In Vietnam everything is happy. If you want to use the bathroom you ask for the ‘happy room’ and if you fancy an alcoholic tipple you take a cup of ‘happy water’ (rice wine). So it is no surprise that we found ourselves so happily ambling along on what was our third and last day trekking through the unspoilt countryside of the Pu Luong National Park.
The Pu Luong National Park is in the northwest of Vietnam, unlike the ‘rice bowl’ of the Mekong Delta in the south, here there are only one or two rice harvests a year. We saunter through villages alive with industry; the rice plants are thigh high and bowing under the weight of the rice, which is ready to be harvested. In a hectic, two week, period the local villagers will clear the fields of their yields and the threshing process will begin.
Time has really stood still here, the fields are still irrigated by wooden water wheels and cleared by women shading their faces from the searing sun with traditional conical hats; once cleared the fields will be churned up, ready for re-sowing, by plough pulled behind haughty looking water buffalo. The people of northwest Vietnam are as good-natured and modest as they are industrious. Despite the frenzy of activity, they still spare time to look up from their endeavours, wave, shout a friendly “hello” to the curious passers by and laugh at our flawed, but fervent, attempts to shout “hello” back in Vietnamese (“xin chao!”).
Home Stay Hospitality
After a superb, hot, day’s walk we climb the hill to our final home stay. From up here we have a perfect view of the emerald green terraces decorating the hillsides. For the last three nights we have stayed as welcomed guests in the homes of local ‘Thai’ families. Our beds have been simple mats; adorned with an array of multi coloured blankets and laid out under mosquito nets on the floor of their wooden stilted houses. Our boots lie discarded at the bottom of the wooden steps as we climb up to prepare our beds before dinner is served.
A Gourmet Experience
Each night we have feasted on an A to Z of Vietnamese cuisine, spiced with ginger and fragrant with lemon grass, coriander and mint; every dish carefully prepared over the small stove in the family kitchen. Knives and forks are now forgotten items, we haven’t seen them in nearly a week, and tonight’s banquet will be another test for our newly acquired chopstick skills. The food does not disappoint and we call over our crew and guide to join us as we celebrate the end of a wonderful, three-day, journey through this idyllic region.
A Happy Ending
In the morning we will be woken early by the morning sunlight stealing through the wooden slats, the cry of the cockerel and the sound of the ducks, dogs and other animals of the village demanding their breakfast. For tonight though, there is still time for a few rounds of cards and to toast our hosts and crew with another cup (or two) of ‘happy water’; well, what’s not to be happy about?!