Ha Giang has always been one of the most attractive destinations in Vietnam for those daring backpackers who want to seek the pure beauty of Vietnam’s nature and people. Spectacular scenery of green mountains, winding rivers, flower valleys and serpentine roads are the distinguished features of this North Western province. Ha Giang ethnic people, living in very simple ways, are warm-heartened and cordial, always willing to welcome the visitors from afar. Also, do not miss Dong Van Market, a truly cultural signature of this mountainous region.
HMONG PEOPLE’S KING PALACE
Hmong people’s king palace, Vuong Chinh Duc, once considered to be the king of Hmong ethnic people in Ha Giang Province, ruled a vast area from the province’s Dong Van Plateau to Meo Vac Town in the early 20th century.
Dubbed as Vua Meo (king of H’mong people), he was also the founder of the famous Vuong Dynasty, the largest in Ha Giang Province at the time, where he lived in his unique, luxurious palace shaded with green samu trees.
Named Vuong Palace, it was built in solid stone, fir wood and terra-cotta tiles in ancient Chinese architectural style typical of the Man Qing era in China. Though it seems very much out of place, the palace itself is quite interesting and there are a number of tombstones of the dynasty’s people surrounding it which are also worth a look.
Covering a total area of 1,120 square meters, Vuong Palace was built on an elevated site located in Sa Phin valley in Lung Phin Commune, Dong Van District of Ha Giang. The palace was used as the residence and also a fort of the Vuong Dynasty to protect themselves from attacks by their enemies.
Nowadays, no one lives at the Palace. It is maintained as an artifact and managed by the provincial government. The old royal house attracts keen interest from architecturally minded visitors due to its unique style of Chinese architecture and the legend of Vuong Chinh Duc’s life.
Travelers could reach Vuong Palace from Ha Giang Town by motorbike, driving approximately 125 kilometers through the districts of Quan Ba and Yen Minh. Another option is to head out from Dong Van Town which is just 12 kilometers from Sa Phin valley, a narrow, picturesque valley surrounded by hills and mountain ranges. In good weather, travelers will see the mighty mountain alive with all of nature’s beauty.
From the top of the mountain travelers can hear the wind rustling and experience the vast panoramic view stretching to the horizon. From Ma Pi Leng Peak the Nho Que River, which originates in China, flows like undulating silk.
Stopping for a while on the way and contemplating the wildness of nature while listening to the melodies of the H’mong panpipe is an easy way to feel the true liberation achieved through nature.
Soon the road skirts the tiny Sa Phin valley which has at its center a clump of bamboo concealing the ancient Vuong royal house. Simply put, it is much bigger than a normal house and looks quite old and special.
The Vuong Palace tour reveals 64 rooms that are divided into front, center and back areas. Every corner of the house is filled with the essence of the legendary Vua Meo’s.
KHAU VAI LOVE MARKET
Khau Vai commune, located in Meo Vac district, the northernmost province of Ha Giang, is home to ethnic minority groups of Giay, Nung and Muong. Each year, there is a market session on lunar March 26th (often falling on calendar May), but it is not a farming produce trading market but a love market. The name and activities of the market have common things with love market in Sapa.
But what's different is that Khau Vai is a love market for various ethnic minority groups from four mountainous districts in Dong Van Plateau and ethnic minority groups in communes adjacent to Bao Lam and Bao Loc districts of Cao Bang province.
Local senior people said that this love market dated back to 1919. Roads are now more accessible than the previous years, so more people come to the market. However, activities of the market are still rich in cultural identity.
In the market area, there are two temples called Ong and Ba (Mr and Mrs). A story tells that, once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl born in two different places of the Dong Van Plateau. The boy's surname is Linh and the girl's surname is Loc. They love each other very much despite being hindered by deep streams and high rock mountains.
Because their families prevented their marriage, they together came to Khau Vai, a prosperous land with rich plants which they could live on.
Although they did not have a child but they lived happily until they died. In honour of their merits in cultivating the wild land into a rich land, the local people built the two temples to worship them.
Therefore, on every lunar March 26th and 27th, Khau Vai attracts couples of different ages, including those who seek their partners for the first time. However, most of them are those who love each other very much but cannot wed together because of many different reasons.
There is another local myth tells the story of a young couple from different tribes who fell in love with each other. The girls belonged to the Giay group and the boy belonged to the Nung group. The girl was so beautiful that her tribe did not want to let her get married with a man from another tribe. Consequently, violent conflict arose between the two tribes.
