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Dreaming of a lazy springtime immersed in traditional culture

The weather in northern Viet Nam during late March and early April always reminds me of my favourite book Thuong Nho Muoi Hai (Twelve Months to Remember) written by Vu Bang.

Traditional: Local residents in Giang Mo Village are proud of the well-preserved stilt houses.

He wrote about the love and nostalgia for his wife and fatherland in the north, experienced while stationed in various parts of the country over the course of decades. The book includes a serial of stories about typical food, fruits, drinks and popular pastimes enjoyed during the year.

April is the time the writer dreams of bathing in Muong village springs in northern Hoa Binh Province.

His stories first inspired me to explore the green-forested mountains, clear spring water and fresh air of the area, which lies about 80km from the capital.

I was completely blown away when I reached Binh Thanh Commune at the foot of Muong Mountain in Cao Phong District after a three-hour motorbike drive.

Peaceful Giang Mo Village consist of stilt houses and is drenched in the traditions of local culture.

Over 100 households call the village home and earn their living by farming. The village first opened its doors to visitors 20 years ago, benefiting from the various perks of the trade such as upgraded roads.

Local fare: Muong Culture Museum owner Vu Duc Hieu (centre) introduces special dishes including boiled pork on banana leaf and streamed fish with traditional wine. — File Photos

Village chief Nguyen Van Hau said that most of his domain has remained unchanged, despite becoming such an attraction.

Here, almost every inhabitant can act as a tour guide, leading you to explore the area’s mysterious beauty.

Legend has it that the Muong once lived in caves. One day, a couple caught a tortoise by chance. As they were about to kill it for food, the tortoise said: “If you spare my life, I’ll tell you how to build a house to live in.” From then on, the Muong had their houses built in the shape of a tortoise, the four pillars resembling its four legs and the roof its shell. A stilt house not only served as shelter but also as a place of worship. The Muong believe in three worlds: the sky for their genie, the earth for death, and human beings living in between.

The houses are made from wood and bamboo, the roofs of palm leaves and grass, which helps them stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

Traditionally, a stilt house has a loft used for storing food and utensils, a floor space for worship, cooking, eating and sleeping, and a space for keeping chickens and other animals alongside tools such as weaving looms, bows and arrows.

 

Village living: The upper part of a Muong stilt house is used for storing food and utensils.

In the corner of a house, Muong women thread yarn on a weaving loom as colours and patterns take shape, making curious onlookers salivate for a try.

As special guests, the Muong will treat you with dishes including black sticky rice (nep cam), boiled pork on banana leaf and streamed fish with traditional ruou can (wine stored in jar and drink through bamboo straws).

In recent years, home stay tourism has become very popular in the village, offering visitors the chance to experience local culture and lifestyle first hand.

“We always cook with our visitors, have meals together and accompany them to the terraced fields or in weaving,” Bui Thi Luu said, adding that this type of tourism did much to improve local incomes.

With so many tourists visiting the village many locals have picked up English, which has made communication a treat, she noted.

Tran Thai Tuan, a tour guide from Phuong Bac Travel, said foreigners enjoyed touring Viet Nam’s mountainous regions where many ethnic minorities still reside. He added that Giang Mo Village was one of the most popular destinations he knew.

The Muong make up 6 per cent of the provincial population and contribute heavily to its traditional culture with their gongs, costumes, dances, rhymes and specific methods of drinking alcohol.

Moreover, in the evening, Muong youth gather to dance and sing folksongs while the voices of elders relate local history.

Make sure not to miss the Muong Culture Museum, owned by artist Vu Duc Hieu and representing traditional stilt houses, Muong routines and culture.

Girls in traditional costume will tell you the story of each object in it.

Similar to my favourite writer, I could do little but fall in love with the mystery of Muong daily life.

VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

 

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