Creating reality

Dreams only come true when the hard work is done to make it so

By JOE A on November 16,2019 07:00 AM

Creating reality

PHOTOS JOE A

A DREAM was born inside me the first time I visited Vietnam. At the time, I was a hotel operator in a remote, mountainous region of the US, so I was not only familiar with the lodging industry but also with the great outdoors. I had always had a dream of hiking into the woods and building a house, but the second part of my dream was revealed when I traveled in the wild areas of Vietnam. I saw that you could not only offer lodging to guests in a professional manner but also do this while achieving the dream of erecting your own wilderness paradise.

Unfortunately for my dream, there were quite a few roadblocks, such as my lack of knowledge about carpentry or any craft, the fact that I’m a foreigner and not Vietnamese, and the other dreams I wished to pursue. This didn’t stop me getting butterflies in my stomach every time I stayed in a well-constructed bungalow or stilt house. And even though for me this dream is not yet tangible, it led me to discover a new place and make an incredible new friend.

I was introduced to Lua initially through a mutual friend who knew she had just purchased some land and was turning it into a homestay. My friend said I should ask her some questions about her experience so I could learn more about it, and she immediately invited me to stay with her in Pu Luong. At the time of writing the homestay is sufficiently finished to accommodate guests but still needs final completion to be open for business, which gave me the perfect snapshot into the process.

Creating reality

Pu Luong is a forest reserve about five hours outside of Hanoi. You can get there by bus, car, or motorbike. I always prefer motorbike because of the freedom offered and the ability to take in the view. The road there takes you through immense, limestone cliffs with rice fields in their shadows. Once you enter the park you begin to climb up and over the central mountain range, the top offering a dense, jungle basin rising into the clouds. When you emerge on the other side you are gifted with the lush Pu Luong Valley. This valley is home to an ethnic minority group called the Thai, who have farmed rice here for generations and the only change in that time is the addition of a motorbike.

Lua found herself on a relaxing trip to Pu Luong the year before and heard about some local people selling land in the valley. She met with them and saw the land was overgrown with bamboo and completely undeveloped aside from two old stilt houses. She was in a transition period of her life and was looking for a new direction, so only three hours after seeing the land she was buying it and beginning to plan.

The first step was getting acquainted with the local people. Local people can easily feel threatened by outsiders coming in and starting a business, but most of the Thai understood the benefit to the economy as they would be the ones who were employed to build it and work there. The people are so generous they gave many old textiles and handicrafts to be used as decorations in the homestay. Sixty-year-old woven fabrics were turned into curtains and pillow cases and giant fish traps hung as lampshades.

Once the help of local people could be employed, it was time to begin work on the property. The stilt house was in good condition but needed to be separated into different rooms. It also needed to be about 60 cm higher. A stilt house can be lifted using a bamboo lever under each pillar then slowly slipping supports under the pillars as it rises up. It takes about 20 men, but it’s far from impossible.

Next, it was time to break ground on developing the property. Besides the two stilt houses the land was completely given over to nature so this was a heavy task. The ground needed to be cleared of bamboo so it was collected and stored and was useful later in building structures. Many tons of rocks came out of the soil during the landscaping, and a picture of the homestay became developed. So many materials came from the land that the most prudent course of action was to use them all in construction. A stone border wall was raised on the back of the property as a barrier against soil erosion and it was clear at that point that many more stones should be used in building the homestay.

The workers in Pu Luong weren’t familiar with masonry so Lua got to put her life experience to good use. Before buying the land, she had spent 13 years as an engineer, contributing to massive projects around Vietnam. She had recently quit her job to pursue a personal career and that’s how she came to Pu Luong. Now that she had trained the workers on how to build with stone, they could utilize the wealth of stones they’d dug up from the soil. They’ve since created a series of stone terraces which mimic the rice terraces of the surrounding valley.

This self-sufficient attitude is not only savvy but also reflective of the way of life that the local community lead. There is a small amount of outside goods that come into Pu Luong, and the people there almost solely get by on what they can harvest or raise for themselves. That’s why using all the materials harvested from her own land is a source of pride for Lua. Even the bungalows have a stone foundation and hand-built wooden frames. The bamboo was cut into strips for the bungalow walls and even weaved together to make screens.

One of the final touches was redirecting a stream from the edge of the property to trickle through the homestay. This was done by stone irrigation canals and not only adds the sound of running water to the ambience but also acts as a water source for the gardens in the homestay. The numerous flowers and crops are where the homestay takes its current name, Forest Garden, though the name is likely to change when the homestay officially opens.

My stay in the valley was a revitalizing break from the fast pace of city life. I was lazy most of the time and had a laid-back trip just wandering around the rice farms or feeding the fish in the pond on the property. For those who are feeling more energetic there are great trekking opportunities to find some of the more picturesque vistas and even a nearby waterfall.

The stay was encouraging in so many ways. I was taken in as family and done so by a new friend. But most importantly, I was witness to something truly inspiring. I saw a person pursuing a dream and making it a reality. When you see something like that it’s a reminder of the power we have inside us. We have the power to dream and we have the power to create. And as long as we can put fear aside our creativity will take us to great new places.

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