Hà Giang is an otherworldly mountainous region in the far-north of Vietnam. It is the final frontier. Closed to foreigners for a long time we are now able to experience firsthand the incredible lunar-like landscape of limestone pinnacles and granite outcrops of the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. We spent a blissful week motorbiking this rugged montane topography. The carved roads were windy and steep as we climbed around edges of precipitous mountain passes and descended down into deep valleys. The sheer scale of this landscape can’t be captured in a single or any amount of photographs. There is so much detail arranged beautifully across this imposing panorama. We felt the need to stop every minute to take it in. To shut off the engine and allow the vastness to engulf us.
There are a staggering variety of the hill tribes throughout Hà Giang and they are not ‘Vietnamese’. They are ethnically different and vary even from village to village. These include the H'Mông, Tày, Dao, Nùng, and Lô Lô. Apparently 90% of Hà Giang’s population are from 22 ethnic minorities, including 2 of the most rare ethnic groups in the world, with less than 400 living members. The majority of these villagers live in, well, villages. Not French-country-town-villages. Proper blast-from-the-past fully self-sufficient subsistence-living villages. They farm, they harvest, they forage. Their village is surrounding by stone walls to keep the mountain cats out. And it’s hard living. We saw children as young as five carrying crops twice their size on their backs and pre-teen girls toiling the unyielding land in the baking midday heat. But despite their physically tiresome lives the men, women and children were full of joy and life.
The thing we noticed is that the people of the mountains of Hà Giang are just getting on with their life. There was next to no tourism infrastructure and nobody approached you to sell anything. It is like witnessing the inner workings of a different era, a different age in fact. It’s one of the last untouched regions of Southeast Asia and we are so thankful we experienced it before the tourism industry catches on and changes everything.
It was an absolute privilege to have our travels through Hà Giang featured in Issue 69 of Frankie Magazine.