One of the most remote, mountainous and hitherto inaccessible corners of Vietnam, Ha Giang is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves for its breathtaking mountain views and traditional way of life. Nestled up by the Chinese border, this part of the country has, for the most part, been ignored by the regional powers, including the Vietnamese themselves, making it home to a large number of ethnic minority communities. These people continue to live our their traditional lives, tending to rice paddies and living in small villages which cling to the mountainside.
Most people who arrive in Ha Giang, do so either coming from Hanoi, or having crossed into Vietnam from China. From My Dinh bus station in Hanoi, it takes around six or seven hours to get to Ha Giang. If you are crossing into Vietnam from China, there are two buses running each day from the Lao Cai border crossing. Be aware that foreign travelers are still required to apply for a permit to travel in this region, due to the sensitive situation around the border.
Getting around the province can be done in several ways. There isn’t much in the way of public transport, but many people are happy to hire a local driver and agree a fee in advance for a day, or several days touring the area. Alternatively, it is possible to hire motorbikes. If you really want to get close to nature, it’s a great area for trekking, with a number of established trails.
Once you’ve found a place to stay, you might want to partake in some of the local food offerings of this unique region. Many dishes originate with the ethnic communities who live here, and can’t be found anywhere else in Vietnam. Chao Au Tau, for example, is a popular evening dish served around Ha Giang town – a dish based on glutinous rice, featuring pigs trotters and an assortment of herbs. Alternatively, you might want to plump for smoked buffalo meat, another local delicacy.
In terms of seeing the sights, most people aim to get the to Ma Pi Lang pass – a steep road climbing up to 2,000 meters of elevation, offering travelers some incredible views stretching from China, out across the mountainous province. From there, you might want to head towards Xa Phin Village, where you will find a grand edifice known as the Hmong King Palace, and named for the ethnic Hmong people who inhabit the area.
To get closer to more local ethnic minority communities, and to see their everyday lives, head to Pho Bang Village, where you can appreciate the wooden columns and mud walls of their traditional architecture. People here belong to the Hoa and Mong ethnic minorities and, with any luck, you might be able to see them in their traditional costumes. If you are trekking, you’ll want to head for the Dong Van Plateau – an almost untouched part of the country, offering panoramic views down to the Vietnamese rice paddies on one side, and the mountains of China on the other. The ethnic minority communities here have been isolated from the rest of the country, and offer the chance to see their communities without the typical tourist gimmicks.
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