I had never seen as many of rocks and mountains as I did during my recent trip to the Vietnamese northernmost province of Ha Giang. The 1000 meter above sea level locality, located a stone’s throw away from China’s Yunnan province, boasts countless massive limestone rocks, hanging valleys, rice terraces climbing to the clouds and winding roads carved into the mountains. Riding a motorbike is one of the best ways to explore the area if you don’t want to sit your ass off on jam-packed minivans for hours, although the roads are not for the faint of heart.
Our motorbike journey began with a ride from Dong Van to Meo Vac town via Ma Pi Leng Pass, one of the most scenic and dangerous routes in Vietnam. It was a bit intimidating at the beginning due to scores of twists and turns on the road. But it turned out not as difficult as I had thought.
We drove past shapely majestic limestone mountains, small villages tucked in hidden green valleys and smiling locals. The weather was a bit against us as it was gloomy and cold but the view rocked it all. Great stone cliffs, hundreds of metres high, in beautiful steel and copper hues stood on our left while the surrounding mountains were covered with rich green vegetation contrasted nicely with the clouds clinging at their peaks. We just couldn’t resist stopping the bike to take them all in.
The weather got better the day after, if not perfect, with the sun out shining bright. Our trip continued with rides to Sa Phin market and Lung Cu Flag Tower.
Sa Phin market is one of the busiest ethnic markets in Ha Giang. It was already packed with vendors from all over selling food, vibrant clothing and household goods as we rolled in.
People, women particularly, were very well-dressed for the market. They wore vivid pink and green headdresses and long sleeved blouses decorated with sequins which sparkled every time they moved, while the men dressed only black or dark-coloured clothes.
Strolling around the market, I realised that most of business here was done by the women while the men were chilled at small tables over beer and alcohol, many of whom were already drunk. And this was sad to watch!
We wandered around the Palace of H’mong King for a while before commuting to Lung Cu, the northernmost point of Vietnam.
The road leading to the flag tower was way more challenging and dizzying than Ma Pi Leng Pass with full of blind corners and steep slopes. But one more time, the nature wowed. The glazing sun shining over green valleys surrounded by rocky mountains just made a breathtakingly picturesque scene.
From the flag tower, we drove a bit further to the Chinese border, rolling in a small village where we got a glimpse of the local life. Not until I did the trip, could I believe that some people lived that high up on the mountains in very simple houses. Kids, wearing baggy clothes, some even bottomless, ran on the road with motorbike tyre as their toys or climbed and sat in a hold carved into some cliff, looking around innocently. It was not difficult to catch on the road the view of young girls and old ladies carrying heavy baskets for miles, eventually leading to permanent disfigurement.
I am not into biking, to be honest. People who know me know I weave around by bicycle most of the time back home. But the ride around some parts of Ha Giang was worth it while the nature was superb. Despite some parts getting more popular, the whole region is a far cry from the tourist trodden Sa Pa in general. The authenticity comes from the nature, people and local lifestyle although there is a big contrast between them. Ha Giang is getting more commercial due to the country’s policy of tourism development in the northwestern region. Hopefully it will be sustainable development that can benefit the whole region and its people for long while not spoiling the nature.