Saturday 24 September –
MỘC CHÂU – Mai Châu
The alarm in my head goes off around 7.30am, and we’re downstairs by 8.00am. I think it’s fair to say we have the routine down pat, now.
Outside, and it looks, both in appearance, and because I heard it, like it’s been raining most of the night, with Moc Chau now looking very damp and grey. It’s also rather cool.
We head up towards yesterday’s beer place with Toan and Hung, which was also last night’s dinner place, and the good news is that they also do breakfast.
Phở, it appears, is their dish, and that is what we have. It’s nice, as it usually, or pretty much always is, so long as of course I don’t go and muck it up by over chilli-ing it.
But it may have been better, had the staff shown a little more care and interest, which is kind of important when you’re working in the hospitality industry.
Maybe they’re just not morning people? Which I can probably – no, definitely, relate to.
Anyway, the phở was good, but would have been better with more love.
Breakfast complete, we head back to the room to finish off the packing. It’s not raining at the moment, but I’m not confident we’ll not get wet at some stage during the day, so extra zip-lock bags are utilised during the packing process.
While getting ready, Lisa tells me it’s going to be 20°C today, and it’s currently 18°C.
“Uhhh?”, is my reply, as I look up with a puzzled look.
She motions to her phone, and the realisation hits that she has just looked up the weather.
I’m, and don’t tell her this, rather impressed, but also shocked and amazed, as that is quite possibly the most initiative she’s ever used while here in Vietnam.
It gets me thinking, as I had noticed the coolness as we walked up for breakfast, of what it’s going to be like on the bikes with the wind in our faces.
It also makes me think of the one and only long sleeve top I brought to Vietnam, which is sitting in a bag, 200 kms away in Hanoi.
A moment of genius kicks in, when the only solution possible with what I have, becomes apparent.
I will wear a second t-shirt!
Feeling pretty smug, but still trying to work out where this new Lisa came from, we’re back downstairs, and on our way, by 9.00am.
We’re off to see a waterfall, apparently, so we head off in the direction we came in from last night. We turn off to the left, and we’re quickly out into the countryside. Past what looks to be a market garden type area, before leaving that behind for a more natural landscape.
Around a corner, and being ever so slightly elevated, I can see a rather large carpark below.
Along with a couple of buildings.
My suspicion is that our waterfall will not be by the side of the road for all to see, and that there is likely to be some sort of payment required to view this natural beauty.
We get down below, and yep, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s an entrance fee requirement.
Bikes are parked near the ticket office, Toan heads over to sort things out, while I stand and allow preconceived ideas and opinions to fill my head, on what we’re about to likely see.
We head in, and it’s all very ‘pretty’. In a man made, and contrived, sort of way.
There’s a river off to the right, with some rocks in it, along with the water flowing over the rocks. It looks waterfall-ish, but to me it looks more like something you’d describe as rapids, rather than a waterfall.
But it does have me thinking.
We walk on, still hoping for a far more significant looking ‘waterfall’, and notice a large white lettered sign off to the left, which spells out Dai Yem Waterfall. There are also white painted bicycles standing up in front of it.
We now know the name of the waterfall, but have no explanation for the bikes.
Up ahead we come across an area set aside for vendors, and lots of them, all selling the type of stuff that gets sold in tourist places like this.
It’s herbs, spices, little plastic toys, some cheap clothing, and mass produced ‘authentic’ stuff that, as long as it’s not mass produced, you might find in a real market.
None of it seems to be of any great value, or use; well, certainly not to me, but some people obviously get caught up in the moment, and judging by the amount of stuff here, someone is buying it.
We walk past a group of locals feeding pigeons, no doubt with seed purchased from a vendor nearby, and it gets me thinking about spending money to interact with birds.
The pigeon lovers and their birds.
As a kid, I remember Mum and Dad buying us fish to feed to pelicans, while on a trip to Queensland. We also did the feeding of Rainbow Lorikeets, again, on a holiday in Queensland.
Both occasions, interestingly, are still remembered vividly, even though it was 40+ years ago. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. One, because I consider pelicans and lorikeets pretty interesting, and rather impressive, looking birds. They’re the kind of birds that make you stop and notice them.
But the second reason those memories are so vivid, is what happened during the actual feeding process.
The honey and bread in the dish we held out for the lorikeets, didn’t stay in the dish for long, and I spent the rest of the day sticking to anything I touched. With the pelicans, well they saw us (my sister and I) coming down from the shop we bought the fish from. Needless to say, we didn’t quite make it back to the spot where Dad wanted to take the special holiday snaps, of us interacting with these giant birds.
