November 30, 2009

Ho Chi Minh Trail Vietnam, from soldier's road to tourist highway

HO CHI MINH HIGHWAY, Vietnam — If relentless American bombing didn't get him, it would take a North Vietnamese soldier as long as six months to make the grueling trek down the jungled Ho Chi Minh Trail. Today, you speed along the same route at 60 mph, past peaceful hamlets and stunning mountain scenery.

The trail, which played an important role in the Vietnam War, has been added to itineraries of the country's booming tourist industry. Promoters cash in on its history, landmarks and the novelty of being able to motor, bike or even walk down the length of the country in the footsteps of bygone communist guerrillas.

Women on bicycles make their way along a section of the newly built Ho Chi Minh highway near Vinh,Vietnam. David Longstreath, AP

Many sections of the old trail, actually a 9,940-mile web of tracks, roads and waterways, have been reclaimed by tropical growth. But a main artery has now become the Ho Chi Minh National Highway, probably the country's best and the largest public works project since Vietnam War ended 30 years ago.


The highway, more than 745 miles of which are already open to traffic, begins at the gates of Hanoi, the capital, and ends at the doorsteps of Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as Saigon when it was the former capital of South Vietnam.

In between, the route passes battlefields like Khe Sanh and the Ia Drang Valley, skirts tribal villages of the rugged Central Highlands and offers easy access to some of the country's top attractions — the ancient royal seat of Hue, the picturesque trading port of Hoi An and South China Sea beaches.

We began a recent car journey in the newly rebuilt city of Vinh, along one of the trail's main branches. Here in "Vietnam's Dresden," every building but one was obliterated by U.S. bombing, which attempted to stop the flow of foreign military aid through the city's port. American pilots also suffered their greatest losses of the war over its skies.

Nearby, in the rice-farming village of Kim Lien, is the humble hut where Vietnam's revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh was born and a museum dedicated to his turbulent life. Given Ho's standing as a national icon, the village draws an average of 1.5 million domestic visitors and a smattering of foreigners each year.

It was on one of Ho's birthdays, on May 9, 1959, that construction of the trail began with the establishment of Military Transport Division 559, made up of 440 young men and women. Over the next 16 years, the trail, which also wound through neighboring Laos and Cambodia, carried more than a million North Vietnamese soldiers and vast quantities of supplies to battlefields in South Vietnam despite ferocious American air strikes.

"There are some who argue that American victory would have followed the cutting of The Trail," writes John Prados in "The Blood Road." "The Trail undeniably lay at the heart of the war. For the Vietnamese of the North the Ho Chi Minh Trail embodied the aspirations of a people ... hiking it became the central experience for a generation."

At Dong Loc, 18 miles south of Vinh, we stopped at one of many memorials to the thousands who didn't complete that hike — a hillside shrine with the tombs of 10 women, aged 17 to 24, killed in bombing raids. Joss sticks, flowers and the articles of female youth — pink combs and little round mirrors — lay on each of the last resting places.

"School children come here every day. It's important in educating the young about the sacrifices of the old generation," said Dau Van Coi, secretary of the local youth union guiding visitors to what was once a major trail junction. Exhibiting no hostility to American visitors, he noted that U.S. warplanes dropped more than three bombs per 10 square feet on the area.

Farther down the trail, at the Highway 9 National Cemetery, bemedaled veteran Nguyen Kim Tien searched for fallen comrades among the 10,000 headstones. An elderly woman and her daughter wept before three of them — those of the older woman's father, husband and a close relative.

Although it's still a trail of tears three decades after the guns fell silent, Ho's road looks decidedly to the future.

"We cut through the Truong Son jungles for national salvation. Now we cut through the Truong Son jungles for national industrialization and modernization," said former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet when the 10-year project began in 2000.

The government says the highway will stimulate the economy in some of Vietnam's poorest, most remote regions, relieve congestion on the only other north-south road, National Highway 1, and increase tourism revenue. Besides conventional tours, several companies offer mountain biking along sections of the trail and expeditions on Russian-made Minsk motorcycles out of the 1950s.

