Ha Giang is a major border province with grandiose landscapes and ethnic minority cultural traditions that have made this “roof” of Vietnam and its “lovers’ market” a truly impressive tourist attraction. Once visited, it promises to be a “must” to revisit.
Our journey begins at the town of Ha Giang located about 350km North of Vietnam’s Capital of Hanoi. Ha Giang sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and close to the gentle running Lo River. Forty kilometres from Ha Giang you arrive in Quan Ba District. Quan Ba is filled with range after range of magnificent mountains and, not surprising, the weather is cool year round. Here, the scenery is both peaceful and romantic. Nearby Co Tien (Fairy) Mountain is reflected in the surrounding neatly terraced rice fields. Stopping in the nearby Sung La Valley you experience a panoramic view of delightful beauty rarely seen in other parts of the country, a vista that combines truly vast mountains and seemingly mysterious jungles.
Dong Van District is yet a further delight to the eyes. The grand scenery continues but is added to by the bright and diverse colours of the local ethnic minority homes and the costumes of its residents. Situated at an altitude of 1,100m, this district bordering on China is the home of Lung Cu Mountain, rising to approximately 1,800m above sea level and situated at the extreme northernmost tip of Vietnam. It is not surprising that Lung Cu Mountain is called the “roof of Vietnam”. The old streets in the town of Dong Van, extending in the shape of a bow for more than a kilometre, have preserved the town’s ancient architectural heritage. Here, homes have been built in the style of the highlanders: the floors are paved with stones, the walls are made with earth and the roofs are of Yin and Yang tiles.
Dong Van social gatherings are often held on weekends. They are always bustling with activities and flooded by the bright colours of the clothes worn by locals, most of whom are the Mong. Streams of market goers appear moving down the mountain slopes in the early morning, walking along with their horses. Buyers and sellers at the market pay little attention to business; they spend most of the time chatting with one another. Some may form an impromptu group: the men play pan pipes while the women stand around applauding. The whole environment is one of excitement and romance. Mong men like to drink wine from large bowls while they sit around a boiling pan of “thang co”, their favourite traditional soup made with a mixture of meat, maize, herbs and other ingredients. They eat and drink wine until they become inebriated. Frequently inebriated men remount their horses and are escorted on the long road home by gentle wives who keep their husbands and their purchases steady on their horses.
About 12 km from Dong Van is a narrow pleasant valley that is the site of the palace of Vuong Chi Sinh, once considered to be the king of the Mong people, who long ago ruled the vast Dong Van-Meo Vac plateau. His luxurious palace, shaded with green samu trees, was built in ancient Chinese architectural style typical of the Man Qing era. Visiting Meo Vac means crossing Ma Pi Leng Mountain. In good weather, the mountain is alive with all of nature’s beauty. From the top of the mountain you hear the wind rustling and experience a panoramic view of a vastness stretching to the horizon. Nho Que River, the soul of Ma Pi Leng, flows like undulating silk. By standing here and contemplating the wildness of nature while listening to the melodies of the Mong panpipe it is possible to feel the true liberation achieved through nature.
The Khau Vai “lovers” market is a “must” for all visitors to Ha Giang. Khau Vai is a rendez-vous site for once-upon-a-time lovers and young people. It is here that married men and women can come together to meet their old flames, recounting long past memories and then saying good-bye to one other before returning home at sunset. Husbands and wives never venture a complaint when their respective partners go to the “lovers” market. This is because Mong families, for generations, have accepted a fundamental moral code: human beings are born to love one another, true love is respected by all and the eternal sharing of true love is without guilt.
It is easy to be bewildered by the beauty of the terraced rice fields in Hoang Xu Phi. At harvest time, the golden colour of rice extending to the blue horizon literally dazzles the eyes. The fragrance of rice and the aroma of tea trees from vast tea fields overwhelms the senses. The higher one wanders up the mountain paths, the bigger and older the tea trees become. These are the Shan Tuyet tea trees, each hundreds of years old. Shan Tuyet is a very special kind of tea propagated by the Dao ethnic minority. You can climb the trees to pick the young buds and, with help from beautiful Dao girls, process the buds into tea. Experiences such as these delight all visitors and the memories of visiting Ha Giang last a lifetime.
Explore it now. Ha Giang is truly a unique part of Vietnam and its people.
Vietnam Pictorial - (17/07/2006)