The second day of our time in Hoang Su Phi district started with an early breakfast of beef noodle soup before setting off, again by motorbike, towards the commune of Ho Thau some 30 kilometres away.
Today it is good made-up road all the way and so progress is good apart from the occasional stop to admire the scenery. Hoang Su Phi is a very rural district characterized by mountains, river valleys and the terraced rice paddies in between. The terraces are classified as a National Heritage by the Vietnamese Government and you can understand why. Unfortunately, this is not the best time to enjoy the view for, while the weather is good, it is still early in the year and much of the sowing has yet to be completed. Later in the year, particularly closer to the harvest when the rice starts to turn a golden yellow it will turn into a truly stunning backdrop.
We do not have any contacts in Ho Thau and so employ the usual tactic of stopping to talk to café owners, farmers and any other passer-by to learn where to find the wild tea tree growing areas and who is considered to produce the best tea. After a while we have a consistent message and directions to the house of Mr Phin and a family of Dao minority people.
Just before we visit the tea trees we spot a group of young people who are making a model house out of bamboo for an upcoming festival. We stop and chat for a while and ask them if they can make some bamboo tea-ware for us and we agree to return later to see what they have come up with.
When we arrive at the Dao family house we are immediately invited to share lunch with them. As is usually the case with minority families the food is all home produced; chicken, rice, fruit and vegetables cooked over an open fire inside the house. It is an impressive spread and washed down, as local tradition dictates, with generous toasts of rice wine.
We were also given some freshly picked black cardamom (Thảo Quả) to sample and they were quite possibly one of the hottest spices I have ever put in my mouth. It wasn’t what I was expecting and the surprise was obvious but it seemed to give everyone a good laugh. I will know next time.
Mr Phin has been making tea in Ho Thau for some 25 - 30 years after having learned the craft by spending time in Thai Nguyen province. At that time there was little transport infrastructure in this part of Vietnam and so he had to walk the almost 300 kilometres each way to get there. He has now channeled this dedication into his tea-making and we finished our meal by sampling some very acceptable green teas from the late autumn/ early winter harvest of the previous year. The tea is well presented and is quite similar in character to those from Fin Ho that we have used for flower tea blending in the past. Certainly an interesting visit and we leave with several samples to take back with us together with some warm memories.
After many pots of tea and a photo session we wandered around the wild tea trees on the neighbouring mountainside before setting off to the hotel but not before paying a return visit to the bamboo crafters. The model house had come on impressively but they had also found time to make some pots, jugs and cups in bamboo for us to take away. An excellent job at such short notice!