However, the highway has sparked domestic and international criticism that it will lead to further decimation of Vietnam's already disappearing forests, attract a flood of migrants into ethnic minority regions from the crowded coast and disturb wildlife at several protected areas. The Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature has criticized the project as "the single largest long-term threat to biodiversity in Vietnam."

So far, little of the officially hoped-for development is evident. In central Vietnam, one drives for long stretches meeting just the occasional Soviet-era truck, decrepit tractor or water buffalo-drawn cart as the highway winds through valleys flanked by spectacular limestone cliffs.

At some places like the A Shau valley town of A Luoi, just a few shacks and farm houses when seen five years ago, a mini-boom is clearly afoot. There's a bustling market selling baskets of fruit, Japanese watches and delicious French bread, and newly built houses abound.

From the highway, which expands to four lanes as it runs through the crossroads town, Dong Ap Bia looms in the hazy distance. American soldiers called it Hamburger Hill because of the number of lives ground up in the 1969 battle on its ridges.

Almost all traces of American presence in A Luoi have vanished. Only the old people can point out the helicopter landing field, now a school playground with a decrepit merry-go round featuring three little airplanes. The laughing youngsters who crowd around the foreign visitors know nothing of the war.

By Denis D. Gray, Associated Press

RELATED ITEMS
Ho Chi Minh Trail Tours: http://www.ridehochiminhtrail.com
Active Travel Vietnam offers motorcycle tours that last seven to 18 days; www.activetravelvietnam.com.

November 21, 2009

Dalat from a different perspective

Dalat, the city of flowers, is not strange to tourists with its famous sightseeing spots such as Lang Biang Mountain, Xuan Huong Lake and Than Tho Lake. If this is your first time to this romantic land, you are advised to visit the places just mentioned which have become legends of Dalat. But for those who have been to Dalat many times, you are advised to visit places that will bring you a different Dalat.

Seasoned tourists can augment their itineraries with completely new destinations. Dalat flowers are well-known for their beauty. The local flower farm is one of the ideal destinations for those who prefer a trip towards nature.

a greenhouse growing colorful flowers in Dalat city, Vietnam

A greenhouse growing colorful flowers in Dalat city, Vietnam

Visiting the greenhouse is an opportunity to admire at close range Dalat roses and gerberas. Standing in front of the glass with a furrow of flowers stretching on and on is an amazing feeling. The weather is cool, even under the noon day sun, while the flowers are full of colors that compliment each other.

Veteran tourists should visit the coffee farm to learn how coffee beans, such as Robusta and Abrabica, are grown in Vietnam. Those interested in new kinds of business should visit the cricket farm to learn how crickets are raised and what they taste like.

Those who prefer to learn about ethnic minorities should not miss Lat Village where the indigenous K`ho Lat live in Dalat. Guests will have a chance to know about the customs and habits of the people here.

The silk weaving factory is also an interesting place to visit. Coming here, tourists can capture the process of releasing silk, making follicles from silkworms, spinning and weaving. Before coming back to Dalat, tourists should visit Elephant Waterfall. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Central Highlands at a height of 25 meters. With a powerful flow, the bouncing white foam is a spectacular sight.

The highlight of the tour to Dalat is that instead of moving by car, tourists ride motorcycles. You will find it hard to drive yourself on the winding slopes of Dalat at first, but then an interesting feeling of exploring the land overwhelms each tourist. There are few tour operators organizing motorcycle tours to Dalat.

Source: SGP

Recommendation in Dalat, Vietnam:
- Dalat tours and short excursions
- Bike Dalat

November 19, 2009

The Travel Bug by John Soltes: Vietnam

Vietnam, with its verdant countryside and bustling cities, has a lot to offer adventurous travelers and those wanting to put a face on the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is a metropolis that moves like the rapids in a river. Motorbikes putt-putt-putter down the avenues. Artisans sell their wares from street-side stalls. Teenagers line up to get their nightly dose of pho noodles and dancing at the local discotheque. Devotees walk to their churches, their pagodas and their shrines to light candles and incense for someone who came before.


