Located in the Northern most part of Vietnam, Ha Giang, also known as “Vietnam’s final frontier”
, has acquired its reputation for its distinctive topography with thousands of limestone peaks.This is a remote area that remained unknown to many foreign tourists until recent years. Nowadays, it is considered as the gathering ground of every avid traveler.
By coming to Ha Giang, visitors will have the chance to see countless karst mountains, a myriad of wild flowers especially the buckwheat which can bloom in the most colorful hues you can ever see in Vietnam. Furthermore, you can also interact with local people from different ethnic minorities like Tay, Dzao, H’mong, Lo Lo, Day, Man and so on. Here you can have a clear view about their daily life, their unique style of housing, cultivation techniques and traditional costumes.
A view of rice fierd at When I first came to Ha Giang, I was so overwhelmed by this land’s unique beauty that I have never seen before, and the feeling was just indescribable. I have met and talked with a lot of ethnic people, tried a variety of dishes that symbolize each ethnic group’s culture and especially visited scores of tourist attractions in this mountainous territory that made me want to stay longer. This is a life time experience that I can never forget.
Indeed, there are numerous destinations worth visiting in Ha Giang and below I would like to state out some of the highlight destinations that cannot be missed when traveling to Ha Giang.
1. QUAN BA VALLEY
Not too far from Ha Giang City, we can reach Quan Ba Valley which is famous for its Heaven Gate lying at the height of 1.500 meters above sea level and the Quan Ba Twin Bosom right at the bottom of the valley.
From the highest point of Heaven Gate, I was in awe overlooking a Red Dao village and seizing the view of layer upon layer of mountain ranges, the clouds floating below and the snake-like road curving around the range. As it is located in the highest place, allowing every part of Ha Giang to be seen from this point, people call it ‘Heaven Gate’ which means the intersection point between Earth and Heaven. The picturesque landscape made me just want to sit down, enjoy watching the clouds and breathe in the cool fresh air for a while.
Then we went down through the steep terrain and took several fast turns to get to see the Twin Bosom of Quan Ba. You will have to climb up a hill in order to get to the highest place offering us the clearest view of these two mountains.
A view to Twin Bosom Hills
From above, lying in the middle of the wide flat paddy fields, are the two perfectly round-shaped green hills – a rare scene to be seen in Vietnam. It was once told that when a fairy came down to Earth to take a shower, she accidentally fell in love with a man. Their romance gave life to a baby but the fairy had no choice but to go back to Heaven as ordered. So she left her breast to feed her child. And that is the legend behind the Twin Bosom Hills.
2. DONG VAN
After a long drive, we finally reached Dong Van, the largest town of Ha Giang where Tay and H’Mong people reside. Since this is a frequent trading point opened since the French colonial era, this town is without any doubt, the most popular spot welcoming a large number of both native and foreign tourists every year compared to other areas in the region.
Here, in Dong Van, you can join in a multitude of activities. As we often get there by noon, visitors can start exploring the surrounding area.
First you can visit the Old Quarter situated in the heart of Dong Van city. This is where many ancient houses, made from the combination of Chinese and French architectures, are still well-preserved up until now. Although most of the interior of these traditional coin-roof buildings have been transformed into coffee shops or souvenir shops selling local products, visitors can still get the feeling of being in the old time when coming to the Quarter.
I was so lucky to come to Dong Van on a Saturday, the following morning I had the chance to visit Dong Van market, a prominent type of market among ethnic groups only hold every Sunday morning. I wandered through many parts of the local market and bought a lot of fresh fruits that was specially grown by the locals including plums and peaches. Here people also sell their specialties like Thang Co, Chao Au Tau or persimmons without seeds and some medicinal plants like ginseng, cinnamon and anise. Besides, in these traditional markets you can find people buying and selling cattle, mainly buffalos.
Just about 600 meters away from Dong Van Old Quarter, you can hike to the top of the nearby hill called Don Cao, the ruins of a French fortress. It may take you up to 2 hours to climb up and down the hill and the road is very steep. But don’t worry as it is worth the effort because you can grasp the magnificent scene of the whole area from the top, green paddy fields surrounded by layers of mountain ranges and the people busy going back and forth down the town.
The French fortress
Moreover, when reaching Dong Van we cannot omit Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, a UNESCO-recognized geopark. It offers a unique makeup with limestone everywhere on the surrounding mountains, in the paddy fields and on the sideways.Surprisingly many marine fossils, dating back to 600 million years ago, have been found in this area, over 1.000 meters above sea level, proving that this land was underwater a long time ago. This is one of the little places in Vietnam which has a type of razor-sharp rocks formed after a long time of erosion called Rugger rocks, gathering together as a forest of rocks.
In accordance with the stunning scenery made of thousands and thousands of rugger rocks, the living conditions here are very severe with no proper land to cultivate. Therefore the only way for the local people to survive is to grow corn near or right on the rocks from the bottom of the mountain up to nearly its peak. I was so moved and surprised of how strong their will is to motivate them to go up to such high points. It made me think that I could never manage to grow and harvest corn.
Just about 20-minute drive from Dong Van, Sa Phin is a small town located near the Chinese border (2km away) once ruled by a self-proclaimed H’Mong King named Vuong Chinh Duc under the French Colonial Era. Here is his residence, on top of the tortoise shell-like shape hill since 1914, which was recognized as an architectural heritage in Sa Phin commune in 1993.
The Cat King's palace
The building can be divided into three parts, front, middle and rear. This is a perfect combination between European and Chinese architectures that can be considered as the most luxurious construction in the North at that time. The house was carefully constructed with rare woods, decorated with delicate carvings of poppy flowers – the main source of income of people in Dong Van at that time. Today the palace is a museum and you will find some interesting pictures giving you an idea of how luxury the life of the owner was as you wander through ornate rooms and imagine treasures and precious goods stored in underground rooms.
