Travelling Vietnam’s jagged north
Travelling Vietnam, on a hot stuffy summer’s day in the crowded city, one group of travellers are looking to leave it all behind to journey to northeastern provinces of Bac Can, Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang Vietnam.
This isn’t just any random group of friends, but the staff of travel agencies in Hanoi, led by Duong Manh Ha. As an unexplored route, Ha will lead this group to see if route would please the adventure traveller.
"The provinces have been favourite destinations for adventure tours, so we want to create extraordinary tours rather than the old ones," said Ha who works at the Wild Lotus company. "People always like new things in life as do tourists."
The tour the group set out on early in the morning from the My Dinh bus station in Hanoi had not been explored by a travel company or foreign tourist. The path ahead of them will consist of a treacherous journey by bus, boat, foot and other unknown troubles in the mountainous area.
With Ba Be Lake in Bac Can the first stop, the group headed to the northeastearn province along National Highway.
It took them four hours after a 150km drive, and two more hours to drive 70km up the zigzagging mountain road to Ba Be national Park, where they spent the night.
On the second day, the group started off with an early morning 20minute boat ride to Dau Dang Falls where they made a 2-km trek to the next route along the Gam River.
The short boat trip was a tease for the seven hour ride they took next along the river from Bac Can winding through Tuyen Quang to arrive at Bac Me wharf. The last led of water travel, they still had 30km to go to reach the centre of Ha Giang Province.
Unfortunately, with the water level going down in the afternoon, they didn’t make the full 30km and were forced to stop at the nearest wharf in Minh Ngoc village. Eager to make their destination, the group had to rent motorbikes (motobikes tours) at an astounding VND400,000 (US$23) to travel across a rocky 12-km path.
"It’s unlucky for us, but also an experience for our next trip and the bad luck will not be repeated," said Ha.
"The road actually exhausted me. However, I could recognise the road as good for a biking or trekking route for my company’s tour service," said the director of Green Trail tours Nguyen Van Dung.
The road was so rough that it threw one of the travellers, Tran Van Hung, onto the ground as he couldn’t hold tight on the doubled up motorbikes. Luckily, he was still wearing his life-jacket from the boat to cushion the fall.
Hoang Thi Nga, from the Exotissimo travel company, said the ride was like being in an action film she had seen and she had no regrets taking part in the trip.
"I live in the city and rarely join in adventures like this. My fear was over when I crossed that terrible sloping road sandwiched by abysses," Nga said. "It was really a challenge for me as I was afraid of falling off the motorbike."
Nguyen Hoang Anh, product manager of Focus Travel company, wasn’t as excited as Nga.
"I would rather walk down the road than drive on a motorbike like this," said Anh. "I think it’s too dangerous and the road is an option for trek and adventure tours."
Living it up Tay style
One hour later, the group was safely in Ha Giang Town where they got buses to Me Village.
In the village which belongs to ethnic Tay people, the group slept in stilt houses for only VND30,000 ($1.7) after a full dinner for just VND50,000 ($2.8) a person.
"Tourists always join in on the Tay lifestyle, with both dance performances and food," said the host, 48-year- old Dam Duc Xuyen.
"The village has been promoted as a destination of eco-tourism by the Ha Giang Culture, Sports and Tourism Department for two years. Currently, around 15 households in the village have built new houses serving tourists," said Nguyen Hong Hai, vice director of the department.
Next, the group attacked the 110-km route linking Xin Man and Hoang Su Phi districts in Ha Giang to Bac Ha town in Lao Cai, which was another 140-km drive to the appointed stop.
More bad luck hit the group as a landslide in Nan Ma village in Xin Man district left a big hole in the road, stopping them at 30km from Bac Ha Town.
"Landslides in the mountainous areas often happen in rainy seasons from April to July," said Le Trung Kien, a tour guide of the Green Sa Pa Tour company.
"During this period, bad weather often delays adventure trips, so you should ensure you’re prepared because it’s an adventure tour."
Finally arriving at midnight, the members were relieved not to have faced more tribulations driving the short cut.
With the group making it back safe, tourists can now follow their path, with a few upgrades, for at least $560 one-week package tour. Considering the time of year, these expert travellers recommend bringing a few provisions for anyone daring to make the journey.
(Source: Viet Nam News, URL:http://english.vietnamnet.vn/travel/2008/08/799018/)
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