Ha Giang: On the edge of China

It was still foggy when we woke up and walked through Sapa town to the mini bus pick up point… It turned out our bus was waiting on the other side of the town, so the company brought us one by one on a motorbike… at this point in the travel, we are not surprised any more about this kind of organisation 🙂 We were the last ones to enter the bus so we could not choose our seats… Bingo! We had the ones on the rear, where you bang your head with each bump! The drive was not bad despite the many turns and we got scared only once or twice in 6 hours… Unfortunately some people on the bus did not stand the trip so well; our seat neighbour and another Vietnamese woman were sick and vomiting in plastic bags during the ride (which they through away by the window…). A least they are experts to do this silently…

Finally we arrived in Ha Giang where we were picked-up by taxi to go to our homestay. Later in the evening the remaining of the group from Ethnic Travel, the agency we had booked this tour with, joined the party. It would be 7 of us for the coming 4 days: 3 English guys – Kyle and the twins Joe and Alex – Yeh the driver, Zen the guide and us 2!

The following day we went for a short hike in the morning. The landscape was quite different from Sapa. The mountain is steeper so there aren’t so many rice fields and the weather is clearer because it is not so humid. We walked for about 2 hours with spectacular views over the Quan Ba Pass and Tam Son valley. Everyone was speaking with everyone, we had a good group dynamic. To continue our journey into the north we had to drive for a couple of hours in the mini van. We stopped shortly on the way to visit the Vuong Palace, a beautiful Chinese style villa where lived the Hmong king.

We arrived in Dong Van at night and all we could see were the neon lights of hotels and shops and sort of Christmas decorations everywhere, which reminded us Christmas was around the corner!… Zen showed us our final destination which was a Hotel. To be honest, we were slightly disappointed at first; we thought we were sleeping in local homestays for the whole trip… but when we saw the soft comfy bed, the heater and the private bathroom, we accepted the trade!

The next day we hiked above the Dong Van plateau, along the last mountains of Vietnam and with China at sight, both countries being separated by a river. The gorges and mountains surrounding seemed to be endless…The path we were following lead us through corn fields and villages of some of the smallest ethnic groups that subsist in Vietnam. We walked through the villages, exchanged smiles and distributed some candy to the Children walking back from school.

We walked fast enough to have a bit of spare time for an improvised activity, so we all agreed to go to the Long Cu flag tower which was built to mark Vietnam’s farthest north point. Our driver Yeh was so funny, he’d never visited the flag tower and we could tell he was really excited. He was taking a hundred pictures. He even asked us to borrow our selfie stick for a while (and borrowed it a few times after that in the following days…).

It was Adrien’s birthday and we had a really nice day so far but it was definitely not over yet. Not that we had planned on a huge party or anything like that, but everyone seemed in a very good mood to have a couple of drinks to celebrate. We went back to the same restaurant as the previous night, we ordered beers to start with and Zen ordered two bottles of happy water (small bottles!) before we could even order food… She kept refilling everyone’s shot glass throughout the dinner without loosing count (especially for Adrien). Just like the previous nights, Yeh had to quit drinking after 3 shots as he became self-conscious about his face and neck turning red.

Finally, Zen surprised all of us all with an amazing birthday cake for Adri that she had secretly ordered!

After dinner and after many happy water shots, everyone was in a mood for Karaoké (especially Kyle should I mention…). That birthday night turned out to be a lot of fun, a great ending to a great day and with great company! We checked into a private Karaoke room and all felt like super stars. Fortunately for us, the playlist had a few English songs among the long list of Vietnamese ones. Yeh was the revelation of the night! He proved to have a really nice voice. Too bad he fell asleep after 2 songs. He must have not been very impressed with Kyle and Joe’s performances of Britney Spears or our performances of Pitt Bull ft. Timberland…

The day following this great performance, everyone was fit enough for a hike in the singular landscape of Ma Pi Leng Pass. Again, it was a beautiful walk through the high mountains surrounded with black rocks everywhere, straight up like dolmens.

When we stopped for a snack while waiting for Yeh I forced Adrien to trying a 10 days egg, a delicacy of Vietnam. Simply put, it is an egg that’s been developing the foetus for 10 days. It sounds horrible but actually tastes quite nice (if you don’t look what you are eating), but Adrien wasn’t so fond of it…

We drove almost the entire afternoon after that to reach a Red Dzao house, our homestay for the night in a village close to Ha Giang. Our last night in the far north of Vietnam before heading back to Hanoi. Adrien and I were starting to get used to local houses, no heating, everyone sleeping in the same room etc… but it was so funny being with Kyle, Joe and Alex who were still in discovery mode. We had to laugh every time they were commenting on the comfort for the night with their polite British accent!

Dinner was once again so generous and good. The owners of the stay were a couple, very nice but didn’t speak a word of English and Zen had to translate for us. But there was not much communication, it seemed all they wanted to do was drink us under the table. I quit drinking after the 4th shot, which I am not sure they appreciated much… but at least I was the only one with no headache the next day! Zen impressed us that night as well with how much she could drink for a tiny girl. There was a lot of laughing that night until Zen told us about her childhood and her life. We all became emotional listening how tough her life had been and how strong she was fighting now to get what she wanted.

The next day was a long drive back to Hanoi were we all said goodbye. We couldn’t have hopped for a better group for this trip, it was a lot of fun.

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