The villa consists in six lengthwise and four sideways buildings, two levels, 64 rooms and 1,120 meters of land space. The building is surrounded by a stone wall, of width between 0.6 kilometers and 0.9 meters and of height from 2.5–3 kilometers. The mansion is 145 kilometers to the Northwest of Ha Giang town and 24 kilometers to the Southwest of Dong Van district.
4. SUNG LA
Sung La, a small Hmong village, becomes a not-to-be-missed destination for interesting exploration. Sung La is famous for its rustic beauty and the tranquility of the highland with picturesque flower fields. Coming here, you can totally escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life and enjoy yourself in this laid back vibe.
Hmong signnature house
You can keep nice memories there with fabulous photos of wildflowers and gradually feel lost in the smell of colorful blossoms around. Located in the romantic valley is the village of Lung Cam, home to the Lo Lo, Hmong and Han tribes. At first, you can enjoy scenic route to the village with many women selling local handicrafts on the pavement. Walking around is a great chance for you to learn how to make these beautiful goods. But perhaps houses with ancient walls in Lung Cam are the most impressive things, appealing to many tourists.
Since chosen as a set for the breathtaking Vietnamese film – “Pao’s house”, the traditional Hmong house has become well-known. This movie can be a miniature painting of Hmong people’s daily life with natural beauty. For years, especially in spring, a number of tourists around the world flow to “Pao’s house” and Lung Cam village to have a stunning view of the wild beauty here.
5. LUNG CU FLAG TOWER
Lung Cu is Vietnam’s Northernmost point, a symbol of national pride. Lung Cu flag tower is a worth-seeing destination when you set foot in the land of Ha Giang. From its top, visitors can see the whole of this spectacular landscape. Lung Cu Flag Tower is now 33.15m in height, 3.8m in diameter. The tower body with octagonal shape is decorated by patterns in Dong Son bronze drum which reflect the historical period as well as cultural features of ethnic minority groups.
Lung Cu flag tower
Plugging in the flagpole is a Vietnamese national flag with an area of 54m2, representing 54 ethnic groups in Viet Nam. Besides, there is a house at the foot of the flagpole to keep the working tools, costumes and other products of the ancient ethnic minority people in Ha Giang province.
To reach Lung Cu Flag Tower, you need to conquer 389 stone steps and go through 140 spiral stairs to come to the peak of the flag tower. This may be tough but very interesting experience and make sure you bring decent shoes and a bottle of water. When you come to the top of the Lung Cu Flag Tower, you will realize that the payoff is worth your climb. And now, you will enjoy the beauty of panoramic Dong Van stone plate as a masterpiece of creativity and the unparalleled view of the hills in Ha Giang. Moving your eyes to the North, you can see all the way to China.
6. MA PI LENG PASS
Ma Pi Leng Pass is a high mountain pass at an altitude of 1,500 m, located between Dong Van and Meo Vac, two towns in the far North of Vietnam, near the border with China. It is said to be the most incredible mountain road in Vietnam.
Ma Pi Leng Pass and Nho Que river
This peerless Pass belongs to Ha Giang province. It is located along the scattered but bumpy highway No.4, called Happiness (The Happiness Road). The road was built in the 1960s by many people who worked very hard, some even lost their life to build this road which took 11 years. The climb through this pass is very tough and risky. It was the most difficult road to build but is now the most gorgeous and charming pass to enjoy in Vietnam. This is a hard-to-get-through pass not only to the local people but also to the French since they set their foot in Ha Giang. Since 1900s the French attempted to open a road in this pass to supply essential commodities to their armies. But the terrain was so harsh that they fail to implement their plan.
A snapshot from the Ma Pi Leng Pass
On setting foot on Ma Pi Leng, you can hardly believe your eyes looking at this astonishing, unspoilt natural beauty of the border region right in front of you. Its own name, Ma Pi Leng which means ‘Horse’s Nose Bridge’ in H’Mong language, indicates the many obstacles and difficult access through this pass, as in fact the nose bridge of a horse is vertical.
This fast turning road appears to be perched unsteadily on the edge of the staggering mountains. The long slim road with serpentine twists and turns cuts through the cascading terraces of rice paddies. Driving along this stunning pass, among the towering mountains, will make you feel incredibly small as if you are lost in the vastness of nature. From here you will have incomparable views of the winding and glassy Nho Que River that snakes between the two sides of the mountain range.
7. HOANG SU PHI
Hoang Su Phi, a district located in the West of Ha Giang povince, is a home of 12,000 households with nearly 65,000 residents from different minorities
like Dao, Tay, Nung and H’Mong.
Hmong People at Dong Van Market
Providing approximately 27,000 tons of rice every year, Hoang Su Phi plays an important part in sustainable agriculture industry. The cascading paddies of this remote land are some of the most impressive in the whole of Vietnam. The province's rice fields aren't only a significant contributor to food but also an attraction for tourism. By the harvest season, visitors will admire the golden fields from the foot to the top of the valley like a golden swirl.
Besides, when coming to Hoang Su Phi, visitors will be immersed in the majestic natural scenery of the mountains or relax in the fresh air of the forests. The moment you listen to the sound of the murmur of the streams will help you forget all the worries of daily life in the suffocating city.
This site is also a great destination for community tours
, especially Pan Hour - an eco-tourism site on the Thong Nguyen stream. Amidst the peaceful and romantic space of this land, learning about the cultural life of the Dao people here, will surely leave a good impression in the heart of tourists.