Where houses have no doors

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A northern village offers home stays and a simple but beguiling way of life


A view of Lac village in Mai Chau District, Hoa Binh Province, around 135 kilometers west of Hanoi. It offers amazing home stay experiences, drawing tourists by the droves.

Foreign visitors to Lac Village in Hoa Binh Province often linger for days once they realize how good their homestay is in the picturesque destination.

The remote village in Chieng Chau Commune, Mai Chau District, is around 135 kilometers west of Hanoi. Most of its residents belong to the Thai ethnic group, with Vietnam's major ethnic group, the Kinh, making up the rest.

Of the 116 families here, 31 host visitors.

The living space in the houses is two meters above the ground, with the portion beneath having the kitchen and space to show off local products.

It only costs around VND100,000 (US$5) for a night's stay and a dinner spread made using local ingredients.

Ha Cong Tim, a local, said: "There are not as many Vietnamese tourists as foreign, who stay at least three days to learn about local people's daily life. They are very excited about sleeping in a stilt house."

Extra meals will have to be ordered in advance since locals do not have refrigerators or store food, which means meals are always fresh.

The village is famous for its sticky rice dishes. But it is not very sticky and can be eaten with the hand. It is usually served with chicken straight from the garden, fish from the stream, and vegetables from the forest.

HOW TO GET THERE

From Hanoi, travel 70 kilometers along Road No. 6 to reach Hoa Binh, and a further 60 kilometers to Mai Chau District. Lac village is after Cun Hill, which is 12 kilometers long, and a small pass called Thung Nhuoi. It takes around five hours to get there.

Meals are complemented with a bottle of wine which everyone drinks using bamboo straws.

At night visitors are entertained by singing and dancing by the very people who served them food earlier.

Some locals speak English, French, and Chinese.

Many visitors said they did not feel like visitors but like a relative.

Ha Cong Nham, the 85-year-old village head, said the village was built in the 13th century, and people live mainly on weaving and farming their terraced paddy fields.

But the cheap and friendly homestay services have turned the village into a tourism hotspot in recent years and fetched locals decent incomes. Many now own cars.

The road to the village travels over Cun Hill and Thung Nhuoi Pass, but that does not deter foreign tourists from coming here to enjoy its clean, fresh air and stilt houses.

There are no hotels or resorts here. The central government only allowed visitors to stay here overnight in 1993 following many pleas by Hoa Binh authorities.

Since then the village has remained in a festive mood most of the time, with word-of-mouth publicity bringing hordes of tourists.

Younger people in the village have started to move out to set up nuclear families, but most of the wooden houses remain large and well decorated.

There are 40 houses that do not accommodate visitors but offer sightseeing tours of local handicrafts such as weaving and making souvenirs like arrows, crossbows, and rattles.

Visitors can rent a colorful local dress for a day for a mere VND10,000-20,000, or half to one dollar.

The village has a "5-No's" slogan: No beggars, no street vendors, no getting drunk, no karaoke parlors, and no thieving.

Amazingly, none of the houses have doors to close at night or wardrobes to lock in things. The village looks exactly the same at night as it does during day, just quieter no one moves anything into their houses because of nightfall.

Foreigners often stay long enough to learn the basics of weaving, making simple souvenirs, and join locals on their terraced fields.

They also pedal to nearby markets to see herbs such as black turmeric for stomach problems and banana seeds for kidney stones exotic birds, and orchids.

Most markets open very early in the morning, selling fresh vegetables and fruits that are plucked overnight.

By Nguyen Van My
Nguyen Van My is the director of Lua Viet Tours based in Ho Chi Minh City.

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