Ha Giang off the Beaten Path

Day 3 of Ha Giang Province – February 6, 2016

Quyet Tiet market in Ton Ba district is an ethnic minorities market off the beaten path — not quite as popular nor colorful as Cao Bac’s Flower Hmong market. I went the week preceding Vietnam’s lunar new year, what they call Tet, and the famous peach blossoms were in full bloom in this mountainous region of the country.

My motorbike driver, Son, was quiet, and spoke bits and pieces of English, which he picked up from tourists only. In the off season he is a rice farmer.

We exchange yes-no’s throughout the day, but his quiet demeanor, the beauty of the mountains, make it the perfect day.

One of the highlights of our conversations is about whether or not to go fishing, which is a kind of free “add-on” to the trip. There is no cost involved as the driver has only time on his hands, fishing poles are borrowed from the villagers as part of the day visit, worms are free, maybe, I think because staying in one spot does not require additional petrol.

“Do you like fishing?”

“I don’t know. I never tried.”

“We go fishing in the lake this afternoon.”

Afternoon arrives. “Do you still want to go fishing? I need to look for worms.”

“Do YOU like fishing?”

“No.”

“Why do you want to go fishing?”

“Because you want to go fishing.”

Another highlight of the visit was a forest fire along the side of the road. Two ethnic minority girls with babies strapped on their backs were putting it out, without concern for smoke inhalation of their infants. Similar views that would shock Westerners, who have a very high standard for health and hygiene, peppered the day’s sights.

In the market, a girl eating lunch with her mother next to a pig carcass. Outdoor barber shops. Rice wine infused with unidentified forest herbs stored in a reused water bottle. However, when it is 40 degrees drinking rice wine seems the perfect ailment to the cold weather. When you are the only person walking around with a camera, the locals amused and friendly, and unlike the Hmong and Zao of Sapa, shy away from pushing souvenirs on you. They just smile, and smile with an expression of amusement that I take to mean something like “Why you would come to a market to photograph me instead of buy things. Silly tourist.”

We visit a Red Zao village, take a hike around the village, which is dotted with 30 foot high hay stacks and traditional clay houses.

The rice wine combined with the hike has made me sleepy, and we finally decide not to go fishing. But the spontaneity of being able to go fishing — that was fun.

If I had had more time, I would take the motorbike village run by Mr. Quang in Tay village and take the 2-3 days to go north to Dong Van, the ancient palatial grounds of the Hmong empire in the French imperial era, home to the National Geopark, one of the largest geological passes in the world,  and gateway to China from northern Vietnam. However, for me, with three days in Ha Giang, there were already so many beautiful landscapes in central Ha Giang – I can see the sites in warmer weather.

Perhaps I will come back another time during the month of September when the weather is nicer.

For more information about Ha Giang, I recommend speaking to Dong, the owner of Bong Café in Ha Giang City. Truong Xuan Resort is the best place to stay, whose English-speaking receptionists can help to arrange a similar motorbike tour to Quyet Tiet market and local Zao village.

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