Sunday, 30/04/2023 09:12

A school trip to remember at Thái Hải stilt house village

POPULAR SPOT: Thái Hải has been working on maintaining its significance as an ethnic Tày village for more than 20 years. VNS Photos Mỹ Hà

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Thái Hải Ethnic Village in Thái Nguyên City is a familiar weekend destination for people in Hà Nội. Only two hours away by coach, the village has been a popular team building hotspot, and weekend retreat for school students for many years.

Indeed, it has proved a popular hit with my own child's school. So, when Thái Hải was awarded as a United Nations World Tourism Village in mid-March it was a huge surprise, not just for the teachers and students, but us parents also.

We were surprised that we could give our children such memorable experiences, and they will be happy years later looking back. They had some fun time laughing their heads off at the village, not just sticking to homework, exams and boring lectures.

Of all the ethnic villages in Southeast Asia, Thái Hải was the only one that was voted for the UN accolade. Its preservation of Tày culture among the villagers and community has made headlines around the country. 

Each spring, when coaches take students in neighbouring provinces to Hà Nội to visit President Hồ Chí Minh's mausoleum and Temple of Literature, it's also time for Hanoian students to leave their city to spend some time in the countryside. They relax with views of green mountains, emerald rivers, stilt houses and paddy fields, and get their hands and feet wet and muddy playing traditional games. 

LUNCH TIME: The trays of food are both nutritious and fun.

We arrived at Thái Hải in late morning, just in time for lunch. Nearly 2,500 students and teachers, and a few parents, joining each class. We filled a large auditorium that usually sits 1,500 people at a time. We were seated further back in a long dining hall that embraced a small pond overlooking a bamboo bridge. We ate full trays of roasted pork ribs, stir-fried veggies, sausages, vegetable soup and chips, which all school children love. 

After two years of the pandemic, this is the first school trip for the children. For three years, they didn't get to go anywhere, whereas under normal circumstances, they would have done two trips to places just outside Hà Nội each year. 

Lunch was quick and the afternoon was full of activities: a tug-of-war championship, making sticky rice sweet buns, not to mention chasing hens and roosters around the village. A ritual of the Tày ethnic minority was performed on stage, and everyone held silent for a minute to focus on their year-end academic endeavours.

It was a solemn one minute's silence, and a Tày shaman (a woman in fact) who led the ritual performed on stage. Though, the majority of students that day were ethnically Kinh, the ceremony by the Tày people had some impact on them, requiring them to show respect and be humble. 

Our class kids won a few rounds on the tug-of-war, but they lost in the final, which gave them a laugh. After three years, our class basketball team had gone from the worst team to winning the grade championship. Then they all got some rest around the campfire and ate a BBQ dinner. 

SERENE: The two-hour ride by coach from Hà Nội makes the village accessible to school children in neighbouring towns and cities.

The parents of our class were dynamic and capable. They brought all the meat, carefully wrapped each egg in foil to bake. They brought coal and skewers, chilli sauce and dipping salt. The BBQ was smokey and some food got burnt, our rice was undercooked, but our bánh mỳ was roasted on charcoal to be crispy and soft. It tasted wonderful. 

Like all parties that involve Vietnamese, young or old, singing loud karaoke until your voice cracks is a prerequisite. And so we did. While the girls sang, the teenage boys looked perplexed, not quite knowing what to do. They still lag behind in terms of growth. While the girls discussed how to care for their skin, wear make-up, and tips to make themselves more attractive, the boys dutifully shone their torches to help their parents make the food.

Soon everyone was tired, and we withdrew to our stilt house for the night. A lost frog found its way into one of the open bathrooms and stirred everyone, which added excitement to an otherwise tranquil night.

The next morning was all damp and drizzle. All outdoor activities were cancelled. The kids were happy to know that they were not expected to do anything until lunch. Everyone was given a breakfast coupon for sticky rice, a meat bun or beef instant noodles. The noodle line was the longest I've ever seen. It ran from one dining hall to an entirely different area, with at least 100 people waiting to get their paper bowl ladled with beef soup. Luckily, it moved fast. I was told 150 people work in the kitchen alone.

The dining scene looked massive, yet everything was in order. The Tày people looked beautiful in their traditional black and indigo clothing, accentuated with silver jewellery. 

After breakfast, the kids got assembled on the ground floor, chatting away to kill time. We got a great class picture lining the steps of our stilt house. No one bothered to wear a face mask. A dream trip finally came to an end, and we all got home safely. The memories will linger long. VNS

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