Dong Van Market
Dong Van Market

Journey to Ha Giang - Part 4

Descending the flag tower of Lung Cu, I traveled to Pho Bang Town, home to a little Chinese community in Dong Van. It was late in the morning. It seemed to me that it got colder now than earlier in the morning. The back road went via Lung Tao Commune. Except for a few kids and ladies bringing firewood home, I did not see anyone else. The landscape was mesmerizing and I couldn't help but stopped every now and again for adoring the unreal beautiful nature.

Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Mountains at Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang

From Pho Cao Commune, the road went up. It was so cold that I trembled each time coming out to take a photo. Arriving at Pho Bang in the early afternoon, the market was empty and most shops were closed. I was so hungry and a bit worried that the weather was getting worse later in the day. Luckily, a small restaurant was  still open. It was empty when I came in and they only had fried rice. The food had a strange smell but I did my best to consume half of it; it was a long way back to Dong Van Town and I had to be prepared.

Lung Tao, Dong Van, Ha Giang
A lady is bringing firewood down a rocky mountain at Lung Tao, Dong Van, Ha Giang

Lunch did help to warm me up and I could walk confidently around the town. It was a small one with houses lining a single street. The houses had thick walls made of pounded earth. Local residents seemed to be having siesta now that there was no one around. It'd be lovely to chat with someone and see how they made a living here. I couldn't imagine how they could manage agriculture with only barren hills in the area. There seemed to me not much trade going on either.

Lung Tao, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Lung Tao, Dong Van, Ha Giang

 

A Chinese house at Pho Bang Town, Dong Van, Ha Giang
A Chinese house at Pho Bang Town, Dong Van, Ha Giang

It was getting more foggy and I thought I had better go back to Dong Van Town. I left Pho Bang with unanswered questions and headed back on Route 4C. I had been on this road when it was getting dark, it was great to see the sublime landscape again in day light.

Sa Phin, Dong Van Rock Plateau
Sa Phin, Dong Van Rock Plateau

Arriving back in Dong Van Town late in the afternoon, it was cold but dry and fresh. The town was so peaceful that I had another great stroll around the Old Quarter. A few ladies were preparing goods for sales at the market tomorrow. It got dark after a while, I pulled into a restaurant for a light meal and got straight back to the hotel. It had been a long day and I deserved an early night...

Dong Van Sunday Market
Dong Van Sunday Market

Then came Sunday. I got up at 0600A.M and it was still dark outside. All my luggage had been packed up. After visiting the market, I'd be ready to leave Dong Van. It was another brisk morning, cold and dry. The town was much busier now than yesterday. People from various ethnic groups nearby must have got to town during the night that they had been ready selling and buying at the market. More of them were coming to town still.

Colorful market of Dong Van
The colorful market of Dong Van is once a week on Sunday morning

It was just lovely sipping hot coffee watching people. Some of them came in a hurry and others just wandered mindlessly. Then, I joined the flow of people to the street next to the market which had been full of people and goods. Dong Van Market gathering is on Sunday morning only and local people sell everything ranging from agricultural produce to family utilities. The ladies were all well dressed going to the market as they took it a serious occasion. Some came for selling or buying, some came for drinking, some looking for a partner... It was only once a week and everyone took the chance.

Hmong ladies selling wooden trunks at Dong Van Market
Hmong ladies selling wooden trunks at Dong Van Market

Moving inch by inch in the busy street and surrounded by ethnic people of different groups, I was charmed by the smell and the murmuring sound. Ethnic people here did not talk that loud as often found in markets in the lowlands. Everyone seemed very gentle to one another.

A Hmong lady smoking tobacco on pipe
A Hmong lady smoking tobacco on pipe

Moving through the market slowly was a great experience. I expected nothing, just felt relaxed and took in whatever possible around via the ears, nose or the eyes. At the vegetable corner, some ladies were busy bargaining; at another one, the young girls were giggling. It was steamy and smoky in the old buildings of the market. Some men were raising toasts chit-chatting and smiling.

A Hmong men drinking at Dong Van Market
A Hmong men drinking at Dong Van Market

By 08:30 A.M I had completed the walk around the market and was ready to leave. So I proceeded through the fabric shops at a corner to the street at the back of the market. Some shops still had handmade traditional costumes, but most had cheap fabric imported from China.

Fabric shops at Dong Van Market
Fabric shops at Dong Van Market

There were quite a few people in the street. A Hmong man was playing on a traditional musical instrument. He had another one lying on the ground beside him. It looked like he had made them himself. Hmong men do use musical instruments to woo girls.

A Hmong man selling Hmong traditional musical instrument
A Hmong man selling Hmong traditional musical instrument

At another corner, there were a few ladies selling corn spirit. You could come over and taste their wine and there should be no problem if you decided not to buy from them.

