A dam good holiday
  • | | March 28, 2010 09:49 AM

Not so long ago, the valley of the Da River was an oasis of wildlife, especially deer, in the north-west region of Vietnam. Now the forests and rice paddies are tens of metres under water, flooded to make room for a hydroelectric plant.

Today, Thung Nai (translated as Deer Valley) attracts a very different kind of animal – tourists seeking a weekend escape from the city. The valley is only about 100 km to the North-west of Hanoi. When passing through Hoa Binh City, there are two options: continue driving through the peaceful villages of the Muong ethnic group or stop at Binh Thanh Harbour at Cham Mat T-junction and take a 15-minute boat trip on the Da River.

We booked a room at Coi Xay Gio (Windmill) Hotel. This is a new, but well-known facility which can offer visitors top quality services compared to others in Thung Nai. The hotel was built on an islet called Hoa Binh, which is about a 15-minute trip from Binh Thanh Harbour. It is a landmark in the area because of the small windmill outside.

For a weekend trip, there are plenty of activities to pack in. For the adventurous at heart, forest trails lead to Mu Village of the Muong People where delicate stilt houses sit in the shade of tall trees and undergrowth. We opted for a boat trip to admire the breath-taking scenery of the river and many islets that were once mountains before the valley was flooded.

The boat took us about 15 minutes to Ba Chua Thac Bo Temple, one of the star attractions at Thung Nai. Although the temple is small, the backdrop of mirror-still water and sky make it a grandiose scene. We visited the temple on the opening day of its festival (7th of the first lunar month). The celebrations last until the end of the 3rd lunar month and are attracting larger numbers of revelers every year.

After about 10 minutes, we were allowed to stretch our legs once again as we came upon Bo Cave. We got off the boat and climbed inside to explore the enticing nooks and crannies. That was just a pit stop in our journey, which landed us at Ngoi Hoa Village on one of the islets. It took us about 1 hour to get there.

Although the Muong people living here are only 20km from the Da River Hydroelectric Plant, the community can only be reached by boat. Locals here have offered home-stays for several years. The deal includes the chance to learn about local life first-hand and eat some Muong specialities like baked pig or Da River fish or steamed chicken. However, the highlight of any meal here is the corn wine – a good gift to take home to those who missed out on the trip.

We left the village when it was getting dark. The spring breeze glancing off the Da River was really cold. Returning to our hotel, a feast of local dishes was being prepared for us.

The long day trip and the corn wine drove us to bed early. By the crack of dawn the next morning we were ready to tackle the Bo floating market, held every Sunday. There’s more elbow room here than at the Cai Rang Floating Market in southern Can Tho City but there’s still a healthy buzz of life as Kinh and Muong people barter and bargain their goods. Some treasures to take home are bamboo shoots, bananas and medical herbs, all at really cheap prices.

To book a stay at Coi Xay Gio Hotel, contact Ms. Nhi at 0913414530 or Mr.Duy at 018 891537

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