November 10, 2009

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

Related sites:
- Mai Chau travel guide & tips
- West to East biking exploration

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