Sailing down the Da River in Hoa Binh province is a wonderful way to relax for a couple of days.
On a Sunday morning my friend and I drove towards Hoa Binh on a surprisingly quite highway. We headed straight for the Hoa Binh Power Plant and Reservoir, a massive project built from 1988 to 1994, where we planned to hire a boat and sail about for the day.
The enormous dam is built on the Da River, one of the chief tributaries that runs out of the mighty Red River, which flows for 910km form Yunnan in southwestern China into Vietnam through Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh and Phu Tho provinces.
The river’s valleys rich in minerals and possess ecosystems with a wealth of flora, fauna and wildlife. The reservoir led to the transformation of the local countryside as the rising waters turned hilltops into islands.
The reservoir has a “tourist wharf” called Bich Ha though I was advised to head for Bai San Pier instead. There is no obvious jetty here but you can hire a small boat. The owners will also cook for you on board for a reasonable price.
Once we found a willing guide, we set off down the river to Thanh Nhan village in the Da Bac district of Hoa Binh province, where a small community of Dao people live. The boat left us at a pier from where it’s a steep 4km uphill walk to the village.
We had the option of staying overnight in the village or on the boat. We decide on the latter and set off with our small backpacks. The hill tribe still maintains its traditional customs and clothing and the villagers are very hospitable and friendly.
We found a house to stay in and were immediately invited to eat some salted pork and drink some herbal liquor (ruou). The meat was rather tough but the ruou was excellent.
The locals have clearly learned how to cater for tourists. We are offered fried eggs and French fries. The houses are well kept and a dream for fussy travelers. The mattresses and sheets are clean and we were supplied with mosquito nets.
There is also reliable electricity – I guess we were in the right part of the country. There was even a Western-style toilet.
We slept well and rose early in the morning to check out the market by the river after buying a couple of beautiful Dao-style brocades, which were rather expensive but wonderfully embroidered.
Down by our boat, people were busy trading. Chickens and pigs were being counted and lined up. Nearby someone was ominously boiling water and the local traders were holler out their prices and haggling. On land, there were food stalls selling pho and ice cream.
Scores of H’Mong people arrived from the villages up the mountain. It is the first time I saw members of the Mong Lenh hill tribe with their wonderful yellow embroidered dresses and long hair which they roll up over their head.
The Mong Lenh were there to sell corn, manioc, chicken and piglets, and buy colour thread, fabrics, dresses, household appliances and tools.
We headed down to the Chieng Hoa district of Son La province, where there are still some Thai villages connected by suspension bridges. The river there is narrow and calm and the Thai women go down to bathe there in the late afternoon.
We anchored at Chieng Hoa pier and set foot on land again. We could hear birds and monkeys in the distance. With our stomachs rumbling we were handed a bamboo fishing-rod. We had to fish for our supper.
Over an hour, we reeled many fish, which we wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over an open fire. With a bottle of ruou from the Dao village, we enjoyed a delicious dinner under the moonlight.
With its grottoes, caves and forests to explore, and clean springs to swim, there is a lot to do along the Da River. But, we were happy merely sitting in the moonlight.
Source: VOV/Vietnam Pictorial
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