Last year for Christmas, a group of us went to Ha Giang Province. You might have missed that blog post because it didn’t make it onto the website. I’m going to try to do better with this one and get it up during January. More relevant than being a year late in writing about Christmas in Ha Giang in 2011 is because of that trip in December we had planned to come back in the Summer time to see the green rice terraces and be in the warm air. Well, we were late. At least not as late as the yet-unpublished 2011 Christmas in Ha Giang post. Instead of Summer, we arrived on the 28th of December. Needless to say, it was chilly.
How chilly? Well, I can’t give you a temperature, but let’s just say when the plan for the next three days is to ride motorbikes through the mountains on windy roads, there is little thought of being warm. Let me clarify the plan, though. See, the plan was actually to ride two 100-mile legs on two separate days. Because the roads were windy, the visibility less than good at times, and some of us were terrified drivers (mainly me) it took about 6 hours of riding to get where we needed to go. Same held true for day 3.
The point is, even with all my clothes on – long john’s, pants, rain pants; ice breaker wool long sleeves, undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, windproof jacket, and backpack (front and back); gloves, balaclava, and helmet – I was still cold. All of us were cold. It just reminded the three of us who had gone to Ha Giang for Christmas last year why we resolved to come do this motorbike trip in the Summer when it was warmer.
The merry band was six crazy folks who decided riding motorbikes through a remote province in along the border of China and Vietnam would be fun. There was actually no question about whether it would be fun. The only question was how terrified would I be riding on windy roads where I could become an unwanted ornamentation for a truck or bus barreling around a blind corner.
We made it. There’s no point for the blow-by-blow account of the trip. It pretty much went without a hitch. That’s what happens when things are planned well and there are no road fatalities to report to the duty officer. This is a good thing.
Highlights, though, were the following:
I became an even older man on the trip, celebrating my birthday early with cake and egg nog from Don’s. Thank you to my wife for being brilliant enough to have me pay for it by disguising the exchange of money with our friend as ‘it’s a baby gift I’m splitting with Jessica’.
Our drivers were both crazy. The driver on the way up had the slimy snake-skin oil salesman aura ooze from him as he less-than-casually told Adam that business was bad and he needed more money … after our contract rate had been set at $125. The driver on the way down was slightly deaf and decided to stare down (and run off the road) a grandma-grandkid on a motorbike who did not move out of his way after he honked. And he mumbled to himself, a lot.
The scenery was stunning.
There were only two tumbles off the bike. I scraped my shin as a result of one and the last of the eggnog was shattered and splattered on a foggy mountain road. The mountain gods were jealous and took what they thought should be theirs.
The morning market in Meo Vac was interesting, but not as colorful as the one in Hoang Xu Phi. Also, one of my friends later learned that Meo Vac is the place that Vietnamese parents threatened their kids with. Or perhaps I should say, “You had better eat your swamp vegetables because there are starving kids in Meo Vac.” Yes, sadly, the karaoke house operator gave us bum info when he told us Meo Vac was more developed than Dong Van. Perhaps next time, we’ll not consider the person who runs a karaoke ‘room’ from the front of their house as the best source of information on what’s happening in the next town.
In Meo Vac, we tried to find a bar, could not, so wound up drinking a beer at the café on stilts right next to the restaurant where we ate dinner and directly across the street from our Nha Nghi.
The poverty of the people living in the hills is soul crushing. I have seen quite a bit of fraud in Vietnam, but little comes from a place like Ha Giang. Why is that? You need some resources and some hope for a fraud scheme to work out. The folks there don’t have a glimmer of hope for a better life and surely don’t have the resources. Depressing that this beauty can’t be better tapped to provide a living for these hearty folk who live in the mountains and mostly walk places with heavy loads on their back.
Surprisingly, there was little traffic. There were a few big powder-blue trucks that looked like they had rolled out of the 1950s, a few mini buses, but otherwise, very little traffic. It just reinforces the perception of poverty. At least if there were commerce, there would be more traffic. There is nothing.
Rather than end on such a downer note, let’s pick back up the pep and remember the grilled, seasoned pork that they served at the Truong Xuan Hotel. Absolutely one of the best meals in Ha Giang. I’d even argue it was probably some of the best meat I’ve had in Vietnam.
And with that, I’ll sign off.