicken and fruit and vegies. I'm glad I don't know what is being prepared for our dinner. We headed away from the town to another Thai Minority group. On the way, RR managed to break the chain on his bike. A replacement was called for. While we waited between the rice paddies, we watched a very reluctant bullock pull along the cart of rice heads. So much manual work in this country. The replacement bike came on the back of the scooter with the passenger balancing with it on her lap!
Our ride then continued and back to the house for dinner. The ride was such an enjoyable experience. Right in amongst the local community. A magnificent feast was once again placed before us, with the family gaining much delight in our great appetites and willingness to eat anything put before us. Yummy!
This community now has many home stays, but their main income comes from agriculture (mostly rice) or craft. The women here make beautiful items of clothing, weaving their own material on looms. Unlike the ones at the silk factory, there are no binary cards for patterns. They do it the old way. Very talented women.
After dinner, we were treated to a traditional Thai dance performance. It would normally be held at our host's house, but out of respect for the mourning family and friends, we were taken to another family member's house for the performance. 6 women and 2 male dancers plus 3 musicians. Performers outnumbered the guests!
It was very pleasant, with the finale being involvement from all of us. (This included the partaking of rice wine from the pot. We got to use the straws first! Revolting stuff it is!
Then it was off to bed upstairs in our shared accommodation. 3 double mattresses with mosquito nets over them. Each with a ceiling fan. The floor was made of bamboo over wooden bearers. A little bit of movement when someone walked about. A few had to negotiate the steps for the late night loo visit. Some had a better night's sleep than others, but overall probably better than was expected.

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