This photo of fried tree crickets symbolizes the surprises we encountered on our last day in Vietnam, when we traveled back a few centuries to visit a village northwest of Hanoi. My friend Kim from my bookclub recommended a trip to Mai Chau because it was in the most beautiful valley in the world. The ethnic minority White Thai people farm rice in the valley. How could we resist? You cannot rent a car yourself in Vietnam, which makes sense once you experience the intense traffic and bizarre driving. So we hired a guide and a driver who took us on a magical tour.
We ate rice cultivated in the field beside us, then drank a thimbleful of rice wine so strong each sip burned. We formed the entire audience for a dance performance by seven dancers and four musicians who shared their traditional White Thai dances, and then invited us to dance over bamboo poles with them. We rode Vietnamese bikes (one gear, no helmet) on narrow paths between rice paddies, once waiting for cows to pass by. We noticed women chewing on betel nuts that made their mouths red, and bought cotton scarves from backstrap weavers. We felt so lucky to spend our last day amidst such beautiful people in such a gorgeous place. It felt unreal as Vietnam forges ahead into the future.