In the far North of Vietnam, bordering China, is Hà Giang province (pronounced Ha Zang). It’s an area of many colorfully dressed ethnic minorities that tourists have just recently begun to discover. It’s not well built up yet and full of small villages set among breathtaking mountains terraced for agriculture.
On arrival, Michelle and I stayed at a homestay in a traditional village (Thon Tha) outside the province capital. While there we met a group of Swedes (whom I will surely discuss in another blog post) who were accompanied by a local guy, named QT, who runs a hostel and motorbike rental agency. We liked QT so much that we decided to rent motorbikes from him in order to tour around the province. For the next four days we cruised the tiny mountain roads, sharing them with water buffaloes, trucks, buses, bicycles, and other motorbikes. Our first day was full of cold, rain, road construction, and mud. For about a half-hour that afternoon we drove along curvy cloud-blanketed mountain roads. Needless to say, it was slow going and it was cold enough that we had to buy coats. We rode around each wearing pants, a long-sleeve shirt, rain jacket, coat, and a poncho. (I was also wearing gloves!) The rest of our days varied between clouds and sun, cool and cold, but we thankfully avoided further rain.
Each day’s ride was like a variation on a theme of unbelievable mountain beauty. As we ascended higher into the mountains, we moved away from the rice paddies of the lower areas. On our second day we went to the farthest north point of this farthest north province, up to the Chinese border, before heading to our destination for that night. The scenery was some of the prettiest I’ve seen. On our third day we took a small road, riddled with potholes and mud puddles, across the mountains and down to a small village called Du Gia. The village is tiny and remote enough that there is only one accommodation for tourists, a place with 8 beds. We had been told to look for the homestay, but the sign in front said Du Gia Backpacker Hostel. The small tin-walled dorm room was more than adequate and we were well cared for by the owners.
This was a Friday night, and the owner told us that the next morning would be market day on the road in front of the homestay. I told him that we had plans to leave in the morning and asked if it would be a problem with the market. His answer was a disbelieving chuckle. We understood his reaction better the next morning when we were woken at 6:00 am by loud (LOUD) music. Apparently the market started at 6 am and was accompanied by a DJ for the first hour. At 8:00 am I woke again and emerged from the dark, windowless dorm room for breakfast. Squinting in the morning sun and rubbing sleep from my eyes, I sat at one of the tables and then looked up at the scene in front of me. The market was taking place only about 10 meters in front of me and 10 or 15 traditionally dressed women were turned around staring at me. The road was crowded with stalls and people visiting the market to make their weekly purchases.
We explored around and saw a lot of variety in what was for sale: fresh fruit and produce, meat, live animals, dried (and unidentified) things, prepared meals, snacks, fabric for traditional clothing, modern clothing, plastic goods and soooo much more! As we walked around one corner of the market, a man grabbed Michelle and I (literally grabbed) and began gesturing; he wanted to take a picture of us with his phone. After this early morning excitement and commotion, the quiet semi-paved road out of the valley was a welcome reprieve, but first, the challenge of getting us and our motorbikes through the market!
We headed back to Ha Giang town that day and the closer we reached, the more crowded the road became with trucks and tourist buses. A little bit of the beauty and magic we had just experienced disappeared with those crowds. We enjoyed every moment of our motorbike adventure and we will long appreciate getting to explore such a charming and untainted place.
This is where we were, Ha Giang province, the Northernmost province of Vietnam.
And this is the route we traveled, going clockwise. Click on the image to go and explore the map further, interactively!
Here are a few of the sights we saw:
View more of our Hà Giang photos by clicking the image below: