ai Chau Ban Lac Village
May 9-11, 2001
Staying in a Ban Lac Village
Just sixty years ago getting to Mai Chau was a several day trip from Hanoi. But modern roads have cut that to a few hours. Now most visitors — tourists — come the 160 km from the south. But we came from the north to spend the last few days of our 1200 km circuit by bumpy four-wheel drive in another ethnic village. We got to Mai Chau in the middle of the afternoon and drove off the main road, down a paved rood, across a stream, and into the village of Ban Lac. It had one main street that was unpaved and lined on both sides with thatched-roof stilt houses. Most of the houses had converted the space under the house into a shop for selling hand-made ethnic handicrafts, mostly textiles and various kinds of handbags.
It was clear that the main industry in this village was tourism and that the flow of tourists was quite constant. We were introduced to the owner of the house in which we were to stay, a young woman in her early thirties who spoke enough English to make herself understood and to understand most of what we needed to communicate to her. We had a cup of tea and then after she had shown Gerry the room where we would sleep and they had agreed on a rate of $5 each, we said our goodbyes to Phu and off he went to drive the rest of the day and most of the night to Bac Ha. He could not be persuaded to spend the night first.
We retired to our room to relax and recover from the heat and exertions of our journey and to survey our new domain. The house we were in was in fact made up of three buildings linked together on three sides of a front courtyard that was set up as a small cafe. Our large room took up half of one building and resembled closely the room we had stayed in Coc Ly but without the balcony or the wooden bed frames. Here our beds were mats laid directly on the floor. The hotel provided clean sheets and mosquito nets that could be attached to cables strung between the main house pillars. The window openings could be shuttered at night for privacy and the house had electric power for lights, ceiling fans and the family's TV. On our first day, the city power failed several times, but the hotel's generator took up the load in the meantime, although not always very reliably. And finally, the $house was equipped just outside with a flushing toilet and a cold water shower. The height of luxury compared with Coc Ly, an interesting compromise between authenticity, in that our host family did live in the house and comfort not only for the guests but for the host family as well.
Once the heat of the day had abated, we went out for a couple of hours and walked away from the main road into the nearby foothills. We had already arranged to stay two nights and so were planning to take a long walk the next day to a reservoir Gerry had found on a map loaned to us by our hostess. We got back just as night was falling and were served a very pleasant meal by our hostess for the princely sum of a dollar each. That first night we were the only guests and enjoyed the entire room to ourselves. The next night our peace was interrupted by four other travellers, also on a jeep tour.
The next morning we ate breakfast at 6:30 and by 8:00 were off on our walk. We started off along the broad valley floor along one side of which ran the main road and the rest of which was devoted to rice paddies. As usual, mountains could be seen In every direction. How nice it was to be seeing the mountains from the valley floor rather than the reverse. The day was overcast, cool, and misty when we set out but later in the day cleared up and was hot and sunny.
When our path ran out we walked along the edge of a concrete drainage ditch until we reached our first village. From then on we followed a path that skirted the foot of the mountains passing through two more villages until finally we arrived at the mouth of the valley we had been looking for and caught our first sight of the dam of the reservoir. Unfortunately, just like near Dalat, the reservoir we were looking for was dry. So we walked on past the dry reservoir, through yet another village until the path we were following climbed gradually through a bamboo forest and then steeply up the head of the valley. After only ten minutes we stopped to take a photo back along the side valley to the main valley we had come from and then retraced our steps back to Ban Lac village.
There, we collapsed into chairs in front of our guesthouse and drank glasses of shandy (a mixture of beer and seven-up for the non-Brits in our audience) to help us cool off and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the village. We wished we had had more time everywhere, but on the whole we were well satisfied with our northwest adventure.