Thank the Kitchen Gods that I finally had a chance to get out of the city. The rainy, grey, windy, cold weather of Hanoi was starting to chill me to my bones. When a friend suggested we leave the city for a night to stay in a small village in the mountains to the south, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I booked my bus ticket ($5 one-way) to Mai Chau, packed my overnight bag and my new guitar and headed to the bus station.
Four hours later, we pulled up to a gas station in the middle of nowhere and the bus driver said something that ended in Mai Chau. Everyone turned to look at us and motioned us off the bus. Still groggy from my nap, I climbed over people and luggage–who were not even thinking about moving out of the aisle–and stumbled off the bus. I pulled out my sunglasses, kicking myself for not bringing some flip-flops (no one told me it would be 80 degrees and sunny!), and breathed in the clean mountain air.
Turned out that we were not actually in Mai Chau, but about 6 kilometers outside of the village–dang budget bus. But I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I hopped an unfortunately expensive xe om (motorcycle taxi) into town and met up with friends for lunch before we headed to our village homestay on the outskirts of town.
We ogled the woven wares as we walked to our stilted guesthouse. We dropped off our belongings and rested for a beer before heading out to explore the village. We walked down dirt roads and paths and across rice fields; the mountains rose up around us. The view almost reminded me of Montana–except the rice paddies part. Every villager we encountered was smiling. We exchanged ‘hello’s and ‘happy new years’s in two languages. We made it back to the homestay for dinner as the sun was beginning to go down. We had just enough time to persuade our hosts to have a bonfire later that night.
The next morning, we awoke to roosters crowing at 7 am. (Who am I kidding? They were crowing nearly all night long. Dang roosters.) One by one, we rolled out of our beds, lifted our mosquito nets, and tried to creep quietly across the bamboo floor (which is evidently impossible) to the stairs. Breakfast was served not long after, over which we made our plan for the day. I had heard tell of a cave in one of the mountains above the town that was free to explore and that offered great views. Unfortunately, I was the only one who wanted to hike all the way up there. So while everyone else explored the market and the town, I trekked up the 1250-or-so stairs to the cave. (That makes it sound so easy, but I assure you that it was not.) Even though the tops of the mountains were shrouded in clouds, the view was incredible. I was glad to have my camera as a travel companion.
Later that day, on the bus ride home, I couldn’t quite tell when we entered the cold, dreary, grey, ‘I-can’t-tell-if-it’s-raining-or-not’ weather that seems to perpetually surround Hanoi. But as soon as I hopped of that bus, I knew I would be back in Mai Chau as soon as I could.