Tourists always choose Mu Cang Chai Township in the northern mountainous area of Viet Nam as a destination for home-stays.
Agreeing with Giang, I remembered our group trip a month ago. Five adults and two children reached the beautiful township in the evening. We were amazed to see terraced rice fields on the route as we prepared to go mountaineering through the beautiful township.Returning to Ha Noi last week from a three-day trip to Mu Cang Chai Township, Tran Chu Giang, a professional phuot (back-pack traveller on a motorcycle) said his six-member group had been touring the mountain sides and they were excited by the experiences of staying two days with people from the ethnic minorities.
Terraced rice fields of Mu Cang Chai have been ranked as national relics by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2007.
We rented a pine timber stilt house in a Thai village, 1km from Mu Cang Chai Township. The clean two-storeyed house was built for home-stay tourism, so it was very comfortable. We stayed overnight on the second-floor which had bedrooms measuring 1.5mx1.5m and a living room equipped with a TV, a tea table, and two rest-rooms.
At present, the Thai village has five families who are in the business of home-stay services. Located at the centre of a peaceful valley surrounded by a pine tree forest and terraced rice fields, it is home to the Thai ethnic minority people who have a long-standing and diversified traditional culture.
Po Mu timber stilt houses in Thai villages are usually two-storeyed with a balcony.
The first floor is used for dining. We had dinner together and ate baked pondfish, baked leaf-wrapped pork, bamboo shoots, freshwater crab soup and salted eggplant.
Gastronomy in north-west Viet Nam in general, and Mu Cang Chai township in particular, is famous for the steamed glutinous rice (terraced field-farming rice), village-breed black chicken (a chicken weighs 0.7kg), and the village-breed pig.Visitors preferred baked fresh sea-food for their meal, Xanh said, and added that guests praised his wife’s cooking.
Travellers to Mu Cang Chai Township should eat Tu Le steamed glutinous rice (Tu Le is a town and a beautiful stop for photographers on their Ha Noi-Mu Cang Chai route).
Our host at the stilt house where our group stayed for one night was Xanh, the slender middle-aged Mong man, deputy chairman of Mu Cang Chai Township People’s Committee.
The stilt house is located at the head of the village and was built in 2009, Xanh said, and added that the family decided to go into the business of home-stay tourism.
The hospitable host invited us for some bottles of cider and we had a heart-to-heart talk. The life of the ethnic minorities in Mu Cang Chai has improved with asphalt roads, and double-storeyed houses equipped with comfortable household facilities. Xanh has bought an Innova car to make travel easier for his family of six adults and three children.
We went around the village, and met people from the ethnic minorities we were very interested in, especially a middle-aged woman who was fluent in the popular Kinh language who invited us to see her house.
Two visiting children, aged 7 and 10, said they had a nice experience sleeping in a timber house, wading across a stream, picking up forest flowers and playing with the ethnic minority children.
“My children were very excited,” their mother said.
“They exclaimed excitedly when they saw the sunset behind the mountain. They learnt so much about real life in the countryside,” she said.
Traditional cultural performances had not been organised regularly in the village, due to the lack of funds and organisers, Xanh said. Performances are primarily held during a festival or a traditional holiday.
Xanh said the district was implementing a project to train the local ethnic minorities in the village on professional tourism that includes behaviour, gastronomy, and interacting with visitors.In the near future, the Mu Cang Chai Township People’s Committee plans to organise a cultural performance during the weekend to attract visitors.
Travellers flock to the beautiful township during the two main seasons, in May, and between late September and early October.
During each period, the township looks especially beautiful. In May, water from the falls and the mountaintop pours into the terraced rice fields and helps the people prepare for a new crop.
However, young people, among whom amateurs and professional photographers, prefer to reach the township between late September and early October. During the ripened rice harvest the terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai resemble a yellow carpet in a water-colour painting.
Back in Ha Noi, every member of our travelling group gifted a bottle of the forest bee’s honey to friends and family.
Tips for tourists
The price for a set meal for four people: VND150,000 per head.
For overnight stay: VND100,000 per head; Breakfast VND50,000 per head. However, for a group of 10 persons or more, there will be a discount of VND130,000 per head for a meal.
Ethnic minorities in Yen Bai farm in terraced fields on the mountainsides. When spring arrives, rainwater and water pour into the terraced fields. People call this period the watering season.
Mu Cang Chai District is located in the west of Yen Bai Province, 180km from Yen Bai City. From Yen Bai City, travellers can reach the district by bus or motorcycle.
A bus plies on the Ha Noi-Mu Cang Chai route from the My Dinh and Giap Bat bus stations. It departs at 7.30pm and arrives at 3am. The one-way fare is VND250,000. The bus for Ha Noi-Lao Cai stops at Mu Cang Chai Township. Motorcycles are available for rent at hotels or guest houses.