Vietnam - Photo by John Soltes

It’s a city that seems endless. But there is an end to the throngs of humanity — a semi-quieter place where a few lessons can be learned.

On the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City is a network of underground tunnels that was used by the Viet Cong during the war, particularly during the Tet Offensive.

Four decades ago, the tunnels were a harried place of strategizing for guerilla fighters.

Today, Coca-Cola is available in the gift shop.

A visit to the Cu Chi tunnels is chiseled into most tourists’ itineraries. Located roughly a one-hour drive (depending on traffic) outside of Ho Chi Minh City’s center, the underground ravines should be visited as a means to engage with the history of the tumultuous war. It is sacred ground that cost many a soldier’s life — and it should be visited with a respect for the casualties of conflict.

As tour buses pull up to the complex, the first stop is a meeting hall where cool drinks are served as plentiful as the propaganda. Before entering the tour, visitors sit through a video presentation that pushes the Viet Cong’s righteousness and the strategic mastery of the tunnel system.

You’ll probably get more satisfaction out of the cool drink.

Next is the actual tour of the tunnels, which stretch for miles or kilometers, depending on who’s talking.

In this particular area — in between Saigon and the border of Cambodia — where the tour buses corral like vultures, there are several holes that have been maintained for passersby to take a look and even take a descent.

Most groups visit the tunnels with an official tour guide, which can be booked back in Saigon.

Along the tour, you’ll have the chance to see grisly contraptions of torture, the place where the Viet Cong and their families ate and slept and a few demonstrations of what life was like in the tunnels (from eating fresh tapioca to an artillery range where visitors can pay money to shoot firearms such as an AK-47).

A group of tourists in front of me were clamoring at the chance to shoot a gun. I kept walking, slightly disgusted, to where visitors can crawl through one section of the tunnel (widened, rumor says, to accommodate larger Western tourists). The experience of crawling through the tunnel starts off easy enough — it’s kind of like ducking under a blanket to play in the dark.

But when you realize how far the tunnel goes, that the walls and ceiling are made of unsteady dirt and that the light from which you entered quickly becomes a pinhole, fear does sidle up next to you.

When you emerge, sweaty and panting, you’ll be thankful for the light in the sky.

Anyone who visits a sight like this probably has a curiosity for war stories and what exactly happened in this country in Southeast Asia. Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels may not provide any answers, but it may set you in the right direction.

It’s a preserved testament to days of sorrow. And for that, it can boast an importance beyond the ubiquitous gift shop selling war propaganda.

Source: leadernewspapers.net

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel Guide in Vietnam
- Adventure tours in Vietnam
- Short Excursions in Vietnam

November 17, 2009

Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam - Vietnam Motorcycling Travel Guide

By far, the best way to experience Vietnam is by motorbike. As with elsewhere in southeast Asia, here, the motorbike is king. They are cheap to buy, easy to repair, and they can take you places the tour bus would never dare to go. What's more, there are no restrictions on foreigners buying motorbikes. All you need is a passport and valid visa, and you'll receive a title of ownership and a deed of transfer. Rentals will suffice for most, but if you plan on serious bike time, buying is more economical -- you can even sell the bike before you leave and recoup most of the expense.

We know the traffic seems crazy. But once you get the hang of it, you'll learn there is a method to the madness. Travel by motorbike has its dangers, to be sure, and should be undertaken conscientiously. But the vast majority of foreigners come away from their motorbike trek with nothing but great experiences to talk about back home (and maybe a few tail-pipe burns to remember them by).

Vietnam Motorcycling Travel Guide

You can buy a bike almost anywhere, but bigger cities will have a better selection and be more comfortable selling to foreigners. Naturally, it's best to shop around. When you settle on a bike, insist on taking it for a spin -- and to a mechanic for a once over.

Your two main considerations are whether to buy new or used, and how powerful a bike you need. New Japanese and Chinese models can be purchased for as little as US$400. They should be more reliable, but then again, you may be the one stuck working out all the kinks. And you'll take a bath on the resale value.

