Ma Le Market, Dong Van
Ma Le Market, Dong Van

Tour to Ha Giang - Part 3

I got up at 0600 in the morning and had noodle soup for breakfast, then my hot coffee. I loved contemplating over the steamy hot coffee in the early morning when the street was still quiet. It was a dry and pleasantly cold day. It made everything just clean and fresh. It was Saturday and the market gathering was on Sunday only. There were some vegetable and meat stalls in the market though. Some old ladies with big basket on the back were going to work. Walking on the narrow streets with shop houses on the side, it was so calm an atmosphere...

A cafe at Dong Van Old Quarter
A cafe at Dong Van Old Quarter

 

A street at Dong Van Old Quarter
A street at Dong Van Old Quarter

Dong Van is said to have been a busy township back to the 19th century when the town was prosperous with opium trade. Nowadays trading in opium is not legal in Vietnam, and the town is still the commercial center for local ethnic groups. On normal weekdays, Dong Van is just a little peaceful town without traffic. It would be lovely to have a couple of days here just walking around the town and following the trails to the nearby ethnic villages...

An ancient house in Dong Van Old Quarter
An ancient house in Dong Van Old Quarter

At 0800 A.M I had finished my walk around the Old Quarter of Dong Van and was ready for my day trip around the Rock Plateau. The plan was to visit Lung Cu Flag Tower which is close to the top-northern point of Vietnam's territory. Lung Cu is 32km from Dong Van Town. It was dry but quite hazy a day. Further to the north of the town, the terrain changed slightly. The mountains in this area of the plateau were karst mountains and dirt mountains. The soil here was very sandy and not fertile for agriculture at all. Along the way I could see some green pine trees, but basically it was kind of brown color. The landscape was no short of spectacular.

Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Mountains at Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang

On the way, I happened to see a Hmong family walking on the road. They were all well dressed. I guessed they were either going to a local market or joining an important social event. The two girls were shy and tried to hide behind the mother when seeing that I was stopping and taking my camera out. It was so funny that the father was walking slowly keeping a distance deliberately with his wife and daughters.

A Hmong family at Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang
A Hmong family at Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang. While the girls were trying to hide behind the mother, the husband was walking slowly and was far behind them.

A few minutes after that I ran into a market at Ma Le. The market gathering here was every Saturday which was easy to remember. In the mountains in northern Vietnam, there were markets of which gatherings were every 6 days and I could not see how they could remember when to go to the market then! There was no way for outsiders to know it really. I changed the lens as I wanted to take as many photos of local people as possible. Their faces were always something very special that intrigued a lot in me.

Ma Le Market, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Ma Le Market, Dong Van, Ha Giang

 

Ma Le Market, Dong Van, Ha Giang
The young couple looked so wonderful side by side

At a corner of the market, there were four men who kept on raising toasts. They looked to be having a great time. What I like so much about ethnic markets in the far-north of Vietnam is that it is not only the place you go for shopping or for selling, but also for socializing and even for meeting with your potential lover. Here in the mountains, there are no bars to go to at night; people drink at the markets. There are some similarities, aren't they? You may live the East or the West, in the countryside or cities, you do need to get together for fun sometimes, don't you?

Ma Le Market, Dong Van, Ha Giang
People came to the market for shopping, we came here for drinking!

Leaving Ma Le Market, I felt some kind of relief in me. People here had such a simple life. Looking at the goods on display and the way they treated one another at the market, isn't it right that happiness still prevails even in lack of material security?

Mountains at Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Mountains at Ma Le, Dong Van, Ha Giang

The landscape from Ma Le to Lung Cu was characterized by barren hills and dry terraces. There was a cluster of houses perched precariously on top of a peak. I guessed if it had rained much in this area, the houses would have been gone! They looked to have been there for quite some time and it meant that the region suffered constantly from drought.

Hmong Village at Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Hmong Village at Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang

I climbed the flag tower to have a panoramic view of the surroundings. The whole area was so dry that I did not see any drop of water. The gardens, the mountains, the farms were just arid. I didn't know how people here could make a living then.

Hmong Village at Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang
Hmong Village at Lung Cu, Dong Van, Ha Giang; a view from the flag tower