Thon Tha village: a very special place

November 2, 2015

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Thon Tha has literally been a breath of fresh air. Even when we visited for the day there was something that drew us to it. We were hoping that teaching in Ha Giang would give us the stability we had been missing out on for eight months but it hadn’t, if anything it had made it worse! Thon Tha gave it to us instead. It’s a Tay village; Tay people are an ethnic minority group in Vietnam, they speak Tay as well as Vietnamese and there are around 1.7million Tay people in Vietnam.

You can see how long we were there just by how different the colours in the village are. This is when we arrived:

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And this is when we left:

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We arrived ridiculously hungover, having drunk about a hundred beers the night before, and instantly relaxed. The first thing you do when you arrive at anyone’s house in the village is drink tea. There’s no asking you what your programme is, what activities you want to book or when you are leaving, you just sit and have a nice cup of tea with smiley people and they let you get on with it.

We chose to stay at Mr Quyen’s rather than the other two homestays in the village as we’d been there twice before and felt like the setup suited us best.

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This is us with Mr Quyen and his son Que:

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And me with Thuan, Mr Quyen’s wife, who was amazing, working in the fields all day and looking after us and her family in the evening. She even made me a traditional Tay women’s skirt because I told her how much I liked them.

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All the houses in the village are Tay style, stilted wooden buildings with thatched roofs. There is no glass in the windows or doors, everything is very open so you can always hear what’s going on outside. Traditionally, the ground floor is for the animals, for working and for storage and the upstairs is for sleeping and cooking. Most houses in the village still run this way although it all depends on family preference.

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Mr Quyen’s family cooks and eats downstairs and the upstairs is just for sleeping, which I personally prefer; it gives you slightly more privacy upstairs!

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Upstairs is just one big room, but it is cordoned off using curtains into bedroom sections with mosquito nets, so you have your own little space.

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This is your view upwards, into the thatched palm roof.

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Chickens, roosters and ducks roam the village freely, and the roosters start crowing anywhere between 3am and 5am. It’s a sound we very quickly got used to. Pete loves how no two rooster crows are the same, the noises are always different like they have their own personality, some sound like they’ve just hit puberty and their voices are breaking. Pigs in the house next door to Quyen’s squealed most mornings and you could sometimes hear the buffalo mooing. My favourite sound to be woken up to was the lady next door shaking her rice/corn to clear the chaff/dust from it. She’d do it in a flat basket, shaking the grains and then flipping them so the air would clear the dust away, but she’d do it in such a rhythmic way that it sounded almost like an instrument. I’d like to bottle that sound. Basically we were at one with the surroundings; if the chickens all went crazy we were awake, if someone had to leave for an early bus you knew about it; not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure but it’s very organic and simple.

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At the centre of the village is the Community Centre, where they hold meetings and village celebrations. Behind that is the village classroom, where we helped Maggie, an amazing Irish girl who had been in the village for six months, to teach English. All the homestay owners and people who interact with the tourists come to the English class, which is aimed specifically at their vocabulary needs.

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It’s great fun to witness and be a part of; a couple of times I was in role plays and another time I drew flashcards to revise vocabulary. Students are often drunk, which can prove to be incredibly funny, they always seem to learn though.

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There’s a big drinking culture in the village, it’s literally impossible to visit without drinking rice wine. And actually you can’t say no; if you say no, they laugh and pour you a drink!! Rice wine shouldn’t really be called wine, it’s a spirit; it’s brewed in the houses by the families and is generally at least 30% in volume, normally 40%. Plus they serve it in a shot glass… definitely not wine!

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The first time we visited the village we were invited by this old guy, who was already trolleyed, to drink wine with him which was so lovely and felt like a real insight into their world. And it is; it’s so amazing that they invite you to join them. But, when it’s every night and you don’t really want to drink fire or feel like rubbish in the morning it can get slightly tiring! Haha… saying that we had some amazing nights on rice wine.

As you walk up to the back of the village the roads turn to paths, winding through the palm forest, and houses become hidden in the trees.

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This is where you really start to feel that they live as one with the nature.

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As you walk further you get views back down the village.

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And on the other side of the mountain you find more of their rice fields, and the spectacular views start. Once we had done a couple of organised treks with Mr Limh we were able to know the good paths and wander up here by ourselves to marvel at the scenery.

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Thon Tha was a perfect place to be based to explore the surrounding area by motorbike, and to learn to ride a motorbike for that matter. We did loads of day trips and a couple of longer ones, but it was always lovely to come back to the village.P1030628

On our last night, there was a small party in Mr Thien’s homestay, in honour of making banh cake (and our leaving). It was perfect that all of the people who had made our time in the village so special were all in one place on our final night. They all told us we had to come back, they would wait for us, and gave us presents, cake and of course more rice wine.

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Mr Quyen wrote us a note.

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Needless to say, we were both very sad to leave such a magical place where we had been made so welcome. It’s soul food, I literally couldn’t recommend it enough.