Or: how to reach the northernmost point of Vietnam …
… You need a lot of mud protection, a desire to move on tiny, undulating roads by scooter (which can sometimes lead to quite imaginative falls) and above all, an approximate understanding of how beautiful the region is (even if all expectations are completely exceeded!).
Thành phố Hà Giang– the capital of the region of the same name – is the starting point of many young poachers (as we are) who set out to drive up to the Chinese border in approximately four days. Motorbikes and scooters can be rented cheaply on any street corner (equivalent to approximately 40 euros for 4-5 days), the so-called “homestay” owners are happy to negotiate, and some insurance can be forgotten. You wonder what a “homestay” is (even if it is probably already derivable from the word)? I’ll get to that in a bit. First, we’ll be rolling – we are already three – out of Hà Giang towards Yên Minh (distance Hà Giang – Yên Minh approx. 100 km), the first stop of our 4-days tour of the so-called Hà Giang Loop (total kilometers: approximately 360).
In Yên Minh, we meet wild-gesticulating ladies and gentlemen from various “bistros” and “homestays” at the entrance of the village, who eagerly draw attention to their houses and want to attract us as guests. However, we have made it our mission (recommendation at this point for all travelers) to select some homestays before the trip, and then visit them directly on arrival in the village. Mostly, the homestays (especially in the pre-monsoon period, when we traveled to Vietnam) always have a free place to stay, or they alternatively point directly to a family homestay with free places (always good advice).
The principle of homestays is quickly explained: Vietnamese families from the province earn their money with (cheap for German standards) sleeping space + dinner offers. Especially on the routes of the Hà Giang Loop, the chance is huge that a few scooter tourists will come by every day.
Dinners are therefore held in the Vietnamese families. Many family members, especially the younger ones, speak some English, and so there are small conversations about life in the province and about traditional music (attention: young Vietnamese ladies love to sing karaoke). The family members never want to be helped (for example, while cooking or washing the dishes), so it’s all-inclusive (feels a bit weird, considering the prices).
From Yên Minh, we continue to Đồng Văn on winding roads, past fragrant cannabis fields (yes, there are some of them in Vietnam). The rather narrow streets are lined with limestone mountains, the views down from the hills are impressive. Here and there, a river winds along the valley, which can look damn similar to the roads. On the route between Yên Minh and Đồng Văn, we see the first people in traditional dresses. The clothes are very colorful and immediately stand out in the lush green of the mountains. We stop and watch a few little girls rope skipping, they don’t talk to us, but they smile.
We make a detour – optionally – to the Chinese border, the North Pole of Vietnam. On the way, we cross several villages, which instead of roads only have mud masses through which we have to “swim” – this can lead to one or the other delicate and appetizing falls in the middle of the mud.
Arriving at the North Pole, we park our full muddy scooters and buy a ticket to climb a 50-meter-high tower from which we can look down over Vietnam and China – an impressive moment of the journey. It’s wet and cold up there, and everywhere you can see creepy big moths and other butterflies.
We continue to the Du Gia waterfall, on the edge of which many Indigenous children romp around, who show where we can safely jump into the water. We jump right in with all our clothes – it’s crazy hot.
On the way back (after some obstacles, for example, forgetting the route and getting lost) we are surprised by a downpour, which does not allow us to continue driving. So we stay in a muffled restaurant and get to know a mixed group of English, Australians, and Americans, with whom we finally finish the loop together.
Before we get back to Hà Giang, we have to battle our way – you can already guess – on adventurous roads, through gigantic puddles and over hanging, wooden bridges. In these battles, one of our scooter keys bizarrely gets lost (while driving!). Both passports and wallets are in the locked interior of the scooter. Some motivated inhabitants of Du Già (and other villages on the route towards Hà Giang) try to unlock our scooter with their own key – you never know …
Arriving at a gas station and always careful to not let the scooter turn off, we meet the nice operator who recommends a garage around the corner (in the meantime the scooter has already turned off).
At the garage, a very cheerful, toothless Vietnamese welcomes us with a plastic bag full of keys and the idea to simply make an inappropriate key fit – he tries them all until he finds one that fits our scooter.
With a new, false key and a fully fuelled canister, we head back to Hà Giang and from there – with an adventurously wobbling night bus, which travels 100 km/h instead of usually 50 – back to Hanoi! (Instead of 7, we only need 4.5 hours for the ride …)
(Who, like me, has never ridden a scooter before and is less courageous – unlike me 😉 – can also hire a personal driver with a scooter. The driver will then accompany you throughout your trip. We opted for the “courageous” option, which doesn’t mean it was the better one, at least it was unforgettable !!!!!)