Hmong ladies selling wine at Dong Van Market
Hmong ladies selling wine at Dong Van Market

The street seemed less crowded now and I strolled slowly back to the hotel. Suddenly I saw a little Hmong angel. She was with her grandfather who was selling dry bamboo shoots. Her eyes were looking above at something in the house across the street. Rheum was dropping from one of her nostrils, and she looked so gorgeous! This was surely the best shot I got from the market today!

A Hmong Angel at Dong Van Market
A Hmong Angel at Dong Van Market

Leaving Dong Van was a pity. The peaceful mountain town had a lot of trails and communities around and I didn't have time to explore them. I would do that on my next trip back here then. There was a lot of fun awaiting ahead that I had better move on now.

Ma Pi Leng Pass
Mountains at Ma Pi Leng Pass

The road out of Dong Van went up abruptly leading into the sublime Ma Pi Leng Pass, another marvel of Dong Van Karst Plateau. The small road, which snaked its away amid towering mountain peaks of 2,000m above sea level, provided a wonderful view of the superb landscape around: a forest of mountain peaks high above and deep ravines down below.

Trails at Ma Pi Leng Pass
Trails at Ma Pi Leng Pass

There were trails around the mountainsides leading to different ethnic villages. It must have been hard work for local people to walk back and forth everyday given that the trails were only footpaths. They seemed to be suffering from a drought that there was not water for crops at this time of the year. I didn't see any corn or rice terraces around.

Sublime landscape at Ma Pi Leng Pass
Sublime landscape at Ma Pi Leng Pass

A dark cloud suddenly appeared moving slowly across the mountain gorge. Further, fog was lifting up revealing more and more peaks lining the horizon. The whole universe around me seemed to be moving. It was just a wonderful experience...

It had been nearly 2 hours seen I was lost amid the captivating world of Ma Pi Leng. It was time to keep moving on. There were so many things along the 24-km pass that it was hard to take them all on one trip. I'd be back anyway.

Road at Ma Pi Leng Pass
Road at Ma Pi Leng Pass

Traveling along the mountainside with the Nho Que River below, I could see the tiny road much further ahead. The river didn't have much water that some parts revealed the riverbed. My ears popped again showing that the altitude was getting lower. The sky was getting clearer and I realized that another wonderful day was passing through my life!

Nho Que River from Ma Pi Leng Pass
The Nho Que River from Ma Pi Leng Pass

Descending Ma Pi Leng, the road led me into a valley where Hmong people were busy cultivating corn for the new crop. Their life was simple and they all looked so happy. A big billboard welcomed the visitors to Meo Vac Town. The road looked new and the town was busy with ethnic people going around. It was Sunday and there was a market somewhere. I didn't have to look for it, the Sunday market was just in the center of Meo Vac. It was busy but not as big as that in Dong Van. Dong Van Market to me had more ambiance, especially that the location was amid old shop houses. After a few photos, I continued the adventure out of the town. The road went up suddenly again...

Hmong growing corn at Meo Vac
Hmong growing corn at Meo Vac

 

Sunday ethnic market at Meo Vac
Sunday ethnic market at Meo Vac


It seemed to get colder while I was going up the mountain. Looking back, Meo Vac was really nice a valley with rocky mountains all around. Fog still covered the mountain peaks. Going up further, the view of the surrounding nature was so great. But all looked dry and local people must have been having a hard time with the drought. I did not know apart from agriculture they had any other livelihoods here.

View of Meo Vac Town from above
View of Meo Vac Town from above

A Hmong family was having a break on the way back home. I came over and asked them about the place and about their life here. The young guy confirmed that they couldn't cultivate corn this season due to the drought and that most people didn't have enough food. It was painful to know  this really...

Drought at Meo Vac
Drought at Meo Vac

I had been thinking that it was the highest altitude here already when the road went up again. In no time, did I find that all was foggy and I could barely see the road. A few Hmong guys were riding motorbikes against me on the road with dismaying speed. And through the fog, a group of Hmong ladies were going home. They looked gorgeous in their new traditional costumes.

Ride in fog at Meo Vac
Ride in fog at Meo Vac

 

Hmong on a foggy mountain pass at Meo Vac
Hmong on a foggy mountain pass at Meo Vac

It was too dangerous stopping long here given the thick fog, I got in and continued the drive down the pass. After a few minutes, things were clearer again and I could see the stunning mountains around. The clouds weren't moving, the air got to be still then.

While I was at the base of the pass, the landscape was so different from that in the karst plateau. It was dry and less cold, the sky was clearer down here. Everything was green. There were houses of ethnic Tay by the road side. All was very quiet: it was mid day.

A Tay village at Meo Vac
A Tay village at Meo Vac

The road was flat and my drive was smooth by the riverside to Bao Lac Town of Cao Bang Province. The adventure through Ha Giang was no doubt one of the most memorable trips in my life. I was in Cao Bang now getting more and more excited: there were more adventure ahead!

The Nhiem River
The Nhiem River