Waterwheel - a unique structure in Lai Chau

Nga Do
Waterwheels have become a typical feature of Lai Chau province. Bo hamlet in Tam Duong district has the largest number of waterwheels.

Bo hamlet, 35 km from Lai Chau city, is home to Muong, Dao, and Lao ethnic minority people. Due their irrigation demands, local people make waterwheels to get water to their fields and hamlets. Ethnic minority people in the northwestern region including those in Bo hamlet are the ones who make the most effective, beautiful waterwheels of all sizes. Waterwheels in Bo hamlet are 8 meters high and made of natural materials. It requires efforts and skills to make a waterwheel. 

Mr. Lu Van Hung of the Thai ethnic group said good, water-resistant wood is selected to make the wheel axis and old bamboo trees are used to make blades for the wheel. The number of blades depends on the size of the wheel.  "A 5-meter wheel has from 42 to 44 blades. Each blade is 2 meters long. We make holes on the axis to insert the spokes. The holes must have the same depths so that the spokes are balanced. Then we use rattans to make the outside rim of the wheel. Finally, we fix blades in the outside rim of the wheel,” said Hung. 

Once completed, blades will work as turbine propellers. Water will fall into the blades making the wheels move. Moving day and night, waterwheels help ease the hard job of the locals. Mr. Hung said “To get more water, we need dippers. We use big tree knots to make dippers and then fix them in the wheel. The dippers will pour water into gutter after getting water. The gutter, made of old bamboo trees will lead water to our homes and fields.” Selecting right wood and bamboo to make a waterwheel is very important. It requires experience and skills. Once completed, each waterwheel is like an architecture embracing cultural features of local ethnic people and reflecting their talent. 

Hoang Tho, a tourist from Ho Chi Minh City, said “Waterwheels in Bo hamlet top the list of my must-see destinations in the northwest. From afar, they are huge but I have never though it’s too difficult to make them. Coming closer, I really admire the intricacy and talent of the local people. In Bo hamlet, I learn how to make waterwheels and get an interesting experience with the local life: catching fish in streams and cooking Thai food.” Waterwheels by the Nam Mu river are also meeting places of local boys and girls. Together with Xoe dancing, Xen Muong festival, and new rice festival, waterwheels are the reflection of the culture and soul of north-westerners.

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