The 5 Best Memories from My Second Visit to Hà Giang

Especially for the beautiful people I met in Ha Giang,

I love traveling to new places and try not to repeat visiting a destination but Ha Giang is an exception. I visited it once in 2011 and last October I decided to come back to the land of mountains and clouds, the heaven on earth that never fails to surprise me and steals my heart.

A farmer in Lung Cu Commune
Farmers in Lung Cu Commune

The road trips

The bus ride from Ha Giang City to Dong Van was torturous (because of bumpy winding road) and smelly (because of passengers’ vomiting and dried fish or such stuff) but the views along the road was breathtaking. Being squeezed among people and luggage in the stuffy and stinky air, I started to feel bus sick but high rising mountains in magical clouds out there mesmerized me and kept me from… throwing up. Luckily, by the end of the trip, I was able to gain a window seat where I could stick my nose to the slightly-open window to get some fresh air and a full view of this beautiful haven.  

My window seat with magical view
A magical view from my window seat

From the most spectacular pass to the unexpected visit to a village

Trang (a young woman whom I met on the bus from Ha Giang to Dong Van and who stayed at the same hotel) decided to visit Meo Vac with me after we had spent some time seeing Dong Van together. We hired a taxi and it turned out a Ford Ranger. We were astonished at first but when the local people explain how difficult the roads there were, we totally understood. On the way to Meo Vac, we stopped a few times on Ma Pi Leng Pass which was one of the four most amazing passes in Vietnam. This pass snaking along the mountain slopes like a thin thread embroidered on a Red Dao woman’s outfit. Down below Nho Que River was hurriedly flowing in the tight creek. We arrived in Meo Vac Town when it was lunchtime. Bien wanted us to try the best food in that town so he called to consult his friend who settles there. We ended up meeting up with his friend Quan and had lunch together. Quan accidentally betrayed my secret thought when he started: “Nothing to see in this town. The native people live up high in the mountains over there. If you want to understand the local life, you have to go to their villages. It’s about 10km away from here and the roads are quite difficult…” I was eager to see the real local life and our driver Bien wanted to buy short-tail dogs from the villages so we decided to go. No way the Ford Ranger could access those villages so Quan was kind enough to lend us a motorbike and he joined us himself. With two motorbikes, four of us started our (I meant Trang’s and my) adventure. The road was not simply bumpy, it was literally rocky. It was impossible to ride on this rough rock-cobbled road unless you was a great rider. I held my breath and held tight to my driver and … pray. When I got used to the … danger, I relaxed and started to enjoy the pristine mountain-scape. I found myself in the middle of somewhere primitive and divine. We stopped at some houses and while Quan chatted with them, I sat back and observed and listened. The second best moment of that afternoon was when I peeped into a one-or-two room school made of bamboo to meet two dozens of astounded eyes looking back at me. I smiled shyly at the little students of different ages and the young teacher while reaching out to offer them some crayons and books.

Somewhere in Meo Vac
Somewhere in Meo Vac

The sound of H’mong flute in a cold windy evening

It was a cold evening in Dong Van. Trang and I met up with Bien and his other friend for some nice chat at Nha Co Coffee Shop at the back of the Old Dong Van Market. Since we had a long day visiting Meo Vac, Trang and I decided that we needed to go bed early. When we were about to leave, the H’mong man at the next table started to place the flute on his lips. My heart suddenly stopped a beat when the sound of the flute spreaded out in the balcony where we sat, blending with the cold air and turning into a kind of magical sound that I could hardly believe there was such a seductive melody on earth. I got frozen while embracing my knees and let his music take me to the land of love and eternal spring where the H’mong boys and girls are flirting each other under the white and pink apricot blossom trees. Many weeks later after the trip, the music that evening still haunted my mind.

Stunning mountainscape in Ha Giang
Stunning mountainscape in Ha Giang

The homestaying at Lũng Cẩm Commune

The first half of my trip was all about sightseeing and the second was about experiencing local life. I homestayed at a house which used to be a main scene for a Vietnamese film called “Pao’s story” in Lũng Cẩm Commune. There were two families of four generations living in this house. Travelers are attracted to this commune because of this house as well as the hoa tam giác mạch (buckwheat flowers). During the time I was staying there, there were about 100 visitors a days and they are quite noisy so by day I would go out visiting the neighborhoods or sit by the open fire in the middle of Mr. Già’s house to avoid the crowd. This open fire was where they cooked their meals or hanging around to get some warmth in the cold days. I adored the early mornings when I woke up to the sounds of the cattle’s bells, of my house-mates’ preparing breakfast or chopping grass. I felt like I could smell and savor the sound itself. It tastes fresh, fragrant and sweetish on the tip of my tongue like a young blade of grass dipped in cold morning dew.

Mr. Gia's wife taking care of his sick mother
Mr. Gia’s wife taking care of his sick mother

And the people

The most beautiful thing that I appreciated from every of my trips was meeting and making friends with beautiful people. I miss the Red Dao elder woman with a sweet smile in the remote village of Meo Vac. I miss little boys and girls at Lung Cam Commune who taught me H’mong language by the open-fire. I miss Mr. Già’s two wives who made me breakfasts. And I miss beautiful Tu and her husband who were so nice to me. The two boiled eggs that Tu packed for me when I left Lung Cam are still vivid in my mind whenever I look back at my second trip to Ha Giang last October.

Mrs. Va stir-frying mustard leaves on the open fire
Mrs. Va stir-frying mustard leaves on the open fire
  • Pam Sabbia

    Very nice to read. The photos are beautiful.

    • lanhue

      Thanks so much, Pam. <3

  • Steve Floyd

    Lan, your piece here and the photos look and feel like a National Geographic article. You have accomplished so much since we first met on the pages of Opera. Love to read more. Dr. Steve.

    • lanhue

      Thank you, Steve. You inspired me to write more and photograph more. Have an awesome Sunday. 🙂

  • Trang Phan

    hi chi Lan,

    Your writing & your photos are stunning! Totally enjoyed reading it! Btw, I am Doug’s former student & now their adoptive daughter! Doug & Cindy are big fans of your photography too! I’ve always wished to visit Tay Bac but never made myself a chance. Your story is a huge inspiration. I think I have to do that on my next trip home in Vietnam. Can I ask for your company then? :-). Would be great!
    Btw, I went to visit your “Heal the wounded heart” org in Hue on my trip home in 2014 & “talked” to the boys & girls there in writing. It’ve been a powerful carving memory for me!
    Please keep in touch!

    • lanhue

      Trang ơi, thanks so much for your kind words. Yeah, it’ll be great if we could travel to Tay Bac together one day. There are so many other beautiful places there I want to see.

      When you come back to Hue next, let’s meet up for some tea. Until then, wish you joy and good health. 🙂

  • Dominique Guglieri

    Beautiful. The story and the photos. You’re doing such a great job! Would be nice to meet you again one of these days in Hue. All the best, Dominique

    • lanhue

      Hi Dominique, thanks for reading my blog. Please give me a shout when you are in Hue and have some time to meet up for some tea. 🙂

      • Dominique Guglieri

        lan, please give me your phone number again. It seems I lost it, or at least cannot find it anymore. I am in Hue until the end of June. Would be very nice to have a tea with you.

  • lanhue

    I’ve sent it to you via Facebook Messenger. See you, Dominique. 🙂