The whole lot got hastily thrown out to them as they converged on us with their massive beaks, while Dad yelled angrily to slow down so he could take some photos, and Mum rolled around on the grass in fits of laughter.
So, and apologies for digressing so far, but what does that little reminiscing have to do with the feeding of the pigeons in front of me?
Not a great deal, other than to say that if I was going to spend money on buying a bird a meal, I wouldn’t be doing it for a pigeon.
In fact, the only time there would an association between money and a pigeon in my world, would be for the pigeon to be sitting on a plate in front of me.
We walk on, and up ahead, there it is. The waterfall!
And it is pretty impressive, as it has both reasonable height, as well as a considerable amount of water spilling from the top, and cascading into the chocolate coloured river below. A river, because of that chocolate colour, that makes me instantly think about the movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Beside the waterfall is a rather significant looking bridge, which has a glass walkway. Like the waterfall, it too is impressive, albeit in a slightly kitschy sort of way.
We stand for a few minutes taking it all in, and I’m not really sure how I feel about the place, before walking back the way we came.
Toan tells us that the last time he was here, there was no ‘theme’ park; there was no 50 000 Dong to be paid, and you could just walk up and look at the waterfall.
I can’t help but think I’d wish I’d seen it then, too.
A thing of natural beauty, now ‘enhanced’ by a ‘pretty’ bridge, a ‘Hollywood’ style sign, some white painted bikes, and the option of buying food for birds, that, well, should just be food themselves.
I guess, in the end, it’s just another case of, ‘Build it, and they will come’.
I’m just not sure why they felt the need to in the first place.
We find the bikes, and Hung as well, and we’re quickly back on them and heading back the way we came in. Past the market gardens again, and onto the main street of Moc Chau, before driving past our accommodation and then heading out of town.
Not too far on we reach another town, which, while appearing smaller than Moc Chau, seems to be a hive of activity.
I wouldn’t call it a market, but there’s plenty of vendors lined up on one side of the road selling freshly cooked meat.
But not your neatly sliced, insert whichever typical farm animal you can think of, variety. Here it’s dog. Or thịt chó.
Laid out in all its cooked glory, with everything still visible that you’d expect to see; like ears, nose, and teeth, when you consider what a dog looks like. Except of course, its hair.
Bit like the pig on the spit, when you think about it, out the front of last night’s restaurant.
Not being hungry, we continue on a bit further, before turning off the main road and into the ‘back streets’, of our thịt chó town. It doesn’t, as expected, take long before we’re in amongst farmland, but this farmland is a little different, as some of these farms are actually dairy farms.
And that’s unusual, well, it is to me, as we’ve never seen a dairy farm in Vietnam. And not only that, but the cows that are visible from the road are Friesian cows, which again, we’ve never seen here.
On we go, and the dairy farms give way to vegetable growing, including several fields absolutely covered in cabbages.
We reach a tea plantation area with gentle sloping hills, that are perhaps more mound like, than hill like. Perhaps not terribly surprising, there are also a number of vendors there, all dressed in Hmong colours, who are more than happy to sell you a souvenir, or take your money while they look after your bike.
Neither offer of money removal options interests us, so we continue on while yelling voices trail off behind us.
Around a bend, and down a slight incline, but still within sight of the circus we just drove through, we pull over for a closer look at the tea.
We climb up off the road, and while it’s not that steep, it is rather slippery. All of a sudden we’re joined by a young Hmong girl, all dressed up in traditional clothes, along with a basket on her back that is full of flowers.
She’s an absolutely gorgeous kid, and straight away it’s clear that she has more personality in her little finger, than I possess in my entire body.
She notices Lisa struggling on the slippery mud, and even though she’s tiny, she helps her by pushing her up. It was funny to watch.
We get up to where we needed to be, and while taking in the sights, Toan talks with our newfound friend.
She’s ten years old, and her father passed away some time ago. She tells him that her mother then remarried, but then left the area with her new husband, leaving her behind. She’s now being looked after by her Grandparents.
It’s a story that really touches me, but her personality is so bubbly, she really doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned by her lot.
We spend some time with her, while Toan does all the translating, and I’m not sure I’ve ever met a ten year old quite like her. The amazing outgoing personality, without being over the top or contrived, was one thing, but she also came across as being incredibly intelligent.
I half expected the hard sell to begin at any time, but she just seemed to enjoy the interaction with the three of us.
We head back down the slope; again our young friend helping Lisa, and back across the road to Hung and the bikes.
Another couple of Hmong kids appear from nowhere; another young girl, along with a boy, and they too ooze charm and personality.
I still get the feeling we’re not far away from a hard sell on whatever they might be pushing, but it never comes. I don’t know if that’s because they just enjoyed the interaction, or if it was because we were with two ‘locals’, in Toan and Hung.
