I could hear the hum of a motorbike as it drew closer. I moved to the side of the road as it rounded the corner and came to pass me. It didn’t pass me though…it crashed in the soft bushes on the opposite side of the road. The driver and I both started laughing once we realised he wasn’t injured — I guess they don’t see many foreigners in these parts and it provided an untimely distraction from the road. That became a bit of a theme while hiking in Dong Van — people were surprised and genuinely happy to see me. They would offer a smile, a wave, a hello or a puff on their tobacco bongs without ever asking for anything in return.
And then there’s the scenery…some of the most dramatic and beautiful in all of Southeast Asia. Here’s a quick look at my walk through the countryside outside of Dong Van, an absolute highlight of my travels in Vietnam.
Walking through rice terraces
After trying (and failing) to climb one of the karst mountains that tower over tiny Dong Van, I went for the more sedate option of walking through the rice terraces. I passed by locals on bicycles and watched water buffalo grazing while I feasted on the scenery that surrounded me. There is a path through the terraces that connects both ends of Dong Van; I ended up waking down it quite a few times.
Hiking in Dong Van
After eating some noodles on a stool outside a small shop, I headed back into the countryside. There’s a path which skirts the mountains that dominate town. It slowly took me up above the rice terraces, and not long after I lost sight of town. Surrounded by nature and with no map, plan or care in the world, I kept walking. I reached a T junction and turned right; left would have bought me back to the relative bustle of downtown Dong Van. I heard nothing but my own footsteps, but life revealed itself as I drew closer to a small village. Old women carrying baskets full of produce would smile as I passed. I thought about asking to take their photos, but then I thought…why? We were just normal people passing each other on a rural path. We exchanged smiles and waves and that was enough — photos would have completely changed the dynamic.
FURTHER READING: A Guide to Travelling in Ha Giang Province, Northern Vietnam
I continued walking until I came to a ledge– a wide valley full of rice terraces and other crops opened up before me. It was a spectacular sight but it would have been even more impressive in its pre-harvest state. My foot was starting to hurt again (I injured it in Sapa) so I started to make my way back to town. I took a detour down another path where about 30 Hmong women were working. They were widening the path (I think) and were happy for a distraction from what looked like difficult work.
All up I walked for about four hours (including lunch) and I would have gone for much longer had my foot been up to it. You could spend days hiking in and around Dong Van — just pick a direction and head for the hills.
Are you planning a tour of Dong Van / Ha Giang Province? Let me know in the comments below!
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