Friday, August 1, 2014
By Lina Eroh
Northeast Vietnam boasts nature as you've never seen it, and as you only can atop a bright yellow motorbike. Black rock forests, rice terraces climbing to the clouds, and unscalable mountains would be enough to make the area around Ha Giang a must-visit destination, but when you add in the ubiquitous presence of the Black Hmong, our two day motorbike Vietnam becomes a can't miss.
Mention Ha Giang in conversation and you'll get one of two responses: a confused brain-searching look, or a reverence that passes across the listener's face. The towns in Vietnam's far northeast aren't on many itineraries, but for those in the know, they're top destinations that boast the best of the North's mind-boggling landscape. Even the NY Times got in on the craze a few years ago, writing what can only be described as an adjective-filled ode to the area.
I'm not sure how we decided to travel here, but decide we did, even though we had only three days before our flight out of the country and nothing at all prearranged.This is a different Vietnam, one where hotel workers speak no English; where live pigs and chickens are transported atop motorbikes; where you get dog meat when you order vegetables and noodles; and where being foreign (and especially white) means everyone in town comes to watch you talk, walk, and eat.
This is a place where you need a permit to spend the night, one where electric pink scarves and high-pitched screams of "hello" from the cliffs above the road are the only things that alert you to the presence of people. It's a place where children carry double their weight of sticks in bamboo baskets upon their backs, where men dress in high-necked black tunics and matching berets, and where the "forests" are black stone.
It's really a land like no other, and it can only be properly explored on a motorbike and with sufficient time. The first thing we learned, and quickly, was that with no prearrangements, we would lose a day in Ha Giang. This would be bad enough if we had ample time, given that Ha Giang isn't the greatest city, but it was worse given that we only had three days to begin with.
The shortest trip with the most "bang for the buck" takes you to the town of Dong Van, then on to Meo Vac, and then back to Ha Giang. It's 330km and lets you drive the most famous portion of the road, but doesn't allow much time for interacting with the locals, trekking, or letting your butt rest from the motorbike.
Dong Van had a few restaurants, but most seem to close around 6pm. We ate at the fried rice place across from our homestay. The meal, at 40,000D, was pretty good and extremely filling. For breakfast, you can try banh cuon, a rice crepe stuffed with beef.