We recommend a used bike. This may seem a bit daunting, and it's a good idea to make friends with a trustworthy mechanic if you can swing it. When you buy a bike, all you're really looking at is the engine, the shocks, the wheels, and the frame. If nothing's leaking or broken, and it kicks up a throaty hum when it runs, you're off to a good start. Everything else on a bike can be fixed cheaply and easily -- though be sure to factor such repairs into the price you plan to pay.

In terms of power, a 100 cc bike is fine throughout most of the country, depending on the weight you intend to carry. By the time you stack two people and two full packs on it, you'll struggle up the hills even in Da Lat. Northern Vietnam is notoriously hilly and requires at least a 115 cc bike. Check out the bikes used by the guys who do the Easy Rider tours, and look for something similar. If you've never driven a clutch, consider learning -- it quickly becomes second nature.

Even if you buy a bike that's been restored, be sure to take it to a mechanic anyway and put some more money into it. New tires, break drums, batteries, starters and the like are all cheap and will give you that much more peace of mind. Finally, think about where you're going to put your stuff. We got a custom-made back-rack for US$6.25.

When it comes to plotting a route, we suggest planning to see more of the country by seeing less of it. You can't see everything from Sapa to Vung Tau by motorbike in a month. Pick a region -— north, central, or south, and focus on that. Alternately, many buses and trains will take on a motorbike as freight for the price of an extra ticket, so you can split a trip between two regions. Don't plan an overly-aggressive route. The whole point is to take in the scenery, to stop and explore along the way. We find more than 120 kilometres in any given day starts to feel rushed. Fortunately, in thin, compact Vietnam, there is always a good option for your next stop within that distance.

It's also worth mention that, while the 'open road' in Vietnam can be breathtakingly beautiful and provide an utterly authentic experience of the country, this is Vietnam, and not all roads are open. Ask around if you plan to go into remote regions of the country, especially near the borders, but there's really no harm in just trying your luck. The worst that can happen is that the police will ask you to turn around.

Final note: wear a helmet, bring rain gear, and memorize the lyrics to Born to be Wild before you leave. You'll be needing them.

Source: Travelfish.org


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Conical hats draw many visitors in Vietnam

Visitors to Phu Cam village in the former imperial capital of Hue will be instantly impressed by its traditional way of making conical hats. Poem-hat is a distinctive feature of culture in Hue. Locals say they like to do the job not only to earn money but to preserve their age-old tradition.

Hat-making village Phu Cam (also Phuoc Vinh) lies on the southern bank of the An Cuu River in the centre of the former imperial capital of Hue. It’s a village famous for its traditional way of making conical hats for hundreds of years.

Making conical hats in Vietnam

Phu Cam-made hats look graceful, soft and thin as silk. Hue landscapes or even poems can be seen clearly through the hats in the sunshine. It takes woman much time to make the frame and iron leaves before young girls start sewing. The beauty and grace of a hat depend much on the frame (made of 16 brims from the hem to the top). Artisans use sharp knives to prepare the brims and make the frame that needs skills, techniques and experiences, as well as mathematical calculations which have been handed down for generations.

Leaves to make hat play a vital part, leaves have to be blue-white, neither too young nor too old. Collected leaves are to be put to dry in the sun, then put to be moistened by dewdrops, then to be ironed flat on a steel- plank above a kiln, cleaned with a towel. After all this, leaves are cut to fit the frame.

How to arrange the leaves on to the frame is not easy. Each hat needs 50 leaves and between the leaves are coloured papers with pictures or paintings of landscapes, or even poems. Hat-makers are hardworking and careful and diligent. Hats are served with silk-threads and the chin-straps are made of coloured silk (black, white, yellowish, purple, violet…) to harmonize with Hue climate and beauty.

Poem-hat is a distinctive feature of culture in Hue. Locals say they like to do the job not only to earn money but to preserve their age-old tradition as poem-hats have been absorbed into folk music and songs. Today hat are still used by young girls to shade their heads in the sun and to make them look more graceful in the traditional Ao Dai (long dress).

