Du Gia, a ‘fairyland’ in Ha Giang

The route towards Du Gia Commune in Vietnam’s northernmost Ha Giang Province charmingly curves with one side the mountains and the other an abyss.

Seventy kilometers from Ha Giang’s eponymous capital and 90 km from the province’s Dong Van Town, Du Gia, a commune of Yen Minh District, is off the beaten track. The journey here exposes visitors to different shades of natural and cultural beauties.

I left Dong Van Town at 7 a.m., after a hearty breakfast of famous Ha Giang steamed rice rolls, heading towards Du Gia via Ma Pi Leng Pass.

At that early hour, Ma Pi Leng Pass remains covered in the morning mist, creating a dazzling scene that mesmerized me no matter how many times I had experienced it before. The majestic pass runs along emerald green Nho Que River, twisting deep below a thick layer of clouds. It looks like heaven.

Ma Pi Leng Pass, one of the most challenging and beautiful passes in northern Vietnam. Photo by Xu Kien.
Ma Pi Leng Pass, one of the most challenging and beautiful passes in northern Vietnam. Photo by Xu Kien.

Passing through Ma Pi Leng and Meo Vac Town via Road DT182+DT176 towards Du Gia was more dangerous than expected. The rocky path included many sharp twisting turns.

After two hours’ traveling, we stopped at the famous M-shaped steep, situated between Lung Phin and Mau Due communes. It was shaped by generations of locals traveling, creating a very sharp route. Traveling up and down the route’s sharp turns, I was rendered breathless, half from excitement and half from fear. Passing through the steep, we stopped for a refreshing lunch to fuel ourselves for the next part of the journey.

Soon, the route became much more relaxing, with rocky mountains replaced by lush green hilltops and terraced rice fields beside small ethnic local abodes. We took a turn at National Road 176, on which we traveled for two more hours before taking the final turn towards Du Gia.

At 2:30 p.m., we finally reached Du Gia Waterfall Homestay, the first homestay in Du Gia Commune, built by Thai Ly Thanh Tuan, the first tour guide in the commune. The wooden hostel has two storeys, with the lower part used for dining and the upper for lodging. Reaching the hostel, we quickly cleaned up and took a refreshing nap.

Waking up at 4 p.m., we began exploring Du Gia, starting with Coc Pang Village near Tham Luong Waterfall. The prospect of submerging ourselves in the water greatly excited us.

Tham Luong Waterfall. Photo by Xu Kien.
Tham Luong Waterfall in Du Gia Commume, Ha Giang Province. Photo by Xu Kien.

With Du Gia off the beaten track, the route was not well-kept. En route were many steep dirt slopes up which we had to push our motorbikes. It felt as if we were heading deeper and deeper into the wilderness.

Occasionally, we met a few H’mong ethnic children who thought we were foreigners. They greeted us with their limited English, saying “hello” with their cheerful smiles. Passing by, we reached Tham Luong Waterfall, which, though not too tall, created a large pond, in which a few foreigners had been bathing.

We hastily joined the ethnic children and foreign tourists, who enjoyed jumping down from the top of the fall throughout the afternoon. The entire space was filled with the sound of splashing water and waves of laughter.

As evening set in, a few H’mong locals, passing by the fall and carrying wooden logs on their backs, stopped for a quick, joyful chat.

After bathing, we continued sightseeing, passing by many Tay, H’mong and Dao households spread throughout the mountainous commune. The houses were followed by green terraced fields, from which local farmers were leading their buffaloes back after a hard day’s toil. In another corner, I saw a few locals fishing for dinner, all of which harmonized into a tranquil, relaxing treat for the eyes.

A village of Tay ethnic people in Du Gia. Photo by Xu Kien.
A village of Tay ethnic people in Du Gia. Photo by Xu Kien.

As I cast my eyes to the horizon, the kitchen smoke slowly emerged from far-away households, blurring the mountainous background.

As night fell, the rain started to fall, which caused an electric blackout throughout the village. Yet, my experience at Du Gia, instead of worsening, became a memorable one. The host lighted a few candles throughout the homestay, around which we, tourists and hosts alike, enjoyed a cosy dinner together.

The meal included many mountainous specialities like pork, chicken, fish and vegetables, enjoyed with a few glasses of corn alcohol. Though amid a thunderstorm, we enjoyed a hearty meal and snuck into bed for a peaceful sleep.

The following morning, despite the rain, we visited the local mountain fair along with locals of many ethnics, which was not too crowded, selling local food and merchandise. The fair only started to get crowded from 8 a.m., with busy traders paying new-comers little attention.

Behind the bustle, I spotted the innocent eyes of small ethnic children enjoying their first time at the fair with their parents, which filled me with joy as I left Du Gia, a fairyland.

A vendor at the fair in Du Gia. Photo by Xu Kien.
A vendor at the fair in Du Gia. Photo by Xu Kien.

Before traveling:

Transportation: It is widely recommended to travel through Vietnam’s mountainous regions on motorbike, due to their beautiful scenery. Tourists could rent motorbikes from Ha Giang Town to experience the beautiful route from the town to Du Gia, Mau Due, Quan Ba and Dong Van, one of the most beautiful in the northern region. One possible rental place is Hong Hao (tel: +84 915 842 019) for VND200,000 ($8.6) a day.

From Hanoi, you could also reach Ha Giang Town via coach services of Ngoc Cuong, Quang Nghi, Quang Giang or many others. From the town, you could board Dung Ba Ha Giang coach (tel: + 84 98 771 1509) to Du Gia at 1 p.m. daily.

Lodge: There are not many lodging options. You could choose Du Gia Waterfall Homestay (tel: +84 91 284 9915) run by Ly Thanh Tuan, a dedicated tour guide with good knowledge of the area.

Eating: Visiting Du Gia, you could enjoy many mountainous specialities like chicken, pork, vegetables, and ethnic corn alcohol. If you visit a Tay ethnic household, you could also be treated with some special dishes like sour pho noodle, sausage, etc.

Duration: It is recommended to lodge a night at Du Gia before heading towards Dong Van or returning to Ha Giang Town to have the most relaxing experience. You could also opt for spending an extra night at a H’mong ethnic village, eight kilometers from Du Gia.

Cultural festivals: Mainly populated by Tay and H’mong communities, Du Gia boasts many ethnic cultural festivals, including spring harvest festival, rain-calling ritual, ethnic fair, love fair, etc.

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Xu Kien – Living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is the author of the book Nhắm mắt đi liều and has 4 years of experience traveling around Vietnam. Currently a Travel Blogger and active in writing.

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