We were driving the Ha Giang Loop in the mountains of Vietnam when we stumbled upon a family building a house up on the cliff beside the road. They offered us food, laughed, smiled and wanted me to take lots of photos. This woman and her baby were natural models.
Ha Giang province is the final frontier in northern Vietnam, a lunar landscape of limestone pinnacles and granite outcrops. The far north of the province has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, and the trip between Dong Van and Meo Vac is quite mind-blowing. Ha Giang should be one of the most popular destinations in this region, but its proximity to the Chinese border still requires a travel permit, and the bureaucratic baloney keeps most at bay. However, roads are slowly improving, and the slight hassles of scoring a permit are effortlessly offset by some of Indochina’s most jaw-dropping scenery.
However, if you’re in for a little more adventure and that “1 special experience off the beaten path” this area would be your best candidate.
Dong Van is an upland district of Ha Giang, it is far about 146 kilometers from a Giang. Dong Van has Lung Cu that is concerned as ‘the roof of Vietnam’, famous for natural scenery, fruits and precious herbs… The district has 19 communes, in which there has 9 communes bordering with China. In the winter, temperature down to 10C, the highest temperature in the summer is only 240C.
Dong Van is the northernmost district of Ha Giang province. It is located in the ruggered rock upland of our nation. Here, visitors will have opportunity to admire the beautiful scenery and know more about everyday life of Dong Van people, one of the points that visitors should visit the Dong Van market. Dong Van market which has trading of ethnic such as: Tay, Nung, Han, Mong, Hoa, Dao, Kinh…
The market meets on Sunday every week and holidays, New Year. Market located at the root of Don Cao Mountain, beside the Dong Van ancient town. The whole market is designed with the style of Vietnam-China and it has interference with feng shui plateau. There has the rows of stone pillars with sophisticated carve. Dong Van market situated in the middle of Dong Van highland valley basin as an impressive point. This market is designed with U-shape structure and architecture on stone was built during the period from 1925 to 1928.
From a distance, visitors will contemplate the wonderful and vivid scene of upland fair. From the porch, the seller and the buyer exchange goods by their language. Inside the market, there has range of merchandises that show all kind of items along with the sale of livestock and poultry to serve the needs of customers. Like some other upland fairs, Dong Van fair severs ethnic cuisine such as: Thang co, triangle cake, corn wine… Here, visitors will has chance to soak into vivid atmosphere and learn more about the Dong Van ancient town.
Day 4: Crashing through Heavens Gate - Tam Sơn to Đồng Văn
Our ability to waste time in the mornings reached peak levels today, as we set off at 12.30pm. We backtracked 4km to the tourist information centre, hoping to get the travel permits required to journey further north. Unfortunately no one spoke English, so we decided to push on without them – rebels!
Not before a quick climb to scope out Tam Son though – the two boob-lookin mountains on the right are called “fairy bosoms” by the locals.
As we drove further north, the colourful clothes of the local women got brighter:
We left Quan Ba province and hit Yen Minh Pass, also known as Heaven’s Gate.
Aptly named, the views really were to die for (but just in case you feel like living, watch out for the bus wielding maniacs that come hurdling around every blind corner)
We wound our way through spectacular karst peaks, alongside a wide turquoise river, flowing fast and clean through pebble banks and steep valleys.
As we left the bustling life of the last town behind, the discarded rubbish that decorates most of Vietnam’s landscape declined. Most noticeable was the pristine river – with locals happily bathing and washing their clothes on it’s fringes
Truly one of Vietnam’s greatest secrets, these mountain ridge roads were made for motorbiking.
The highlight of the day came when throttle-hungry Jack swooped around a corner and came face to face with a massive dump truck, seconds away from pounding him into the gravel. Luckily, he managed a life-saving horizontal slide, and his bike took most of the damage. Unfortunately I was seconds too late to capture the golden moment
So that’s one crash Holly and one crash Jack – and its only day 4 haha!!
Even though I take great delight in people crashing (as long as they’re not too hurt), the real highlight of the day was seeing all the local women and children from the surrounding hilltribes. With their toothless grins and multi-coloured traditional clothes, they were easy to spot from afar, often lugging back-breaking loads.
As Holly and I cruised into Dong Van at nightfall, we realised the boys were nowhere to be found. After hunting all over town, we got a sheepish phone call revealing they had taken a 50km detour the wrong way -haha!
Once a week the various ethnic groups in the region come to the animated Dong Van Market, just 3 km from the Chinese border. They bring what they have to sell, buy what they need and have a chance to socialize. Some walk for hours to be here and all are decked in their finest for the big weekly event.