(PICTURE: Nicky and Long in front of the river we followed for the next 6 hours.)
Our advice was to "follow the river." We headed out of Mai Chau around 9AM looking for a "dirt path" about 20 kilometers down the road. Eventually we found the path which quickly led to a pretty rickety bridge.
(PICTURE: Nicky crossing the bridge.)
After crossing the bridge we followed a dirt road along the river for a couple of hours. The road was about the width of a car, full of potholes and often flooded. As we rode we occasionally passed small huts and minority villagers. Everyone we saw looked surprised to see us and quickly practiced the one English word they knew: "HELLLLLLLLOOOOOO!!!!"
Eventually we came around a mountain bend and saw a large circle of people sitting in a soccer field. We decided to stop for a few minutes to make new friends. A few minutes ended up turning into a few hours. The people were White Thai and were without a doubt some of the friendliest people I have ever met...it also helped that they were drinking heavily. Some of the alcohol was in rice form:
Some of the alcohol was poured out of what appeared to be old gasoline containers:
And some of the alcohol was soaked in bees:
The drinks put everyone in a great mood and we all sang songs together and enjoyed some snacks. There was some mysterious meat jerky that was sitting in front of the circle and was fed to us by one of the local girls. Every time we ate some all of the other people erupted with laughter and applause. Yeah, I'm still wondering what I hate.
After playing around with the "kids" (they were all 19-26) we were brought to the local club -- a hut with a stereo. At the club the town elders came out to meet us. We ended up having some tea (and another drink or two) with a few men including the town doctor, a one-eyed army vet who fought in Laos and Cambodia, and a really nice old man who is officially my new best friend in Vietnam:
(PICTURE: This man literally couldn't stop hugging me...or maybe it was the other way around.)
The couple hours that we spent in the White Thai village were without a doubt some of my favorite moments of the last year. The villagers asked us to stay the night but we told them we had to keep going. This was a mistake...and led to my scariest experience in Vietnam...