Situated as it is in the far west part of Ha Giang Province, many travellers going on the Ha Giang loop skip this part of the province entirely, as it lies outside of the traditional loop. However, the district has been growing in popularity as a midway point for travellers travelling between Sapa or Lao Cai and Ha Giang.
If you stop here, the one attraction you definitely want to catch is Thac Tien Waterfall, located deep within Gio Forest. The name translates to “Fairy Waterfall”, which it owes to the gentle breeze that collects the surrounding fog and funnels it into the space around the waterfall, creating a deeply spiritual and mystical atmosphere. In earlier days there was no way of reaching the waterfall, but the construction of concrete steps down to the pools has made them accessible to travellers and locals alike. Gio Forest itself is also an amazing sight to behold, with its many ancient trees having survived the decades and centuries of human habitation in the area.
Not far from the falls is the village of Nam Dan, which besides being a charming example of a small rural ethnic village populated by the Nung people, also lies close to the “Nam Dan Ancient Rock Field” which is a field littered with rocks, including seven quite large ones and two absolutely massive ones, which carry dozens of carvings created more than a thousand years ago by an unknown or lost culture.
Further north, near the border with Laos, is Nan Ma, a charming village not far from the town of Coc Pai. Besides the authentic vibe of the village, travellers come to visit the memorial that honours seven writers and intellectuals from the communist party who were brutally murdered by French forces in 1952.
Moving into the capital of Coc Pai, you will cross Coc Pai Bridge, which while not the most stunning bridge you will see in Ha Giang, represents great progress in facilitating travel for both locals and foreigners in this remote and often rough part of the country.
In Coc Pai itself there is not much to do, and travellers stopping in the district generally opt for homestays in more remote villages for their overnight stay. However, Gia Long Temple is located here and is worth a visit. Flanking the entrance are giant white stone dragons carved directly out of the cliffside, and every February the local people celebrate “Dragon Day” here to pray for good climate and happiness.
North of Coc Pai is a border crossing with China, and although foreigners are prohibited from crossing here, one can visit to see the ancient stone citadel built there during the Thanh Dynasty, marking the age-old border between the two countries.
There is also the mountain of Chieu Lau Thi, which can be climbed either through a challenging trek from the bottom, or alternatively by car most of the way and then a short 1-hour climb to the summit for some truly spectacular views of both Xin Man and, perhaps more importantly, the rice fields of neighbouring Hoang Su Phi.