Northwest Vietnam

Hoa Binh - Song Da Reservoir - Mai Chau - Moc Chau - Yen Chau - Son La - Tuan Giao - Pa Khoang Lake - Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Muong Te - Sin Ho - Lai Chau - Sa Pa - Lao Cai - Bac Ha - Ha Giang Province


Ha Giang is the final frontier in northern Vietnam, a lunar landscape of limestone pinnacle'-and granite outcrops. On a map: it juts up like a boil into southern China, or at least that is how.The Chinese seem to view it. The far north of the province has some of the most spectacular scenery in Vietnam and the trip between Dong Van and Meo Vac is a mind-blower for motorbikers, but. not much fun on buses, it should be one of the most popular destinations. in this region, but is one of those rare provinces that still requires a travel permit and the bureaucratic baloney keeps most at bay.
Ha Giang
IDD Code: (+84) 19
Ha Giang is somewhere to recharge the batteries on the long road north- The scenery is a good taste of things to come. with limestone outcrops soaring skywards over the town. I hose heading further north to explore the districts of Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Van and Bac Me need to arrange a permit (per person US$10) here.
Travel permits can be arranged through the provincial police, with offices on the right bank of the River Mien, or through your hotel or Ha Giang Tourist Company (tell:867 054; Pho Tran Hung Dao). !t is easier to avoid the stone-faced police. The tourist company can also provide guides, which arc officially required and cost US$15 per day plus board and lodging.
There arc some great-value hotels in Ha Giang, As there are few foreigners, toreignerpricing doesn't seem to exist.
Hai Dang Hotel (tell: 866 863; 15 Pho Nguyen Trai; r 100.000d) A real bargain and opposite the bus station. Normally this could be a negative, but for those making the road trip north,the buses pull out early, so convenience is king.
Huy Hoan Hotel (tell: 861 288.14 Pho Nguyen Trai, r 100,000-250,000d) The smartest place in town with slick rooms, big beds and a lift: not something you'd expect in these parts.
Sao Mai Hotel (tell:863 019; Pho Nguyen Trai; US$10) One of the first places when approaching on the road from Hanoi, this is the best all-rounder in town. Enjoy hot water,TIV and comfortable beds. There's karaoke at all hours, though. ThanhThu Restaurant (Pho Tran Hung Dao) One of the best eateries in town run by a friendly fam-ily who look after diners. Bring a Vietnamese phrasebook, as there is no English menu Be careful venturing into local pho shops for a quiet breakfast. We popped in tor some noodles and stumbled out having done 20 shots of xeo with the friendly locals. And it was only 8am.
Ha Giang is 290km north of Hanoi (76.000d,seven hours by bus) on Hwy 2. It is ah sible to get here from Bac Ha, but the road is only for the strongest 4WD or experienced bikers. The route passes th the lively towns of Xin Man and Huong Su Phi and is very beautiful. There are dasiy north to scenic towns like Meo Vac, r much better to explore the beamy of Ha Giang with your own wheels
Around Ha Giang
It's all about the motorbike trip north to the districts of Dong Van and Meo Vac, nestled against the border with China. Leaving Ha Giang, the road climbs over the Quan Ba Pass (Heaven's Gate). Poetic licence is a national pastime in Vietnam, but this time the romantics have it right. The road winds over a saddle and opens up on to a visit straight out of lost. Valley of the Dinosaurs. Like Halong Bay,it’s dizzying to think of the forces of nature that carved out these incredible limestone towers. Dropping into Yen Minh through pine forests, it is worth stopping for a drink before the final leg into the surreal scenery near China. Dong Van is just a small, dusty outpost, but don't be disappointed as it is the gateway to the best road trip in Vietnam: the 22km that snakes its way along the mountainside to Meo Vac. The road has been cut into the side of a cliff face and far below are the distant waters of the Nho Que River and, towering above, the rock face of this mighty gorge, lake your time and soak it up. as this journey is one to savour. Meo Vac is a district capital hemmed in by mountains and, like many towns in the north west, it is steadily being settled by Vietnamese from elsewhere. There are several small lifeless guesthouses in town,charging 60,000d for a basic room with shared bathroom. Best is the Viet Hung Guesthouse (r 60,000d) with comfy beds and a TV, located on the road to Khau Vai district. You need to show your travel permit when checking in at any guesthouse. There are a couple of com pho places around town, plus the market has some food stalls Looking at a map it's seems possible to continue from Meo Vac to Bao Lac in Cao Bang province. However. Ha Giang authorities are dead against this and will do their best to stop you. Approaching from Cao Bang Province. there is little they can do but force you to carry on to Ha Giang city. However, be prepared for a hefty fine and a lot of negotiation.
Scenery aside, the other major drawcard in Ha Giang is the annual love market of Khau Vai. Forget the weekly jamboree in Sapa: this love market takes place but once a year and draws H’mong, Dao and Tay from all over the region The love market is speed dating minority style. Original swingers, the good folk of Khau Vai have been wife swapping, and husband swapping for that matter, for almost 100 years. Youngsters come to find a mate. Old flames fan the dying embers of a lost passion, It is adult friend finder before the internet made it easy. However, they are not in the market for Westerners. It takes place on the 27th day of the 3rd lunar month in the Vietnamese calendar For those of us that don't know our dogs from our dragons, that is usually sometime from late April to mid-May, essentially three months after or Vietnamese New Year, Khau Vai is about 20krn southeast of Meo Vac.