Our new Hmong friends, with Lisa’s helper on the right.
We leave them to their own thing, and head off a few hundred metres on the bikes to look at the tea fields on the other side of the road.
It’s all very picturesque, with manicured tea bushes growing in beautifully formed rows, along with a couple of cows, which are of the non Friesian variety, just adding to the picture in front of us.
Rocking the double t-shirt combination, while also getting in the way again.
But my problem is that we saw Long Coc a few days ago, and while I don’t like making comparisons, these tea fields just don’t quite reach the scenic heights of what we saw on day one.
We head back to the bikes, and we’re soon on our way back into town. Past the circus of money removers, and a bit further up Toan pulls up outside a local’s house.
He’s spotted a tree in the front yard, and with it being a peach tree, or more particularly, a peach variety that the area is known for, he has a desire to try and get a plant to take home.
He has a brief chat with the owner, and while he can’t help, he does tell Toan of another local not far away, who may have some seedlings.
We head off, before again stopping a few minutes later at our peach guy. But he’s not home.
Peachless, we make our way back into town. It now looks very dark, as in dark enough to suggest we’re more likely to get wet, than not.
And sure enough, it begins to happen.
Quickly pulling over in front of a local’s house with an awning, the drizzle becomes much heavier, so the plastic wear of ponchos and Toan’s ‘swishing’ pants are pulled out.
The resident of the house appears, and she’s extremely friendly and more than happy for us to be using her house as shelter. Her young child on the other hand, is an absolute pain in the backside, as he is unhappy that Mum’s attention has been drawn away from him.
While getting ready, Toan talks to her about the best way of getting to Mai Chau, and she happily gives us directions.
We bid farewell, and head off down a narrow, pretty ordinary, path. A bit further on, we stop again for more directions, and end up doing that several times. These roads really are out in the middle of nowhere, and as such, the need for local knowledge is completely understandable. I think we actually gained a bit anyway, as I suspect the views of the countryside we’re seeing are far more interesting than had we taken the more main roads.
Our local roads come to an abrupt end, when we reach the beginning, or perhaps it’s the end, of a rather wide highway.
The rain, which comes and goes, is more annoying than anything, but it is also now quite cold. While that long sleeve t-shirt sitting back in Hanoi would be very handy right now, I’m even more pleased about my moment of genius, with the two t-shirts idea, from earlier this morning.
We continue on, and while it’s only just after 1.00pm, the whole thing feels like it’s taking longer than it should. The overcast, and rather dark and dreary looking, conditions, are probably contributing to that feeling.
A bit after 1.00pm we pull over for a rest and leg stretch. There’s a small house nearby, along a number of peach trees, and with Toan still sans a peach seedling, he decides this may just be the place to achieve his goal.
Photos through zip-lock bags don’t really work. But the phone did remain dry.
He disappears off into the bushes surrounding the house, before returning a few minutes later with an excited and happy look on his face. He’s actually found a small peach tree, and he’s even managed to somehow dig it out of the ground.
I’m now half expecting to have the job of holding onto his new found tree until we reach Mai Chau, but in the end he ties it onto our bag, which is strapped down behind me on the bike.
While I’m pleased that I don’t have to hold onto to it, having struggled at times to throw my leg high enough over the bag to get on the bike, I’m now going to have to lift my leg even higher.
Gymnastic type leap successfully completed, we’re on the move again. A couple of Mai Chau signs begin appearing a few minutes later, and I know we’re not far off.
We reach the outskirts of the town, but nothing looks familiar from our one and only visit way back in 2014.
A few minutes later, and now actually in the town, it all starts to come back. The bridge over a small creek that we walked to on the day we arrived, the football ground we watched some young kids playing soccer on, and the Mai Chau Valley View hotel, which was where we stayed.
It’s really good to see the place again.
Not too far past the Valley View, we pull over outside a small restaurant, in amongst a few other shops and businesses. It’s an area that I don’t recognise from last time, and that’s either because it didn’t exist in 2014, or my memory is seriously flawed.
It’s still very overcast, but the rain has at least stopped, and while it’s nice to see Mai Chau again, it’s even nicer to extricate ourselves from our plastic.
Lunch at the restaurant ends up being a fried rice dish, which was thoroughly enjoyed while watching the resident cat ‘play’ with a rather large moth.
Lunch done, the moth managing to live another day, we’re soon on our way to our accommodation.
My suspicion is that it will likely be in Lac Village, which is the little village where all the homestays are, and is also the area that I walked around at one point, last time we were here.
It was interesting to see, but it really didn’t appeal to me as a place I would want to stay, with Mai Chau itself being my preferred option.
