Photo and text by Hà Giang Province.
Recognized as a member of the Global Geopark Network (GGN) in 2010, Đồng Văn Karst Plateau in Hà Giang province stretches across four districts – Quản Bạ, Yên Minh, Đồng Văn and Mèo. The geopark covers an area of more than 2,300 km2. About 60 per cent of its surface is limestone, which contains typical imprints of the geological development history of the earth’s crust. The highest peak is Miếu Vạc mountain (1,971 m), while Tử Sản Canyon is the deepest gorge (700-800 m).
A meeting of geology and culture
This plateau is home to 17 ethnic minority groups, of which the Hmong people account for more than 60 per cent. Their unique festive activities and customs include Hmong’s Gầu Tào spring festival, Pu Péo’s worship ceremony of the forest god, and Dao’s identity-granting ritual. Many locals gather in March for the Khâu Vai love market to celebrate romance and community spirit.
Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark also contains part of the Du Già Nature Reserve and the Khau Ca Species and Habitat Conservation Area, with more than 200 species of flora and fauna. Among them are rare animals recorded in Vietnam’s Red Data Book. The snub-nosed monkey (rhinopithecus avunculus) is one of five primates native to Vietnam and one of the world’s 25 endangered primate species.
To go from Hanoi to Hà Giang there are a number of reliable bus operators such as Hải Vân, Bằng Phấn, Cầu Mè. They depart from Mỹ Đình bus station. Because of the long distance between the two cities (280.8 km), you should take the night bus, which usually leaves at 9 pm and arrives at 5 am. A ticket ranges from VND 150,000 (C$8.20) to VND 200,000 (C$10.90).
At Hà Giang, you can rent a motorbike or a car and follow Highway 4C to Đồng Văn. This route has several of the most appealing tourist attractions.
Đồng Văn Old Town
Here visitors can admire the intact beauty of Đồng Văn stone market built by Sichuanese workers from 1923 to 1925. Formed in the early 20th century, the town was first inhabited by the Hmong, Tày and Hoa people. Then residents from other localities arrived and eventually created a population cluster. The architectural style is a harmonious combination of indigenous residents’ traditions and South China culture. The town was built from two local materials, Trùng Thoi limestone and Nghiến wood, which grows on top of the stone.
Mã Pì Lèng Pass – Nho Quế River
This mountain pass on a section of Highway 4C connects the towns of Đồng Văn and Mèo Vạc. Its name means “bridge of a horse’s nose” in the Hmong language, referring to the steep and dangerous slopes of the mountain. The pass over the top of Mã Pì Lèng mountain is about 1,200-metres high. Back in the day, people could only travel through the forest, but within six years from 1959 to 1965, thousands of workers chiseled little by little to create the 20 km-long “Happiness Route.” People call Mã Pì Lèng the most dangerous pass and “the king of the passes in Vietnam.”
It overlooks the beautiful Nho Quế river originating from Yunnan province, China.
Tu Sản Canyon
With cliffs 800-metres high that spread across 1.7 km and that are nearly a kilometre deep, Tu Sản is believed to be the deepest canyon in Southeast Asia. It was formed millions of years ago, when the area was still submerged in the ocean. As the Earth began changing its crust, water receded and left behind this geological legacy.
Quản Bạ Twin Mountains
The anatomically suggestive twin mountains in the South-west of Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark are a familiar sight to visitors. This tourist attraction overlooks Quản Bạ rice fields, whose colors change according to the four seasons.
Thẩm Mã Slope
A winding part of Highway 4C, this slope is where tourists pass on the way from Hà Giang to Đồng Văn. One of the favorite check-in sites, it is popular among youngsters who love to explore and conquer. Thẩm Mã slope is steep with many consecutive hairpin turns connecting Yên Minh town to Phố Cáo commune.
Lũng Cẩm Trên Village
More than 60 households, mainly of the Lô Lô and Hmong ethnic groups, are settled in Lũng Cẩm Trên Village. It is known for a 100-year-old house called “Tứ Đại Đồng Đường” (Four Great Generations) of a Hmong family and was once used as the setting for the movie “Pao’s Story.” Despite the ups and downs, this house still retains its rustic and simple beauty, much like the lives of the locals. To visit Lũng Cẩm Trên, you have to cross a long road covered by buckwheat flowers. Every January and February, peach blossoms, plum and pear flowers surround the house entirely. At the entrance to Pao’s house there is a thriving rose bush.
Vua Mèo’s Palace (Vương’s Palace)
Located in a valley in Xà Phìn commune, this palace was built in the early 20th century with two rows of China fir standing firm and soaring at the entrance, Vương’s Palace has a unique structure, influenced by the architectural styles of China, the Hmong and France. In 1993, this grand mansion was recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as a national architectural monument.
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