Thursday, August 7, 2014
By Phil D.
The weather was perfect with the sun out shining bright, no clouds and a fresh breeze blowing in our faces as we started to motorbike tour Northern Vietnam. With the best still to come, the scenery was already amazing. As we were climbing up the narrow road, sheer limestone cliffs and surrounding mountains became our constant companions.
It was market day and the town was already hustling and bustling in the early hours of the day. Hmong women wearing vivid, traditional dresses filed down from their hilltop abodes carrying all sorts of produce to the town market. Traders were offering everything from traditional clothing, tobacco, incents, and tea. Farmers steered water buffalo and hogs around the market’s edge. The people were busy haggling and looking for bargains but also happy to meet friends and relatives from other villages. It was busy, colorful and authentic with only very few foreigners around. We wanted to get a local breakfast and took a seat at one of the stalls set up on the market ground. Freshly cooked Pho, the traditional noodle soup, was on offer, steaming hot and smelling all so tasty.
We walked around the market a bit longer and then decided to check out some of Dong Van’s other highlights. We first tried to make our way up to a small hilltop village. The road was really bad and some would actually not even call it road. Just a path carved into the mountain covered with rocks. We passed villagers returning to their villages and we realized how far away some of these people live. To make it to the market, they must have left their villages in the middle of the night. The path became more and more rugged and steeper and we started to worry about our precious bike. We finally decided to turn around not knowing if the village was still far or just around the next bend.
The sky cleared up and we decided to drive up to Lung Cu where the Vietnamese set up a huge flagpole on top of a hill overlooking China. The outlook of actually seeing China from up there was intriguing, but unfortunately we never made it. Once we pulled into town, we were escorted by a police officer on a motorbike to the local station. Apparently we had to register with them first. To our dismay we realized that our permits were inside our passports which we had left at our hotels reception. There we were, in a Vietnamese police station confronted by a grumpy official, in the middle of nowhere. Not a good feeling and when he let us know that we would have to instantly go back to Dong Van, we were actually relieved that we didn’t have to face more serious consequences. So if you think you can easily go without a permit, don’t do it. At least if you plan on venturing a bit out of Dong Van and Ha Giang.