We turn off the main road, and sure enough, we head towards Lac Village. It all comes flooding back, and while it all looks nice enough, it just wouldn’t be my first choice.
A few minutes later we reach our accommodation, which is Ume Mai Chau Eco Homestay, and first impressions are that it’s really nice. And the lady who owns it, Xuan, is just lovely.
We drop our bags in the room, and then, because it’s still a little too early for a beer, we sit out on the balcony and drink our complimentary green tea.
Being a Saturday, there’s a few about, with the vast majority being local tourists, and more than likely most of them being from Hanoi.
It’s all very pleasant, but there is a bit more noise, including some occasional loud music, than is ideal.
Still not quite beer o’clock, the green tea catches up with me, and I head inside to take a nap.
Twenty minutes later, and with the nap just not happening, partly due to that loud music, I head out for a walk, leaving Lisa to her own devices.
Out of the homestay, and with not much appearing to be off to the right, I take my less preferred option of left.
There’s lots of homestays, lots of stilt houses, lots of local tourists, as well as a few tourist ‘attractions’, which no doubt piques the interest of some of those Instagram loving local tourists.
Again, it’s all nice enough, but it just feels so very contrived. It actually reminds me of a caravan park, for some reason, but I do understand why people like it.
I come across a husband and wife sitting out the front of their homestay, and while I notice that they’re doing something with short lengths of bamboo, I also notice they sell beer. Not having seen any other option, I ask the question.
No problem, and I’m quickly seated with a cold can of 333 in front of me.
Not my preferred beer, in not my preferred place or town, but life does somehow feel that little bit better now.
I have a chat with the husband, who has a little English, and he explains the bamboo thing. It turns out that the bamboo gets filled with rice and water, and is then cooked on a fire.
Three beers had, I go to pay the bill. 45 000 Dong, apparently, so 15 000 Dong each, which surprises me, as I was expecting at least 20 000 Dong each, considering where we are.
Back to the homestay, just as the rain starts again; impeccable timing…..; a couple more beers, but this time with Lisa downstairs. The resident dog walks past occasionally, and when she does, I try and engage with her. But she gives me nothing. In fact it’s less than nothing, as she won’t even acknowledge that I’m even there.
She doesn’t know it yet, but I am not going to give up on her.
Back to the room for a quick shower, and then back downstairs for dinner.
And that dinner is impressive, consisting of fish, spring rolls, pork, various vegetables, a noodle salad, rice, and some dragon fruit to finish it off.
Yep, an impressive and beautiful looking meal, but also huge, and as soon as it’s placed in front of us, I know we are absolutely no chance of finishing it all.
Almost looks too good to eat.
The food ends up being as good as it looks, but yeah, we’re a dismal failure when it comes to eating it all.
We spend some time chatting with Xuan, and as we found when we first arrived, she is seriously lovely, and just so easy to talk to.
She even brought out some rice wine, which we shared with both her and Toan, and it was a nice way to end the night.
Time to call it, the dog still giving me less than nothing, and I ask Xuan for a few beers to take back to our room.
She doesn’t have any cold beer, but I explain I’m more than okay with warm beer, so long as she has some ice.
She seems reluctant for some reason, and indicates that she’ll bring some up to our room in a few minutes.
We head back, and sure enough, a few minutes later there’s a knock on the door. Those four or five beers I was expecting, have become twelve beers, and I now know why she was making me wait.
These beers are cold, as in really cold, and it’s clear that someone either headed off to get them for her, or they were actually delivered by someone.
I just love the way Vietnam works, and I’m incredibly appreciative, but twelve, at this time of night, is pushing things a little.
Positions are taken on the bed, and the day is finished the way it usually does, with some Trip Advisor, note taking, and some of those really cold beers.
It’s been an interesting day. It started out well, with the tea plantations and our little Hmong girl, before the drive towards Mai Chau. There wasn’t a huge amount of travel involved, but there was enough, and then with the rain we had to deal with, well, it probably felt longer than it actually was.
And then once we arrived, well, it was good to see Mai Chau again. However, staying in Lac Village was never going to be my preference, but now that we’re here, I’m actually glad we’ve got to experience a little of it.
The homestay is lovely, as too is the owner, and it now has me thinking where we would stay, should we ever find ourselves in Mai Chau for a third time.
So, final night is here, and tomorrow it’s back to Hanoi.
I don’t really want the tour to end, but I am looking forward to getting back.
It’ll be nice to just settle in again, without all the unpacking and packing, along with the moving on each day.
Not so much slow travel, but more ‘no travel’.
Oh, and there’s also something, or should I say someone, who will be waiting there when we return.
And I’m really looking forward to seeing her again.