HIGH IN THE SKY
I’m on a coach back to Hanoi as I write – the past 3 days have been exciting, painful, tiring and completely unforgettable. My travels through the most northern Vietnamese province – Ha Giang, has easily the best part of my trip so far. I have spent the last three days amongst the most spectacular scenery I have ever come across in South East Asia visiting the three largest towns in Ha Giang; Yen Binh, Dong Van and Meo Vac biking down beautiful mountainside roads through rice fields and corn terraces that stretch out to the horizon.
To get to Ha Giang I took a bus from Hanoi’s My Dinh bus station (cost around 140k VND) and the journey took approx 6 hours – on arrival I met with my tour guide Mr Thang and we headed for Yen Binh where we were to stay for the night. The trip to Yen Binh from Ha Giang took roughly three hours including stops for photo taking of the twin mountains in Quan 3 and at Heavens Gate, the highest point in the province sitting at 1000m above sea level. We drove down tiny roads with hairpin turns that led to more winding roads and like nothing I had ever seen before. We saw ethnic minorities walking out into the hills picking corn and dried corn stalks for burning. The villagers, mostly of H’mong ethnicity lived incredible basic lives where food and trade skills were probably the only real currency in their world. I was amazed by the amount of dried corn crops that the local girls and old women were able to carry uphill.
The place Mr Thang arranged for us to stay in Yen Binh was basic but comfy and sufficient for resting my aching back, bum and legs. That night we ate a hearty local dinner of various steamed vegetables and stewed or stir-fried meats with a group of his friends from school. The meal also included plenty of trials of the local corn wine that went down like mouthwash – harsh and gum numbing, but it worked well to give me that warm and fuzzy feeling that was useful for knocking me out cold that night. The next morning we were up nice and early at 7am, after a quick bowl of pho we were off on our full day of riding over 200 kilometres of mountainous road. We started our trip with a journey to Lung Cu then onward to Dong Van via the most stunning 15 kms of road known as the Mipileng Pass or ‘Happy Road’, after we headed to Meo Vac and then finally back home to Ha Giang where we stayed the night.
The pit stop we made at the highest gorge in all of Vietnam located somewhere on the Mipileng pass, left me completely wordless, and for those that know me…this is a pretty big deal!!!! The river flowing through the gorge below looked like a tiny sparkling speck with peaks and peaks of mountains either side until they faded off beyond human vision.
I didn’t want to leave as it was so easy to get utterly lost in the beautiful scenery and could have easily stayed for hours. Unfortunately, the thought of our return journey sobered me from the landscape and decided to press on as there were few daylight hours left to ride.
All of the beautiful views not only from the Mipileng pass but over the last two days were definitely paid for through pain. When one embarks on a long motorbike ride know that you are going to be sacrificing several nerve endings in your ass and thighs, that you’ll have dry eyes for several days after (yes even with sunglasses on….) and you’ll learn the hard way that if you don’t wear eye protection a dragonfly hitting you in the eye hurts like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.
Needless to say the return journey back to Ha Giang was a painful blur after the Mipileng Pass all of the scenery that helped to distract me from the growing lower body aches previously helped no more. To try and distract myself from the constant ache I recited songs from start to finish in my head after singing aloud became annoying for Mr Thang, I thought about the funniest memories of my life, I thought about my childhood and my family, I talked to Mr Thang with my broken Vietnamese (not fully understanding his responses), I thought about the great food my sister cooks, I looked out for and watched the rare person that we would pass, I thought about my friends back home and what they were likely to be doing, I looked for the tallest tree in the distance, I counted network towers after each turn, I stared at the lakes, streams, rivers, at water buffalo, at ox, chicken, goat, I waved at the cute H’mong children dressed in their traditional clothes, I watched workers carrying their crops and painstakingly of all, I counted each. Passing. Stone. Sign. Post that counted down the KM until Ha Giang… 99km…98km….97km, I distracted myself a little more and begged for at least 10 km to have passed but only two had… 95km…94km…
I tried to spot the tiny H’mong people out in the mountains doing their extreme corn picking and all of the tiny lonesome houses in the distance…92km…91km…. MY BUTT HURT and I had never wanted a bed to rest so badly in my life.
We finally arrived to Ha Giang, it was night time and had started to rain when we reached there around 7pm, SEVEN PM! This meant I was on a bike for 12 hours (more 10) but nevertheless when we finally arrived at the welcoming home stay in Mr Thang’s village my body ached for a bed and was broken to pieces. The pain I felt was an indescribable numbing aching pain, I felt mentally and physically destroyed but was it it worth it? Absolutely!
Villa of the H’mong king who gained power through producing opium well hidden in the tress of this valley:
Lung Cu – the most northern point in Vietnam on the Chinese border where you can see China beyond the mountains.