Further North of Vietnam
January 1, 1970
by Vi Da
By chance, I got a friend returned Vietnam from Australia and I already promised him years ago, that to bring him to my favorite adventure in the North of Vietnam. Plan was set and I got two more friends wanted to join so we have 4 people in the end and it’s a perfect number for a three-day road trip through Dong Van National Karst Plateau Geo-park in Ha Giang province, Vietnam. We flew up to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
It’s easily booked cheap flights between Saigon and Hanoi with low cost domestic airlines for 2,500,000 VND (round trip) which is around USD 120. After 02 hours’ flight, we got to Hanoi and got time for quick dinner before going to My Dinh bus station at 20:30. The bus started to roll its wheels at 21:00. As it’s an overnight bus so we got very comfortable sleeping berths which can help us sleep well during 7 hours’ bus drive.
Day 1 – Dong Van ancient town
Arrived Ha Giang city
I got contact of Mr. Nam who provides motorbike rental services in this area. He is reliable and responsible person and his motorbikes are always in very good condition for road trip. He knows how to operate his business so he is always welcome everyone no matter what time we arrived.
I got surprised when the rent fee is never changed the past 5 years!!! He charges 200,000 VND/motorbike/day and we rented 02 motorbikes (4 people) for 3 days so we paid all before our journey and placed one ID card at his place till we returned. Mr. Nam gave us a road trip map with all highlights on it and with careful instruction and tips how to ride on the mountain roads and how to manage motorbikes if it gets flat tires or so on. We took the motorbikes, filled up the petrol then had a quick breakfast before start our first day hit the road! Yay! We all were so excited!
It was greeting us well with blue sky, sunny, green rivers on the first day! I expected the temperature was lower and cloudy sky instead of this wonderful sunshine.
Quan Ba town
160 Km riding for the first day so our first night stay-over was Dong Van ancient town. After 1 hour departure from Ha Giang city, we got slow down because of the mountain road got more adventurous, the road got narrower, and more curved with one side is high mountain walls and the other side is deep valley. It took time for us to get used to ride on such kind of roads especially to my other friends who had no experiences on this kind of geography. We had manual motorbikes which is the best choice to mountain roads when the gear is also the second break to help us speed down every time we went down hills or speed up when to go up hills. It’s up and down all the time like that for few hours to get to first stop at Quan Ba.
Quan Ba is famous about Twin Mountains which many people think they look like a women’s breast and yes, my friends agreed so. Quan Ba is also considered as heaven gate where fences clearly the flat area and the Dong Van national karst plateau Geo-park.
We had to cross high mountains to get up here and to have a short break as well as the engine had been working very hard. A local lunch in Yen Minh town – our second stop. There were not many choices to eat in this area, there’re few local restaurants in town and we chose where many customers was. I think this is a trick same as anywhere else to choose where has many people which means it must be good to become people’s choice’.
We cannot expect to have good and friendly services here really, there is a menu on the wall with beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, soup, etc. but no one came to ask us or even to take order! One of us had to run to the kitchen and actually looked for someone to order food. Finally, we got steam rice, stir beef, stir chicken and vegetable. All dishes were quite cold when they brought to our table which we had no choice so just try to eat to keep going. It was like 14:00 and we make only 80 km, just half way.
Dong Van ancient town
There was a bit pressure on us because it took 5 hours to finish the first 80 km so still half left which we had to chase the time to get to Dong Van town where we stayed overnight and we would not drive when it gets dark so cheered every one up to keep going ahead! From surprise to surprise, the mountains kept spreading all over our ride and the dawn had set slowly while we were still in the middle of nowhere! Luckily, that 2/3 of the rest 80 km was quite easy so we got to Dong Van ancient town around 17:30!
The sky got dark very quickly and we still found nowhere to stay tonight. We went to few places and finally found a guesthouse located underground of a building. At least, it’s clean and cheap which was 200,000 VND/room/2 people and we had hot shower which is important because the temperature decreased very fast on the mountain and by that time it was 13 degree at night while it’s 27 in the day time.
