In my eyes, Ha Giang, the northernmost province of Vietnam , is
the most attractive destination in the country, with the rocky plateau
at Dong Van, the love market at Khau Vai, Heaven's Gate over the Quan
Ba Pass and the friendly, colourful ethnic groups. For that
reason, despite the bad weather and narrow roads, our seven-day trip to
Ha Giang was eagerly anticipated.
The rocky, limestone district of Quan Ba was our second stop after Hoang Su Phi.
Located 320km to the north of Hanoi on the border with China , the
district at an elevation of 1,000m above sea level and with its fresh,
cool climate, typifies the beauty of Ha Giang. From there, we set out
for the Quan Ba Pass and Heaven's Gate. The imposing, formidable
landscape had us in awe as our car snaked along the treacherous roads,
clinging to the side of the mountain. With a sheer drop on one side and
cliffs rising up into the clouds on the other, it was as if God had
chalked a line across the harsh terrain.
Gate, the mist enveloped us, and the biting breeze rushed into the car
as soon as the door was opened. The temperature in the early morning was
very cold, even though we were wearing warm clothes.
Heaven's Gate is about 1,500m above sea level, and in 1939, the French
built a stone wall and a wooden gate to block the pass, in order to
prevent access to the Dong Van plateau and beyond. From the top of the
mountain pass, we looked down across a large valley of unending terraced
fields, displaying a charming beauty like a paradise dimly visible
through the clouds. They carpet the ground in a patchwork of yellow
rice, green shoots and brown mountain earth, with small houses nestled
Standing out from this colourful valley is
Twin Mountain , certified as a national heritage site by the Ministry
of Culture, Sports and Tourism last year.
Its twin peaks
rise up like the breasts of a giant woman, lying on the valley floor.
The mountain is truly a product of leaching and erosion, combined with
tectonic movement from a fault line below that last occurred around 5
million years ago. In actual fact, Quan Ba boasts an extensive karst
landscape, but many regard Twin Mountain as its most beautiful
feature, due to its picturesque setting.
ventured down to Quyet Tien Commune, where the weather is very cool.
With its temperate climate and fertile soil, locals can grow vegetables
such as kohlrabi, cabbages, mustard greens, tomatoes and potatoes, as
well as flowers including roses, daisies and violets, that they sell in
We caught snatches of conversation from the locals as they worked happily in the fields.
We stopped one farmer, and asked her about her livelihood, and she blushed with embarrassment.
"My family used to grow rice, but now we grow high-quality vegetables
and flowers. Thanks to this, my family's income has increased
significantly," said Vang Thi May from Vinh Tien Hamlet.
Heading to Lung Tam Commune over the rolling hills and bumpy roads, we
saw a valley of lush, green flax. This kind of plant provides the main
raw material for brocade weaving. The village has a long-standing
tradition of brocade weaving that contributes to preserving the
traditional culture of the Mong who live in the area.
Around the Hop Tien Flax Weaving Co-operative established in the village
in 2001, clanking sounds emanate from the looms and sewing machines.
The organisation started with 20 members, but today, 110 members each
enjoy an average income of 1 million VND (48 USD) per month.
The co-operative now has 120 looms with products exported to 20
countries including France , Italy , the US , Japan , Germany and
Denmark , following orders from export companies in Hanoi .
"I am very impressed with the local products, not only with the
traditional patterns and colours, but also the diversity of what's on
offer," said American Bill Savage, adding that he had bought handbags,
purses and hats to give to his relatives as souvenirs of his time in Ha
Vang Thi Mai, 48, chairwoman of the Hop Tien
Co-operative, said: "The Mong in Lung Tam are very happy now and have
peace of mind, having restored and successfully developed their
traditional handicraft, and shared it with visitors from home and
Leaving Lung Tam in the afternoon, we felt a
little happier that the residents were finding a way to work their way
out of poverty, but despite all this, the remote rocky environment makes
life hard for the 7,000 households of various ethnic groups – Mong,
Dao, Tay, Nung, Giay and Pu Y – who live there, and Quan Ba remains one
of the poorest districts in Vietnam./.