Ta Phin Commune: Herbal baths and the smell of orchids

15:27 | 26/01/2017 Culture & Tourism

(VEN) - We recently had a chance to visit Ta Phin Commune in the Sa Pa District of Lao Cai Province, the home of the Red Dao ethnic group that accounts for more than 68 percent of the commune’s population.  Over the past 10 years, new farming techniques and community tourism have greatly improved residents’ lives and changed the face of their village.  

ta phin commune herbal baths and the smell of orchids

Changed villages

While the nearby renowned town of Sa Pa lures visitors due to its famous ancient church, beautiful streets and picturesque landscapes of the Silver Waterfall (Thac Bac) and Cloud Bridge (Cau May), Ta Phin attracts tourists with its hospitality and typical cultures of the Red Dao, as well as the deserted ancient Co Tuy Church that features unique architectural and cultural values, among many other interesting things.

We were most impressed by the major changes in Ta Phin. The commune has become an example of the district’s new rural area project. Thanks to the application of new farming techniques, the rice yield in Ta Phin has reached 4.5 tonnes per hectare, up from 1.8 tonnes per hectare several years ago. Along with rice production, hundreds of commune households have invested in cultivating the cymbidium orchid variety, which has brought in revenues of VND12 billion per year. Some of the households earn hundreds of millions of dong per year, including those of Vang A Chao from Giang Tra Village, Chang A Sa from Suoi Thau Village, and Ly Phu Nhan from Ta Chai Village.

ta phin commune herbal baths and the smell of orchids

Receiving assistance from non-governmental organizations in the form of baby animals to breed livestock

Ta Phin residents have also been creating unique merchandise for tourists featuring their traditional culture, especially multi-colored brocaded backpacks, travel bags, scarfs, handbags, purses, overcoats and more, all made by Ta Phin residents. The products’ embroidery patterns feature nature and the Red Dao religion. Villagers told us that young Red Dao girls usually learn embroidery before getting married. After their engagement, they stay home for a year making two sets of costumes - one short and one long - as gifts for their future husbands before the wedding day.

Ta Phin is renowned for making herbal medicines and offering unique therapies. Visitors shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take a bath in herbal water, which is ideal for relaxation.

Ly Lao Lo, the director of a joint stock company trading in Sa Pa products, said that about 60 households in Ta Phin are providing the company with medicinal herbal products, each earning VND1-2 million a month. Many households purchased the company’s finished products to provide herbal water bathing for visitors. A number of other households have built guesthouses and offer traditional food to visitors, earning stable incomes.

Lo said that about a decade ago, Ta Phin residents were struggling, but the situation has changed considerably since the commune attracted domestic and foreign visitors. Tourism is providing jobs for residents and helping them improve their income.

ta phin commune herbal baths and the smell of orchids

Herbal medicine production is the strength of the Red Dao

Warm hearts

Ly Lao Xao of Ta Chai Village told us that almost all households in the village raise cattle and poultry up on the hills, mainly for food but not for sale. Apart from cultivation and animal husbandry, they produce wine, plant herbs, and provide tourist services.

Their knowledge of three languages - the Red Dao language, Vietnamese and English – are an advantage for trade and tourism.

Xao reported cheerfully that his household has had a bumper crop this year and therefore they will have a happy Tet (Lunar New Year holiday).

Ten years ago, Ta Phin houses were mostly thatched cottages with mud-daubed bamboo walls. Most of them have now been replaced with solid brick-wall houses. Village households now have TVs, internet service, mobile phones, motorcycles, and their children go to school.

Poor households have access to aid provided by non-governmental organizations for projects to improve their income. We were sad to leave Ta Phin and its open, kind-hearted people who, in keeping with generations-old local custom, lend each other cattle and poultry to serve at funerals, weddings and other family and community events. We shall miss the terraced fields, hospitality and local delicacies.

We will unfortunately not be there for the dance festival that takes place on the first and second day of the lunar year at the house of each family leader, with participants dancing and singing songs honoring their ancestors.

Quynh Nga