A friend invited me to his family’s home in a small village in the mountains of northern Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. I was welcomed at a small homestead by three generations for three days. The house is built from bamboo cement and wood. They have six dogs, three cats, two buffalo, two pens of pigs, and flocks of chickens and ducks. Meals are eaten on mats on the floor, with a view of the fields and mountains surrounding the house. For the last dinner, one of the ducks had to die. One of the small children was gnawing on the duck’s head all evening. Animals are not pets, they serve a purpose.
Amenities are basic, but there is a hot shower (a bucket filled with hot water), a kitchen with an open fire, opulent wooden furniture, a TV running at all times, and a scenic outdoor toilet behind the pig pens. It’s all very homey and comfortable. There is electricity but no Internet anywhere. (Hence you’ll be reading this after I return to Lao Cai.) I had a wonderful time there, everyone really made me feel at home. In a Vietnamese family, people do not disappear into their own rooms.
We spent the days visiting the surrounding villages, friends of the family, a market, and generally following the beautiful trails between the hills and fields. The harvest will begin in two weeks, so the men in the villages have time to play dominoes and card games. Wherever I go, everyone stops what they were doing to stare at me. I am the first western tourist visiting these remote villages, ever, and people are curious about my size – I am at least a head taller than everyone else -, the hair on my arms, my camera, and my lack of Vietnamese vocabulary beyond hello, good bye, and thank you.