One day, the boy witnessed an aggressive fight between the tribes as a result of their love. To stop the blood shed, the lovers sorrowfully decided to say goodbye. However, they made plans to meet once a year on that day, lunar March 26th.
The place where they used to meet is Khau Vai, which thereafter became a meeting place for all of those in love.
On the day when the market session takes place, it is likely that both the wife and her husband together go to the market but they look for their own partners to share emotions. If one of them has to stay at home, he or she is not jealous in love because the dating at the marketplace is really a faithful feeling exchange.
It can be said that the beauty of love is a basic factor to keep the existence of Khau Vai love market for such a long time.
With the assistance of Ha Giang Culture and Information Department, Meo Vac district and Khau Vai commune authorities hold the traditional love market of Khau Vai in order to promote cultural identity of ethnic minority groups in the locality.
The love market festival is held on lunar March 26th and 27th with the participation of a large number of locals. The festival features food and drink culture, song performances and folk games. Ethnic costumes, jewellery, ethnic musical instruments and culture and art publications are on display at the market, reflecting activities of the local people.
LUNG CU PEAK
Lung Cu belongs to Dong Van district, Ha Giang. It is far about 200 kilometer from Ha Giang town. Here, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy fresh air, learn more about cultural traditional of a unique ethnic. Along highway 4C, tourists will arrive in Dong Van commune, Dong Van District. From here, continuing follow the paved road linking the Lung Cu commune - Dong Van about 40 kilometers, visitors will come to the top of Lung Cu.
From a distance, Lung Cu is so beautiful. This land has third-fours stone, the national flagpole like Hanoi flagpole. When approached, the beauty will become more vivid. The flagpole is situated in Dragon Mountain, at the foot of the pole; it is carved reliefs with a clear pattern of Dong Son bronze drum. If tourists contemplate carefully, tourists will explore in the middle of Dragon Mountain has a large grotto, people here called “Si Ma Khan” grotto.
Lung Cu has a total area of 3460 hectares with 9 villages, there are: Lo Lo Chai, Seo Lung, Ta Gia Khau, Can Tang, Then Van, Then Pa, Si Man Khan, San Cho, San Sa Phin and borders with China more than 16 kilometers. Here, in the winter, it is very cold and has snow. Among 9 villages, Lung Cu Thi Seo Lung village located in uppermost land with Then Phan valley on the left and Nho Que River on the right.
Ethnic people in Lung Cu mainly cultivate. The H’Mong and Lo Lo still preserve the traditional weaving. Specially, Lung Cu also reserves historical artifacts, precious cultural artifacts of the reign of Hung Vuong. According to historical records, on the Tay Son dynasty, Emperor Quang Trung putted in place a large drum and the position of the drum is Lung Cu. Therefore, the Lo Lo in Lung Cu is proficient in using bronze drum.
Moreover, this place has Shan tea, honey wine, corn wine, peach blossom, white snow and Thang Co in each fair…along with the traditional cultural characteristics of ethnic people such as: H’Mong, Lo Lo, Giay… Lung Cu has fascinating in its beauty to attract many tourists. Indeed, if tourists have a chance to come here in the spring, visitors will be enjoyed the fresh air, the sound of love melody of the H’Mong.
Entrance fee: 20.000vnd/people
DONG VAN KARST PLATEAU
Dong Van karst plateau has an area of 2.350 square kilometers, spreads over four districts of Ha Giang province: Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac at an average height of 1.400 - 1.600 meters with a number of beautiful limestone and winding road. Here, scientists have found 33 tectonics heritages, 45 geomorphology heritages and many unique fossils in sedimentary rock, which creates opportunities for the tourist attraction, brings income for indigenous people.
From Ha Giang town, along 4C Highway about 50 kilometers, tourists step into Quan Ba districts with spectacular and grandeur mountain scenery. In the journey to the rocky plateau, visitors can enjoy the beauty of Can Ty Pass. Dong Van karst plateau has 80% limestone, is one of the most distinctive karst in Vietnam with black and majestic boulders. The shapes of boulders are created by environmental conditions and different stages of development. Here, the whole scene is rocks with various shapes such as petals, flowers, flower branch (Khau Vai rock garden, Veo Vac District) or the shape of tiger (Lung Cu rock garden). Van Chai rock garden has green grass that creates the majestic and grandeur beauty for landscape.