Recommendation in Vietnam:
Travel Guide in Vietnam
Short excursions in Vietnam

Dray Sap Falls and Yok Don National Park, Vietnam

Several years ago we visited Buon Ma Thuot on a trip from Dalat through the central highlands. Although sadly I have no photos, the drive from Dalat to BMT was one of the most beautiful of my life, although perhaps one of the least comfortable - the stack of plastic bags at the front of the bus was extremely well used by the passengers..


Dray Sap Falls

I was drawn to BMT for the coffee - which was wonderful - but at first glance the town looked fairly uninspiring, so we hired a motorbike for a few trips out into the countryside.

We bought a map and some ponchos for the random rain showers and set off, driving through small towns and villages out towards the Dray Sap waterfalls. The countryside was stunning but as we had no idea how long it would take us (about an hour from BMT in the end) there wasn't much stopping.

When we arrived at Dray Sap we found there were actually three sets of falls - I have lost their names, sadly. The first were nothing much to speak of - no real drop, more like a set of rapids around some rocks.


Dray Sap Falls

Next, up the road, was Dray Sap itself - an immense, horseshoe shaped set of falls. The roar from the water was deafening and the volume of water coming down the falls was immense - it was May, the rainy season had barely started and (in Saigon at least) there had been six months of almost no rain at all yet the falls were truely impressive.

Crossing a bridge over the water would take you around to a second set of falls with a small spit of land and trees in between where another equally impressive set of falls were, with a walkway that would take you up close to the falls.

The forest around the falls was incredible, with a lot of old growth trees wrapped in all kinds of creepers - a really diverse array of trees, plants and foliage. We were getting exhausted but had heard there was one more set of falls up the road, so we decided to go for it.

It was a mad ride through the forest, starting on a road about 1.5m wide but it was clearly rarely travelled. As we sped down the road the forest began to reclaim more and more of the tarmac, until we had just inches either side of our elbows.

At last we reached the final set of falls, and they were a treat. Although I think there was building work on the other side - who knows what was planned - it had stopped for the day, and all around us the forest was wild and overgrown, there were no other visitors about, and the falls were the most spectacular yet. A fire burning on the other side of the falls sent smoke hanging eerily over the water, adding a real air of mystery to the place. It was a special experience and is very much fixed in our memories.

The next day we left BMT again in a different direction, in search of the Yok Don National Park. The countryside was stunning, and the drive was magical.. but sadly the park was rather disappointing. It was well maintained and there were community projects to involve local villagers in the upkeep and protection of the forest - all great things, no doubt.

Sadly though, from a visitors perspective the countryside outside the park was a lot more interesting than the forest inside, which was a relatively young plantation, with regularly planted trees and nothing like the biodiversity we'd seen around the falls. The drive we took around the area that evening was far more memorable than the park itself.. and breakfast down the road was perhaps one of the best bowls of pho I had in the two years I lived in Vietnam... it is a long way to go back, though! :)

Related sites:
Vietnam national parks
Vietnm Travel Guide
Adventure Travel Tours in Vietnam

November 16, 2009

How Vietnamese People Cultivate Wet Rice?

Some 70 per cent of Vietnam’s population is engaged in agriculture, which uses over 20 per cent of the country’s area and produces 15 per cent of its GDP.

Vietnamese Cultivates Wet Rice

Vietnam has two huge deltas: the Mekong in the south and the Red River in the north. From time immemorial the Vietnamese have known how to build dykes and avoid flooding, creating more land for wet –rice cultivation. Thousands of kilometres of dykes have been built along the Red River to protect this vast fertile delta and its population.


Recently my friend Huong Do and I visited her uncle, who is a farmer in Hai Duong province in the very heart of the Red River delta. The host, Mr. Hien, was very enthusiastic about showing us rural life.

Generally they cultivate two types, sticky rice and ordinary rice. The first is used for special events and ceremonies such as Tet ( lunar New Year) and weddings.

Talking about wet-rice-cultivation, Mr. Hien recites a Vietnamese proverb:’Nhat nuoc, nhi phan, tam can, tu giong’. This translates as ‘First one needs water,then manure,then diligence, and finally high quality seed’. ‘In the north we have two rice crops and one subsidiary one, according to the weather’, he said.

