After leaving Lao Cai Railway Station visitors can take a car to Bat Xat Town and travel along mountainous paths for about 70km to reach Y Ty Commune. It is a valley lying at an altitude of over 2,000m with Nhu Cu San Mountain, which is 2,660m high, at the back. This mountain is covered in clouds most of the year. From the car, visitors can see trails snaking across the mountain sides and through the forests and small houses amidst the clouds. Y Ty Commune is beautiful with its clouds, mountains and rice terraced fields. It has 15 hamlets with four ethnic groups: the Ha Nhi, Dao, Mong and Kinh. The Ha Nhi is the largest group.
When tourists go to this commune they can visit a market held on Saturday. At the market they will see ethnic people in their traditional costumes selling and buying local products which include brocaded and embroidered items made by the families. The Mong people wear skirts. The Ha Nhi people wear a wig plaited with wool which is tied around the head, using three-bladed hairpins. The Dao people tie a peacock scarf on their heads.
The houses in Y Ty have special architecture. They are called Trinh tuong (earthen) houses that have simple features which is the traditional architectural style of the Ha Nhi. The house has a rectangular shape with a door and a ventilating arch above it. It has no windows but is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The walls, made from earth are 30-40cm thick. The roof of the house is tiled with wood. The Ha Nhi people live in Trinh tuong houses on the mountains, near the streams and lanes covered with forest leaves year round.
According to the local people, in the early spring Y Ty villagers organize a forest-worshipping ritual (locally called “Ga ma do”) to promise the god of the forest that they will not damage the sacred forest. The offerings for the ritual include a pig weighing about 60kg, six chickens, six trays of steamed sticky rice and six liters of wine. Each family must send at least one person wearing their traditional costume to the “sacred forest” to participate in the ritual. All of them must go barefoot because the Ha Nhi people think that it shows respect to the god of the forest.
The Ha Nhi in Y Ty account for 60% of the population. They live near the water source to use for daily needs and irrigating the fields. Ha Nhi women wear a round-necked shirt with front and back flaps in the shape of an isosceles triangle. Their caps are decorated with aluminum coins attached with cotton balls made from colourful thread, and tassels. Ha Nhi women are very diligent in their work. Wherever they go, they always carry a basket with its handle plaited from the hair of a horse’s tail for decoration and warding off the spirits.
Apart from having comfortable weather and beautiful scenery, Y Ty has also preserved the unique identities of the community of the ethnic groups. It has the potential for economic and production development. The jungles in this area have black cardamom trees, which are considered “brown gold”. With a temperature below 200C and unpolluted streams, Y Ty is “a promising land” to develop different species of cold water fish imported from Europe, such as salmon and sturgeon.
The roads leading to Y Ty Commune have been upgraded, enabling cars to reach the hamlets. For those who like to discover new things, Y Ty is surely a place to visit when coming to the mountainous northwest.
Story: Bich Van – Photos: Phuong Hoa