Besides the geological value, Dong Van karst plateau also attracts tourists by the unique cultural and spiritual values associated with the ethnic Mong, Dao, Lo Lo… living on the plateau. They picked up stones to build house, walls. They carved stone to grow corn. They renovated the mountainside into a vast of rice. The beauty and grandeur of Dong Van plateau comes from not only the huge natural boulders but also the fair of the H’mong, Dao, Lo Lo… In the morning, ethnic people from neighbor districts come to fair with colorful costumes.
From the geological unique, in the end of 2010, Dong Van karst plateau was recognized as the first geological park of Vietnam and Geoparks of the world. Dong Van karst plateau is one of the special limestone mountain, including the marks of the history of the earth’s crust process and tradition of indigenous communities.
Dong Van karst plateau has all elements convergence to become global Geoparks. Rocky plateau also has national relic such as: mansion of Vuong family, Lung Cu flag pole, Dong Van ancient, Ma Li Peng pass, Quan Ba Twin Mountain…
DONG VAN OLD QUARTER
Dong Van Old Quarter - 100 years old located in Dong Van District, Dong Van, Ha Giang. With the ancient architecture, it still keeps intact contour. Dong Van Old Quarter is the pride of people here. The lifestyle and daily life of ethnic people such as: Kinh, Tay, Mong, Hoa... is very impressive.
Dong Van Town is located in the middle of valley surrounded by rocks. In the morning, picture of old quarter is blended two colors: bright yellow of the sunshine and gray of ancient houses. The quarter is formed form the early 20th century, only has a few families of the H’mong, Tay and Chinese, gradually, more and more other local residents find it. Overall, old quarter has Chinese’s architecture with two-story houses of yin and yang roofs, red lantem…
From above looking down, next to three markets arranged in U-shape with yin and yang roofs are two ancient streets that lead to the mountain. A mainly residential area of the Tay and dozens of ancient houses is concerned as the important part of Dong Van old quarter. According to documents from a workshop about Dong Van Old Quarter, there have about 40 ancient houses with 100 years old. Especially, there has a house nearly 200 years old of Mr. Luong Huy Ngo, built in 1860.
The common architecture here is the two-story house and yin and yang roofs. Besides, Dong Van market area has tubular ancient houses to use advantages as Hanoi Old Quarter. From 2006, Dong Van district held “night in old quater” in March on 14, 15, 16 lunar calendar. All households in the old quarter hang red lanterns, display ethnic brocade, and sell traditional food. “Night in old quarter” in Dong Van karst plateau is also working for propagation to attract tourists. Tourists can learn more about culture of ethnic people through local people and soak into dance of the Lo Lo, enjoy traditional dishes such as: Thang Co, Men Men, Ta Chua of the H’Mong and visit the area display local produce.
Dong Van Old Quarter is an ideal destination in the North of Vietnam, which preserves the tradition and cultural intangible values of ethnic people.
MA PI LENG PASS
Ma Pi Leng Pass belongs to Ha Giang province; it is dangerous road with 20 kilometers length. Over the Ma Pi Leng, there has a mountain with 2.000 meters height located on the 'Happiness' road connecting Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac town. Ma Pi Leng began building from the 60s of the 20th century by workers who almost are the H'mong.
The path length is approximately 200 kilometers. Ma Pi Leng Pass is located in the Dong Van Geoparks which is recognized as the global geoparks. The road along the mountainside has romantic, spectacular scenery that is ideal destination for tourists.
Ma Pi Leng Pass is not long but it is the most dangerous pass in the northern border mountain area. It is considered as the “King” of the Vietnam’s pass or Great Wall of Vietnam or the Pyramid of the Meo. At the top of Ma Pi Leng mount is the “happiness” road, there has a stone stele recording the marks in the construction process.
November 16th 2009, Ministry of Culture, Sport and tourism of Vietnam has decided to classify Ma Pi Leng area as scenic relic of country. It includes: Ma Pi Leng pass is considered the unique regional heritage about landscape and geomorphology; pass peak area is considered as one of the most beautiful viewpoint to enjoy the panoramic in Vietnam; alley Nho Que River is one of the most unique tectonic valley in Vietnam. There have many writers, poets visiting the grandeur pass such as Xuan Dieu, Nguyen Ngoc… and the impression inspires in their compositions.
Scenery in Ma Pi Leng pass is unique with majestic and wild beauty. Looking to the north and northeast, thousands of gray mountains concatenate to the horizon. Net to the road is abyss, below is the Nho Que River with cool water.