In the ‘middle of nowhere’ Time-out discovers the joys of an open air bath and a square meal of sticky rice in ‘the middle of nowhere’.
LookAtVietnam – In the ‘middle of nowhere’ Time-out discovers the joys of an open air bath and a square meal of sticky rice in ‘the middle of nowhere’.
Mu Cang Chai: charming and peaceful
On a misty morning we set off from Hanoi for Tu Le, Mu Cang Chai district in Yen Bai province by motorbike.
The name Mu Cang Chai is often jokingly used as a term to describe “the middle of nowhere” by Hanoians. But this area – roughly 250km from Hanoi – is home to some of the country’s most beautiful terraced fields.
Amazingly, for this of year, Tu Le’s mountains and fields are covered with a green carpet of young rice plants and grass stretching as far as the eye can see. Tu Le means ‘Beautiful Embroidery’ in Vietnamese and the landscape lives up to the name.
In the end it takes six hours to get there. But much of the drive is enjoyable thanks to the breathtaking scenery. We pass through the mountain valleys into the mist and through the forests to find the terraced fields that surround Tu Le. We take a break on top of Hai Ba Chau (Grandmother and Nephew Slope) and take in the panoramic view of the valleys below.
Down in the valley we can see the dark brown roofs in the midst of green paddy fields, which are surrounded by the mountain ranges of Khau Pha, Khau Song and Khau Than.
We can also see the Tu Le hot springs, which run diagonally through the valley. The springs are banked by large boulders some of which as big as a house. We decide to drive down and take a closer
As we approach we can hear the peals of laughter. It seems that we are not alone. When we arrive we discover that there are several bathing pools and the locals are here in numbers.
When the sun sets, women and children head for the river and lower themselves gently into the clear and warm waters of the spring. When my traveling companion pulls out his camera, nobody seems to care. The elegant Thai women continue to bathe, covering their bodies as they bathe with a charming grace.
Tourists can also use the pools and bathe in the warm waters, so we decide to jump in and soak our weary bones. Afterwards we head for town and find a stilt-house, which runs as a guesthouse in the village. The rooms are spacious and clean with a mattress, mosquito net, pillow and blanket for only VND100,000 per guest.
My hosts tell me that locals always bathe in the springs which are considered to be very good for your health. The locals certainly seem hale and hearty! Old people seem youthful, the men seem to be strong, and the women are strikingly beautiful.
Our dinner costs VND50,000 and consisst of teamed sticky rice and barbequed pork. I remember a line from somewhere that goes simply, “Tasting sticky-rice and bathing in Tu Le” and I’m happy to have experienced both the local pastime and specialty in the space of two hours.
At night Tu Le valley is utterly serene. No wonder the locals are so gentle and easy going. When the sun rises, the green valley is shrouded by a layer of mist. After breakfast we set off back into the mountains. We turn and gaze back into the valley, which is already fading like a fairytale vision.
How to get there Tu Le is around 250km northeast of Hanoi, 60km from Nghia Lo Town. From Hanoi, drive down Hoa Lac Highway to Son Tay town then take National Road No.32 over Trung Ha Bridge and through Thanh Son town of Phu Tho province. After Nghia Lo drive over Khau Pha pass to Tu Le valley.