Dong Van town is developed from the last time I visited as there are more and more tourists come so there are few familiar sites and the rest is so new to me. We hunted a place for dinner and we finally ended up with a goat hotpot which costed 450,000 VND for 4 of us. It’s quite a good deal but it’s not really cheap compare to some local places back in Saigon. We closed our first day trip by an early night.
Day 2 – Lung Cu town, Ma Pi Leng pass
Lung Cu – Northern peak of Vietnam
The second day was laid back as we did only 60 km in total and it’s the most beautiful path ever! We started the second day with local breakfast called ‘Banh Cuon’ (it’s steamy roll rice paper with pork and mushroom inside and to eat with special kind of sauce) and a glass of cold Vietnamese coffee with condense milk. Traveling helps to realize that even we are in the same country but we completely different in some way especially in eating culture and we found this is so interesting!
Heading to Lung Cu, Lung Cu is small town which is 22 km from Dong Van ancient town, lies on top on Vietnam map where meets our neighbor country China. It’s well-known by big Vietnam flag flying independently right at the border of Vietnam and China. We were still on the karst plateau so the road was always challenging our ride.
Legendary Ma Pi Leng pass – Happy road
Ma Pi Leng pass where caught our every single breath – the mountains kept showing its beauty and charming at every corner where we made a turn and there is Nho Que river blows along at the bottom of the majestic karst plateau mountain ranges. And we were riding on Happy road, we named it ‘Happy Road’ as this is the only road connected 02 main provinces Ha Giang, Cao Bang that is really helpful to local people to transfer as well as to do business nowadays. Please do not get it wrong someone ever wonders if there is ‘happen endings’ on this road or any thought relates to ‘that phrase’ haha. There is only happy people on happy road!!!!
We made many stops to take photos and to feel the stunning landscapes which nowhere else exists and we also spent an hour just to sit by the valley and look toward to the bottom of the sky where the mountains lies continuously. It’s an endless and breathless feeling placing in me and It’s always loving me even this is my fourth time went through this part of the country.
Meo Vac town
Meo Vac town was our second night layover, very small one and quiet one. Meo Vac is also famous for annual Love Market which happens in lunar March every year, you can search for Khau Vai love market on the internet. I did not have a chance to discover this local event because all my trips was on wrong dates. We got a cheap and clean guest house again for 200,000 VND/room/2 people, we had good deal as it was weekdays so there were not many tourists and the tip is to keep negotiate with people at the guest house till both agree on a good price.
Day 3 – Meo Vac to Hagiang city
Meo Vac town to Du Gia town
Every day was a new challenge when the condition of the mountain roads and the weather changed differently. On our third day (last day of the trip), we had to face to a ride through misty mountains which we did not really see anything even it was just 2 meters in front of our wheels. It was pretty cold and wet and misty for the first half day of our last day until we got to Du Gia town and stopped for lunch.
The 8 km of adventurous road
Keep riding back to Ha Giang city and we had to pass the 8 km challenge road – this part was almost destroyed because of big trucks keep going pass as there is mine exploited factory in the area. The road was very bumpy and there were so many big holes in the middle of the roads and some part was only very small path like buffalo trails to ride through. Not only bad road condition, we also had to play ‘hide and seek’ with fast and furious trucks and even long container trucks appear suddenly after every turn. There was only 8 km but It took also 2 hours to pass it.
At the end, we all were covered by lovely natural dark yellow color of the dust.. Our last stop was at a peaceful town Bac Me where was still having the green rice crop spreading from the beginning to the end of the village. The roads get flat and easier from Bac Me town to Ha Giang city, and we arrived back to Ha Giang city around 17:00. Everyone was tired of the ride but no one stopped talking about it till the time we went on night bus back to Hanoi.