The Old Quarter of Dong Van
The Old Quarter of Dong Van

Travel to Ha Giang - Part 2

After Yen Minh, the road branched into two smaller roads: one led to Dong Van and the other to Meo Vac;  I took the former one with an ascent on a very steep gradient. The landscape changed suddenly into a sweeping view of serrated ridges which looked so unreal!

Dong Van Karst Plateau
Once entering Dong Van Rock Plateau, it's just ethereal scenery around you all the time

The road kept going up and all of a sudden I found myself perched on top of the mountain looking down a breathtaking valley which locals called Sung La that I was mistaken for Shangri La at first. The meandering road running along mountainsides brought me into the valley with some narrow patches of arid soil that local Hmong cultivated their corn. I was shocked upon seeing a man plowing into so thin a layer of soil on the rock for a corn crop. Life here was just so hard!

Dong Van Karst Plateau
Looking down at Sung La Valley

 

Dong Van Rock Plateau, plowing corn farm
Plowing into the rock! I couldn't see much soil at the "farm" that the man was plowing!

 

Dong Van Rock Plateau, family at work
The husband with a child on the back and his wife at work on a rock-strewn farm near their house. They didn't look that wealthy, but surely they did look happy!

After the valley, it was an area that had sheer limestone mountains. The houses, the roads, the trails, the schools were all built on rock! Families had their garden hemmed in by long walls of limestone. The walls were made up of pieces of rock laid one upon another and there was no mortar or any type of glue between them. It must have taken them generations to make all these walls and I was not sure if any had even fallen down!

House on the rock at Dong Van Karst Plateau
A house built on to the rock and surrounded by rock!

 

Stone walls at Dong Van Karst Plateau
A stone wall protecting the family

 

Kids at a school in Dong Van
The kids were having a class break. They ran away upon see me approacing. They were shy, not scared.

 

Dong Van Karst Plateau
Then they came back posing for me to take a picture with big smile. They looked so cute!

Then came the Sa Phin Valley. I could easily recognize a site with the shape of a tortoise-shell by the road side with a grove of high pine trees in the middle. It had to be the former Residence of the Vuong Family then. I had seen some pictures of this place already. I stopped and went down the narrow trail which led to a market and to the front of the former residence. It was late in the afternoon, there were but a few kids playing at the market and a few visitors at the complex. The whole place was quiet and the atmosphere could easily conjure up imaginary images of the place at its heydays. I especially loved the architecture with inner yards and the intricately carved pillar tone bases...

Dong Van Karst Plateau
Sa Phin Valley where there is the former residence of the Vuong Family

It was getting dark quickly and after some thirty minutes at the former residence of the Vuong Family, I continued my journey toward Dong Van Town. The narrow road snaking through karst mountain gorges with deep valleys by the side sent chill down my spine every now and again. It was definitely not wise to make mistakes driving on this road, especially when the sunlight was getting weak at twilight. Close to Dong Van Town, I got out to get some fresh air again. The wildderness was absolutely quiet all around and the landscape bore an atmosphere of melancholy. I gazed at the mountains thinking of nothing for a while and continued into the town when it was pitch dark. The day had been no short of wonders!

 

Dong Van Karst Plateau
A trail carved on the mountainside leading to nowhere

 

Dong Van Karst Plateau
Mountains near Dong Van Town

Dong Van was a small town with little more than a mono-road lined with small shops, guest houses and restaurants. The soul of the town lied in the Old Quarter with the market and merchant houses dating back to the 19th century. Travelers to the area were mostly young Vietnamese having a weekend adventure holiday.

I got myself a hotel room with basic facilities. Upon checking into the room, the hotel owner urged me to come out quickly for dinner as the restaurants in town were closed early. I followed his advice and was the last guest served at the only open restaurant in town!

It was quite chilly at night and I got some great moments after dinner at a cafe. The building with nice architecture had been a merchant house in the center of Dong Van Old Quarter, close to the market. I should have stayed a bit longer, but thought it would be a long day tomorrow; I walked back to the room earlier than I wanted to. The local people seemed to go to bed early here as I didn't see many lights from the houses on the way back. It was peaceful and cold now.