The winter –spring crop begins in the 12th lunar month and finishes in the fourth. The summer –autumn one lasts from the sixth to the 10th lunar month. After these crops there is time for the land to heal and we plant maize,taro, potato and sweet potato’.

To Start a crop we have to prepare the land. We empty the water from each field. Then we plough deep and rake it carefully with the help of the buffalo. The buffalo is well cared for and respected in the same way that many foreigners care about dogs’.

There are three things that are critical to every Vietnamese farmer’s life: purchasing a buffalo, getting married and building a house.

‘In order to prepare the land we put down fertiliser, either natural or chemical.water is constantly needed too’.’Different varieties of rice are very important.

Normally we select the best species from previous crops, using techniques passed down through generations. “In order to germinate it we put the paddy in a jute sack and soack it in water for 24 hours. We then take it out of the water and arrange it in a dark, damp place to facilitate germination. After 12 hours we repeat the process.

In cool winter weather straw ash is mixed with the paddy in order to keep it warm. When the roots reach two to three centimetres you can sow rice in a small prepared area.

During this period the young rice plants need water, but not too much. After one month you pick the young shoots and transplant the rice seedling to another field. ‘Working the fields requires diligence, During the three- and-a- half months of rice development you have to constandy watch your field! You need to pull out any weeds growing with the rice. This work is normally reserved for women.

There has to be water in time for each period of development of the rice’.

The ethnic minorities in mountainous areas practice wte- rice-cultivation on terraces.

It is not until you actually take off your shoes, roll up your trousers and muck in that you really appreciate the skill and energy required to harvest rice.

As Mr Hien says,’when the rice is mature the whole family has to work. We cut the rice with sickles and bring it home by ox cart.

Fortunately, machines are now used for separating the paddy and straw. Last year we had a big harvest. This year we have had to work very hard due to floods’.

With a trace of sadness Hien adds that the farmer’s life is till difficult. ‘We depend on rice but if the price is too low there is no profit. The government should pay more attention to our life, to build processing zones for agricultural products and find markets for us’.

Famers in the south harvest three crops a year and the wet-rice-cultivation technique is also different.

Source: thingsasian

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel Guide in Vietnam
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November 10, 2009

Cooking with class: Plain, spicy or sweet in Vietnam

Is it possible to get a D in spring rolls? I also flunked tomato rose-making.

``No, no,'' said an exasperated Nguyen Thai Binh, executive chef, showing how the knife tip should slide under the outer peel as delicately as a heart surgeon's scalpel.



Luckily, my Nuoc mam cham dipping fish sauce and Canh ca chua trung tomato soup turned out brilliantly, if I do say so myself.

The certificate proves it: ``The Socialist Republic of Vietnam -- Independence -- Freedom -- Happiness -- The Saigon Culinary Art Centre Certifies Ms. Ellen Creager has attended successfully to Vietnamese Introductory Culinary Course -- Approved by Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh Executive Chef.''

Lighter than Chinese, less spicy than Thai and with a touch of French flair, Vietnamese cuisine has a delicate touch and the freshest ingredients.

From haute to home style, culinary classes are offered throughout the country. A tour operator can set one up, or book your own in advance.

It's also fun to take more than one cooking class to sample regional differences. Cuisine from the north is plain. Central is spicy. South is sweet.

Depending on your taste, you may prefer one over another, says Nguyen Thanh Van, sous chef at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, which offers culinary classes through the Metropole Cooking School (e-mail conciergesofitelhanoi.vnn.vn).

``We can say Hanoi food is a symbol of how we live -- it is very simple, based on natural products,'' says Thanh Van. ``When we cook a prawn, it still tastes like a prawn. We do not bury it in curry or chili to make its taste disappear. It is a more pure way to cook.

``We cook beef with rice. We cook fish with beer. From the French, we kept creme caramel, ice cream and French bread. Saigon food is a little bit sweet for my taste, but people there think it is very nice.''

The Saigon Culinary Arts Center in Ho Chi Minh City opened in 2007. It offers half-day, three-hour classes.

