Encircled to the north by the Chinese border, the towering peaks, terraced hillsides and stilted villages of Ha Giang were long out of bounds to visitors. The construction of a new highway linking Hanoi to China has brought the region closer to the modern world – we recommend getting here soon.
The beautiful mountainous region around Ha Giang is one of the newest additions to the Vietnamese travel scene, and although tourism is slowly increasing, the colours and traditions of this minority stronghold remain much as they have over the preceding decades. For those happy to don hiking boots and strike out into the terraced hills this is a fabulous part of the world. The scenery of sculpted rice terraces through which you trek en route between traditional wooden-housed villages is truly stunning, and the markets that play host to the colourful Flower H’mong, Nung, Dzao and Tay minority groups are a photographer’s dream. Accommodation is basic, as might be expected in this remote part of the country, but staying in a local homestay is part of the experience; making a visit to Ha Giang an unforgettable adventure.
Quản Bạ Valley, located at 45 kilometres (28 mi) from Hà Giang, at 7,945.8 metres (26,069 ft) elevation, is called the “Heaven’s Gate” and has a TV transmitter on a summit. Uniformly shaped hills of the valley are viewed from this summit. Quản Bạ Pass provides views of Thach Nu Doi (literal meaning: double stalagmite, but also known as “Two Stone Breasts” in the valley below.). The valley has forested hills and meadows, with temperatures ranging between 10 °C (50 °F) in winter and 24 °C (75 °F) in summer. It is known for its secret grottoes and caves, colourful orchids, plum and peach trees, persimmon orchards, medicinal plants and many more. The town of Đồng Văn is famous for its Phó Bảng Street which features multistoried buildings built with clay bricks and tiled roofs. The weekly market is where the Tay and H’Mông ethnic groups of the province visit in large numbers to trade in various types of goods and colourful hand woven cloth.
Phương Thiện Cave is 7 km to the south of the township of Hà Giang. It is the location of many sights, especially natural caves and grottos of Doi, Lang Lô and Phuong Thien. The surrounding area is also known for its plums, pears, oranges, apples and Tuyet Son tea above 900 metres (3,000 ft). Chui Cave lies 7 km to the south of Hà Giang. It is set about 100 metres (330 ft) into the face of the hill. Tiên Cave và Tiên Spring: The cave is 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from Hà Giang town. Động có Suối Tiên rất đẹp. According to folklore, heavenly female beings came there to bathe in the lunar new year, thus its name. The local populace uses it as a water source and to pray for good luck in the new year.
Đồng Văn is a market town 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Sà Phìn and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Chinese border is inhabited by the Tày and H’Mông people. It is an altitude of 1,025 kilometres (637 mi) and experiences freezing temperature of 0 °C (32 °F) in winter and 24 °C (75 °F) in summer months. The highland region is famous for fruits such as Hau plums, peaches and persimmons without seeds. It has such medicinal plants as ginseng, cinnamon and anise.
Mèo Vạc is a mountain pass at about 1,500 meters (4,900 ft) elevation which forms the basin boundary of the Nho Que River on the border with China is restricted zone. The market held at Khâu Vai which is about 20 kilometers (12 mi) from Mèo Vạc, is where once a year on the 27th day of the third month of the Lunar calendar is known famously as the Khâu Vai “Love Market”. The ethnic clans of White H’Mông, Tày, and Lô Lô congregate here, particularly the young people assemble here in search of life partners or to exchange partners. The Lô Lô people who dominate the local village by the same name in particular come here in their colorful regale.
The Chợ tình Khâu Vai market only meets once a year, on the 27th day of the third lunar month at Khâu Vai commune in Mèo Vạc district, based on an old folk tale. A long time ago, there was a young beautiful couple who were in love but they were in different districts, which would have meant that she would have moved to her husband’s area. Her home district opposed this, while the boy’s district wanted this, causing political tension. When the couple was meeting, the two groups descended into warfare. To avoid bloodshed for their societies, the couple decided to break up and only secretly meet once a year on the anniversary, at Khâu Vai. Since then the area has become a dating spot for couples. In the last 10 years, economic pressures have led to a market being set up to capitalize on the anniversary celebrations.
Doi Thong (Pine Hill) settlement is an ancient settlement dated back to 30,000 years, belonging to the Son Vi period as established by archaeological excavations. The excavations had unearthed antiquary axe heads and primitive tools which are displayed in the local museum at Hà Biang and the History Museum in Hanoi.
Hà Biang museum, located in the centre of Hà Biang town, not only has an array of display of findings from archaeological excavations but also houses historical artefacts, bronze drum collection and also costumes of the local ethnic clans. Museum building is in form of a big lotus opening up its petals, in red and white colour mansion.
Hà Giang market is an important market centre in Hà Biang town on the east bank of the Lô River. Tày, Nùng, Red Dao and White H’Mông ethnic groups congregate every Sunday at the market.
Lang Si is a village at the Lang Si pass where the White Hmong tribes assemble at the market held once every six days. The village is 116 kilometres (72 mi) from Hà Biang and parts of the border wall built by the French army are seen here delimiting the border of the White H’Mông Kingdom. It is a honey producing area and has many apiaries.
Sà Phìn is a small town in the remote Sà Phìn valley (2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from Chinese border) where H’Mông Kings ruled. The unique feature of the place is of the large double storied houses which are built in Chinese style made out of yellow bricks with Chinese style roof. The twin white towered palace building is distinct among the 20 odd buildings.
The Vương family mansion is an architectural heritage landmark in Sà Phìn com mune, Đồng Văn district that was listed by the government in 1993. At the start of the 20th century, Vương Chính Đức, a member of the Mong people, was appointed the Bang Tá and he had the family residence expanded into a mansion from where he worked. It is a of a style that is rare in this mountainous region of northern Vietnam. The building was designed in the style of the later period of the Qing Dynasty of China, and is grouped into three sections, the front, middle and rear. It comprises six lengthwise and four sideways buildings, two levels, and 64 rooms and 1,120 metres (3,670 ft) of land space. The building is surrounded by a stone wall, of width between 0.6 kilometres (0.37 mi) and 0.9 metres (3.0 ft) and of height from 2.5–3 kilometres (1.6–1.9 mi). The mansion is 145 kilometres (90 mi) to the northwest of the town of Hà Giang and 24 kilometres (15 mi) to the southwest of the district of Đồng Văn.