Simplicity at its best

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Two Italian tourists pass a paddy field in Thôn Tha, Phuong Do Commune, the northern province of Ha Giang

Located less than ten kilometers from Ha Giang Town, the village of Tha, or Thôn Tha, in Phuong Do Commune is a haven for frazzled urbanites seeking to escape from their crowded and noisy cities.

The village, which is home to nearly 550 Tay people, was almost silent when we arrived. No loud music. No honking horns.

The only sound apparent to us at first came from a wooden beater hitting a mortar to remove the outer husks of rice.

It was a steady beat because the automatic rice pounder was powered by a water wheel in a nearby stream. The wheel turned a horizontal pole that connected it to the pounding post.

Other soft sounds came from chirping chickens and fish snatching at insects hovering over ponds covered in duckweed. It was tranquil indeed.

The more than 90 dwellings in the village are traditional stilt houses built with wood and bamboo and topped with palm-thatched roofs. Only the classroom, health clinic and communications center are made of cement and bricks.

Although Thôn Tha is just a few kilometers from a forest, the villagers live by farming wet rice, which explains why most of them are often seen in mud-stained clothes, the men sporting trousers with unequal legs and the women wearing their traditional long black skirts.

Dirty clothes, however, do not mean that the villagers are unhygienic or even untidy. In fact, their homes are always kept clean.

Since 2007, when Ha Giang chose Thôn Tha to develop community tourism, the locals have been taught environmental hygiene like building toilets, and keeping cattle pens away from houses. Thanks to their keen application and the support of the provincial authorities, the villagers have learned their lessons well.

They have also attended classes in marketing, communication, and serving tourists.


A dinner with traditional dishes served at Thôn Tha

Ha Giang is 320 kilometers from Hanoi and is serviced by a bus from My Dinh Bus Station. Then it's a car or motorbike to reach Thôn Tha along a road that is wide enough to allow two SVUs to pass in comfort.

The largest seven houses in the village provide accommodation in all for nearly 20 visitors who wish to stay the night. Their only creature comforts for sleeping are a mat, pillow, blanket and mosquito net, all of which are clean.

The absence of modern amenities should not discourage anyone from spending a night at the village as the experience is far more rewarding than the mundane fare offered by a tourist resort.

The night that we were there, four of us stayed at one house and were served simple yet delicious dishes native to the area: soup of fermented bamboo sprouts and bá»—ng, a species of carp which is a valued food of the Tay people and is usually cooked to offer to their god and ancestors; chicken salad; and pork roasted in bamboo cylinders.

It had been a few years since I last had such a wonderful dinner like the one I ate at Thôn Tha, and the food was free of growth chemicals and preservatives, while the rice was new, fragrant and glutinous.

Our dinner was not served with name-brand beer or wine, but with sán lùng to warm our insides in the cold night air. This famous wine originated in nearby Lao Cai Province and is made from paddy sprouts that are steamed, cooled and mixed with yeast. It starts exuding a sweet smell five or six days after it is put in a jar.

After dinner we were invited to a musical performance of local people singing their traditional songs.

Everything we got at Thôn Tha was simple yet pleasing. And surely, we are not the only ones to find gems in the small, distant village.

A Swiss tourist wrote in French in the visitors' book: "I was amazed at the honesty of the people who live here. The scenery was poetic and quiet. The air was so pure. The food was scrumptious."

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