I added an extra hour to shop at the huge Central Ben Thanh market with Chef Binh (eels, anyone?), then cooked a five-element meal -- tofu, spring rolls, soup, Thit kho to (caramelized pork) and steamed rice.

Near the central Vietnam city of Hoi An, I took a slightly different type of class. At Tra Que Vegetable Village, tourists can learn how the garden grows at a 500-year-old farm, which uses a special algae-seaweed as fertilizer.

The specialty there is rau hung, a kind of spearmint used in cooking, but all kinds of vegetables grow. Tourists hoe, rake, fertilize and water with huge watering cans carried on a stick.

Then comes a home-style cooking class focused on fried savory pancakes called Banh Xeo and other dishes.

Since I felt like a humongous lurching giant among the slim, short Vietnamese, I also ate sparely on the trip and consumed almost no junk food. I came home four pounds lighter.

BY ELLEN CREAGER
Detroit Free Press

Related to Vietnamese foods.
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Little village on the paddy, Vietnam

Rising from the rice fields of Ha Giang Province, Tha Hamlet offers a glimpse of rural northern life.

In the remote mountains of Vietnam’s far northwest, Tha Hamlet still has one paved road


About ten kilometers outside the provincial capital of Ha Giang, the jagged mountains give way to just enough space for the small village of Tha Hamlet.

Parting the hills are brown stilt houses standing over rice paddies, ponds and pig pens. Smoke rises from the palm-leaf roves. Irrigation divides different sections of the village.

The village paths are mostly hardened mud.

Inhabited by a Tay ethnic minority community, the village became an official Tourism Village in 2007, thanks to its traditional homes, unique agriculture and famous terraced rice paddies, which rise up into the hills surrounding the hamlet.

Since then, the village has received government support to maintain tourist infrastructure, such as a concrete road and accommodation.

Living off the land

Some 113 Tay ethnic minority families with more than 500 people live together on the 40 hectares of agricultural land.

Their brown homes seem to grow right out of the village’s fields and ponds. Underneath the stilts, residents keep their tools, vehicles and kindling. On the side of each house is an open area for drying rice.

The paths in the hamlet take pedestrians up along the edge of ponds and rice paddies. The raised mud lanes look soft but they are sturdy and can support anyone, even in the rain. Fish breed in many of the ponds.

The terraced rice fields and ponds are shallow and always filled with water thanks to a stream flowing from the mountains into the village.

The fields are mostly khau mang rice, a new cross-breed variety particular to Ha Giang farmers. The glutinous rice can keep for a long time without loosing its fragrance. Tha’s rice is highly sought after both inside and outside Ha Giang. And its price is still half as much as normal rice.

The ponds are filled mostly with bong fish, which used to be reserved only for kings during the feudal era. But now bong is so popular among every day people that its numbers are dwindling throughout northern Vietnam.

A large bong can weigh up 15- 20 kilograms and its meat is rich and flavorful. Tha Hamlet residents traditionally serve local bong to visitors in the traditional Tay style.

They often make goi, a dish with the raw fish and vegetables. The fish is marinated in tai chua juice before serving. Tai chua is a chayote-like fruit native to the northwestern mountainous provinces of Hoa Binh and Bac Giang. It is both sour and sweet. Other than goi, the fish is also eaten like Japanese sashimi, sometimes accompanied by dill.

On location

Tha Hamlet is 10 km from Ha Giang Province’s eponymous capital, which is 320 km north of Hanoi along the National Highway 2.

To get to Ha Giang Province from Hanoi, take a motorbike along the Thang Long Bridge toward Phu Tho Province’s Viet Tri Town. From Viet Tri head to Tuyen Quang Province, where roads to Ha Giang are easily accessible.

By bus, start from the My Dinh Bus Station in Hanoi.

You can combine a visit to Tha Hamlet with a tour to Dong Van and Meo Vac, the northernmost districts in Vietnam. A trip through Tha, Dong Van and Meo Vac will take you four days along a rugged 300-km road.

Tourists can sleep at one of four households in Tha Hamlet that offer beds at inexpensive prices.

Source: Thanhniennews/Luu Quang Pho

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