The roof of Vietnam
Sharing 274 kilometers of border with China, spectacular Ha Giang is made up of imposing mountains split by valleys, rivers and streams and rising to 2,419 meters above sea level at the summit of Tay Con Linh.  

In its ancient forests live tigers, scaly anteaters, peacocks, pheasants and thousands of medicinal herbs.

One of the best places to see is the rocky plateau of Dong Van, which covers 575 square kilometers and varies in height between 1,000 and 1,600 meters above sea level.

Famous Quan Ba couple mountain reflects the female’s curves (PHOTOS BY LEON)

A corner of the old town of Dong Van in Ha Giang Province

At the entrance to Dong Van Market

Making gold teeth is a traditional custom of the ethic people in the northernmost province of Ha Giang

It can be reached from the provincial center, also called Ha Giang, along a bumpy 160-km road that hugs the mountain side for much of the way.

Perched on the plateau is the old town of Dong Van, famous both for its old houses and the cross-cultural traditions of the Vietnamese majority and the Tay, Mong and Chinese minorities that inhabit the region.

The commune of Khau Vai in Dong Van’s Meo Vac District is the location of a love market for young couples on the twenty-seventh of the third lunar month.

These dating markets are popular among the north’s ethnic youth, the most famous being the one in Sapa in Lai Cai Province to the immediate west of Ha Giang.

An old town

Dong Van has some 40 antique houses, with a 200-year old house that has belonged to the Luong family for generations topping the list .

Luong Huy Ngo says the original house was built between 1810 and 1820 and has since been rebuilt or repaired several times, but the flagstones, tiled courtyard and two stone-pillar supports have withstood the ravages of time since the house was new.

In 1923, a large fire razed Dong Van so the French colonialists decided to rebuild it almost from scratch.

From then until 1940, local builders and workmen from Sichuan Province, China were hired to create a new town featuring both Vietnamese and Chinese architecture.

The architectural homogeneity gave Dong Van an aesthetically pleasing look since most of the houses were made of the same types of wood, stone and clay.

According to eighty-two-year-old Pham Van Duc, the town’s residents come from different ethnic groups and stick to their own traditions.

“For example, the Vietnamese celebrate the new year on the first day of the first lunar month while the Mong people spend the whole month observing the change,” says Duc.

Since April 2006, a cultural event called Dem hoi pho co (Old town’s festival night) with lots of traditional food and music has been held in Dong Van from the thirteenth to fifteenth day of every lunar month.

Tourists seem to like it, attending in increasing numbers from month to month, especially on the full moon night when red lanterns illuminate the front of every house in town.

Dong Van Sung, chairman of the Dong Van Town People’s Committee, says “Dem hoi pho co will feature handicraft displays, folk games, and a produce and livestock market.”

A few years ago, the idea of transforming Dong Van into an all-out tourist town like Hoi An received a lot of attention and much support from the locals.

However, the idea has stayed on paper as the owners of the old houses claim they cannot afford to repair or rebuild them the way their forefathers had done a hundred years before.

One such owner is 82-year-old Luong Huy Dinh, who has been living alone in his old house since his children got married and moved out.

Many houses in Dinh’s neighborhood are in poor shape, and less patient owners who cannot afford to restore their homes have demolished them and built houses of concrete, bricks and cement in their place.


In 2008, Ha Giang pocketed an impressive VND155.3 billion (US$8.62 million) from tourism, a rise of 115 percent on 2007.

The visitors last year included 4,316 Europeans and Americans, 45,129 Chinese and 138,646 Vietnamese citizens.

While the number of foreign tourists is growing, Vietnamese still make up nearly three-quarters of the visitors.

That’s why Nguyen Hong Hai, deputy tourism director of Ha Giang, is optimistic about visitor numbers staying high despite the global economic crisis.

Hai says, “Ha Giang is seeking sustainable tourism development by preserving its cultural identity and historic architecture,” and saying no to more concrete houses and over-commercialization.

The province is also preparing an application to have UNESCO recognize the rocky highlands as a natural heritage site.

Reported by Kien Anh - Thanhnien nEws