September 2nd is Vietnam’s National Day, a celebration of independence from the French and pride for Vietnam. What better way to spend it than listening to a Vietnamese grandmother sing us patriotic songs over endless shots of rice wine?
But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s roll back.
The national holiday meant that I had a Friday off from work and Oli and I wanted to cram in every bit of adventure we could into the long weekend.
We also wanted to go somewhere new.
We’ve already made it through a good portion of the classic weekend trips from hanoi – Ba Vi, Ninh Binh, Mai Chau and Pu Luong – and were worried we may have run out of ideas. But Northern Vietnam is full of hidden gems and this weekend was no exception.
We were headed to Thung Nai and a windmill on a hill.
Just like Mai Chau and Pu Luong, Thung Nai was not somewhere I’d known anything about before coming to Vietnam. In fact, a quick google search led to nothing much at all, except one intriguing picture of a windmill.
This one was a purely local gem that our friends Giang and Kyle had found, only bookable by a phone call directly to the guesthouse, the aforementioned windmill!
Having camped in Son Tinh on the Thursday night, we made our way to Thung Nai around Ba Vi national park, along the river and via the incredible Hoa Binh dam, accompanied by our travel companion Kaalvoet.
This was a beautiful drive and I would really recommend it as the route from Hanoi, even if it does add a fair few kilometers onto the journey. The other option is to cut out Ba Vi and head direct along the AH13. Either way, you’ll get incredible views of the lake when you turn onto the rugged TL435.
Our friends had arrived earlier in the day, straight from Hanoi, so when we arrived they chartered the windmill guesthouse’ own ferry to personally collect us from the dock! Speaking a little Vietnamese will be helpful here, to get that elusive free pick up.
On arrival to the tip of the peninsular, we were welcomed with a hearty Vietnamese buffet lunch and our first of many shots of free rice wine. All included in our 600,000VND per night fee.
Having arrived later in the day than most of the other guests, who were already out exploring the lake, the 5 of us once again hopped on our personal boat and headed out to trek to a secluded waterfall.
It seems that anywhere you go in Vietnam, there is at least one cave and one waterfall…
Photo Credit: Kaaloviet.ninja
That night everyone came together for another family style feast and a jug of rice wine for each table. The food was absolutely fantastic, with some of the best fish I’ve eaten in Vietnam and locally bred black pork, roasted to perfection.
When we were onto our second jug of rice wine the mama of Thung Nai windmill guesthouse graced us with her presence, serenading us with songs of history, love and patriotism. Our new Vietnamese friends joined in the choruses and we clapped along as best we could, grinning stupidly .
As the stars came out, making us feel even further from city life, the staff built a fire for toasting sausages and roasting sweet potatoes to finish the night.
We lay down on our straw mats that night satiated, satisfied and more than a little drunk. Ears full of soulful singing and conversations with strangers.
The next days activities were slightly more of a blur than the previous day, with a stop at a rubbish strewn temple where cigarettes and 1,000 dong notes were being handed out as Independence celebration offerings and an incredible cave filled with shrines of various faiths.
The lack of information just made the whole experience even more unique. Sure, I would have loved to know more, but we were happy soaking in the atmosphere that the knowing Vietnamese families, couples and school groups were creating for us.
Thung Nai was a complete and utter surprise from start to finish. We had no expectations (apart from that famous black pork) and left knowing we’d return to explore further.
To book this place, call 0986 416 286 from a Vietnamese number. It is unlikely that anyone on the other end will speak English, so do try and learn the phrases you’ll need to book or ask a local to help you.
A bed, all meals and the two boat excursions to the waterfall and cave cost 600,000VND a head.
What other weekend trips from Hanoi haven’t we found yet?