A view from step 1,153 in Mai Chau, Vietnam, Southeast Asia

A view from step 1,153 in Mai Chau, Vietnam, Southeast Asia

A view from step 1,153 in Mai Chau, Vietnam, Southeast Asia

Geography and history separate the two largest cities in Vietnam. Hanoi is located in the North and is over 1,000 years old. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) lies in the South and is the younger of the two at little over 300 years.

Where Hanoi differs from Saigon, from a travelers point of view, is that it is a handy base to experience Vietnam’s many ethnic minorities. Popular with the traveler’s trail is Sapa, located in the Northeastern part of the country, about an eight hour overnight train ride from Hanoi.

Even closer from Hanoi (about 139 km) is Mai Chau where you can meet the ethnic minority tribe of the White Thai. In fact, you can be a temporarily local by doing a homestay with a family.

So I decided to leave the concrete jungle of Hanoi and retreat to the peaceful and picturesque Mai Chau. My homestay was in the White Thai village of Ban Lac. If there is a place in Vietnam you could linger for a while this is the place. Located in a lush, rural valley, Mai Chau looks like a place time forgot. I stayed in a traditional and very rustic thatched roof stilt house which was about 10-12 feet off the ground. Locals build their homes that way for two reasons: flooding and to shelter animals.

I would have communal meals with family members and other travelers and in the evenings we would drink a local alcoholic beverage called Rau Can (very strong) with long straws from what looked to be a large coconut.

As for my sleeping accommodation that consisted of a large communal room (it slept about 12 people) with a simple mat on the ground and of course your customary mosquito net. This is all on top of a squeaky, split bamboo floor so if you are the type of sleeper who fidgets at night you will probably keep your neighbors up.

This rustic setting did come with some scenic views since the entire village is surrounded by beautiful rice paddies.

There is more to Mai Chau than stilt houses and rice paddies. So I took a tour around the village to get a sense of everyday rural life, then a walk though the local market in town followed by a steep hike up to a place called the 1,000 Steps Cave.

False advertising!

The climb is actually a little over 1,200 steps.

Does 200 + steps make a difference? It sure does when climbing a steep incline in the brutal heat and humidity of Vietnam.

At step 1,153 I stopped to take this photograph and to take one more deep breath before I reached the top to the cave entrance. This is a view of the town below and the White Thai village I stayed in is actually just outside the frame to the left.

The inside of the cave was proved to be a nice respite from the stifling heat. Too bad there wasn’t a zip line to get back down to the bottom. Perhaps next time when I return they will install one along with an escalator!

Check back for more of my adventures in Vietnam! One more photo in the comment section.

Happy Travels!

Text and photo copyright by ©Sam Antonio Photography

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Taken on: 13th May, 2012. Copyright: All Rights Reserved - See Sam Antonio Photography's page of Flickr

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