Vietnam Travel Route: Ha Giang – Dong Van – Meo Vac – Bao Lam
Ha Giang province is bordering China and is less frequented by tourists. To visit the area, one must obtain a permit. In Ha Giang province, almost 90% of the population are ethnic minorities, each with their own culture and lifestyle. During the last 20 years, while other Vietnamese regions and cities experienced economic development, Ha Giang province seems to have stood still in time. The main reason for this has been the political situation and relations with China.
The farthest and the most beautiful place of Ha Giang province is Dong Van Karst Global Geopark, designated by UNESCO as one of 77 sites with important geological and cultural heritage. Ethereal karst formations of nearly 400 million years ago are scattered in the geopark.
China – Vietnam War, 1979
The Chinese invasion of 1979 is mostly forgotten now but, tensions between the two communist neighbors never subsided. In the early hours of February 17, 1979, at least 200,000 Chinese troops poured into northern Vietnam all along the border. China was aiming to punish Vietnam for its invasion of Cambodia to oust the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. Two months earlier, in late December 1978, Vietnam launched an invasion of Cambodia to remove Pol Pot. Two million Cambodians had died at the hands of his Khmer Rouge regime, and Pol Pot’s troops had conducted bloody cross-border raids into Vietnam, massacring civilians and torching villages. China and Vietnam have since worked to improve their diplomatic and economic ties. However, the two countries remain in dispute over territorial issues in the South China Sea.
The roads are curvy, bumpy, very narrow, in part unpaved, and in general more like a trail than a road. My excellent and careful driver, Mr. Mguyen Khac Minh, used to be a cook and now takes tourists on this drive couple of times a month. My Vietnam experience would not have been the same had I not traveled with a local Vietnamese. With his imperfect English and friendly personality, my driver educated me about Vietnamese culture, food, sites, and experiences that I would have missed otherwise.
The highlight of a trip is always the people you meet along the way. One happy family, sitting on their porch, shouted at us to stop. We did and enjoyed some local moonshine and beer. We had some small talk, exchanged family information, etc. They wanted me to stay, but we had 120 more km to our destination. The journey was even more beautiful after that stop.
Along the way, we passed a few Flower Homang villages. I heard that wife snatching is a widespread practice among the Hmong people when facing wedding obstacles. With the help of some ‘good’ uncles, aunts, and friends, the boy snatches his wife as a first step to formalize their relationships. She, however, has the right to refuse his assertive, so to speak, proposal.