Life in Ta Van Village ~ Vietnam
Yesterday Thuòng, Matt and I took a van ride to Ta Van and Lao Chai village, home to the H’mong and Red Dzao people. It is not a far walk from Sapa Town (about 8-10km) and the villagers can be seen making their way to and from the town many times a day, selling their textile bags, pillow covers, wallets, and jewelery. They make this trek look easy, but after descending Fansipan Mountain our legs were still somewhat tired and we decided a van ride to the village was best.
The tribal women spend their time in the village raising children, cooking meals, and making textile products to sell to the tourists. They make and die their cloth using locally grown indigo and cotton. The process is time-consuming and the tools very basic. Thuòng invited us into a H’mong home to see how the villagers live. Their homes are well constructed, clean, but utilitarian; however, they do have old tube TV’s!?! Tribal families live together in one home with grandparents, children, and babies. Ten or more people will occupy one dwelling of about 1200 square feet. The men work in the rice fields, make the baskets they carry on their backs and the jewelry the women wear and sell to the tourists.
The village walk is a 14 km loop through the H’mong and Red Dzao area. You cross a bridge to enter the village and walk on rough stone and clay mud paths between rice terraces. On the way you pass many village homes, women travelling and selling their textiles, children playing, and people working their gardens and tending their animals. It is an authentic and very peaceful experience. It leaves you with a sense that there still are places where life remains the same even after hundreds of years. Women still spin their cotton on handmade wooden wheels, grain is milled with a large stone and pestle, and water is transferred using intricate irrigation systems made of bamboo and gravity fed from the mountains.
The three of us took our time in the village soaking up every moment. We stopped to visit the local stone carvers who make exquisitely detailed boxes, tea urns, chess sets and figurines. Their tools are very similar to the ones I use and we enjoyed watching them manipulate the stone as easily as I do with soft basswood. Their patience and level of detail is extremely impressive. These artists are very talented, each piece unique and we couldn’t help but purchase a few things as gifts.
Next, we stopped to eat lunch at a local restaurant where we could sit back and relax enjoying the fresh air and village views. The roughed untouched mountains in the background contrast with the detailed rice terraces that stretch for as far as your eyes can see. It is so different from anything that we have at home and a memory we won’t soon forget.
At the end of the walk there is a rickety old bridge over the Ta Van River which the boys couldn’t help but try out. It looked too scary for me and even Matt handed me his wallet and camera bag to hold just in case he fell in. Luckily, we are left with just a photograph and no wet clothing.
The van met us on the other side of the bridge to take us back to Sapa.
Seems like a pretty fun-filled day…right!?! Well, it’s not over yet. Back at the hotel Thuòng arranges for us to have a traditional bath in a round barrel full of warm medicine water. We are not really sure what’s in the water ~ it is a mix of leaves and twigs and it smells like red ants. It is supposed to clean your skin and relax your tired muscles. It was another very unique experience and one we were able to enjoy together. Afterwards you cross the hall and enjoy a vigorous full body massage. The bath and massage take well over an hour and is enjoyed for the extremely reasonable price of $10US per person. Unbelievable!?!
The day was over but the night was just beginning. It’s time to party Vietnamese style. Thuòng and Mr. Khánh met us at the hotel around 8pm to go out on the town. The first order of business, find a place serving Bia Hoi (fresh beer). Thankfully, they were able to lead us to a home at the end of a dark street where they sell the most delicious draft or fresh beer ~ Bia Hoi. It was a place that Matt and I would never have found alone and we were thankful to have Thuòng and Khánh directing our evening’s adventures. The four of us sat down around a small table with a pitcher of beer, some chips and hot chili sauce. We talked about how life was as Mr. Khánh would say, “for enjoying and tonight we would make great memories together. “ It was so amazing to actually make two new friends who’ve taken us in and made us feel welcome as good friends.
We drank many pitchers of Bia Hoi and then headed to the Eclipse night club for some dancing. All three of the boys were feeling great and Thuòng and Khánh ordered lemon water with sugar and salt which they drank to prevent tomorrow’s hangover. Interesting? I may try this myself sometime. Chúc Súc Khoé ~ Cheers!!