A touch of frost on the Chinese border

Dong Van Town is part of a mostly untouched border area in Ha Giang Province in the country’s north. Tourists are beginning to beat a track to the beautiful old town, attracted by the spectacular landscapes of Dong Van Commune that include Dong Van Plateau at the province’s northernmost edge, and the ethnic minorities there.

Dong Van Town is a hub for many famous sites, but tour guides generally overlook the town itself with its ancient markets and houses made from iron wood, soil, and special rocks that formed during a tectonic event 400 million years ago. The architecture in Dong Van has similarities with houses in nearby China. Every Sunday, ethnic people, especially the H’Mong, gather in the market where they exchange or sell fruits, vegetables, meat, livestock and traditional costumes. A special feature of the markets is a home made

dish called Thang Co.

The ideal time to visit the border area is spring or autumn, when the skies are clear. The views of mountains and deep valleys on clear days are awesome and the temperatures are mild. But even in winter the experience is epic, despite the fogs.

In the center of town is a coffee shop in a cozy hundred year old house. Hot drinks are made from cocoa or tea, while outside the winter temperatures drop to a chilly 2 or 3 degrees.

Tourists on the misty path from Dong Van Town to the old French base

Taking photographs in front of ancient houses near the town’s market place – Photos: Pham Thai

The town is high on the side of a rocky mountain, where the French army built a strategic base to fight against local guerrillas during the colonial war. The winter mists unroll like bolts of white silk along the cement path leading to the cloud shrouded peak. But as the fog blows away the town below is revealed in a deep valley between black mountains.

At Dong Van Town, tourist can rent hotel rooms for around US$10-20 and enjoy cheap dishes made from smoked pork from the tiny local pigs, mint- honey or dried beef, all made by the ethnic people at the market. Guides are less available than in Hanoi and Sapa in Lao Cai Province. By Pham Thai in Ha Giang

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