HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, August 15, 2013

As Far North as Possible

Meo Vac was the farthest point from Ha Giang town on our itinerary, and it was time to begin our return to the starting point by taking the same roads. This meant traversing the Ma Li Peng again, and it was simply spectacular, even a third time. At the start of the trip we had been hoping for clear skies, but by this point it had become clear that the ever-shifting clouds and water vapor actually made for better visuals. The views changed every minute, and at times it looked the world simply ended in a white haze at the tops of the surrounding mountains. 

The weather remained dry, and we reached Dong Van in times. We checked into a guesthouse, had lunch at a restaurant where a group of military officials were taking shots and smoking at 11:30am, and headed out for one last side-trip: up to Lung Cu, the northernmost town in Vietnam.

With our bags in our room the bikes were much lighter, and we carved through the 22 km road leading up to Lung Cu. Unsurprisingly the views were stunning, with clouds wrapped around mountain faces and jagged ridgelines stretching into the distance.

At one point a small pass cut across the top of mountain, and it became instantly apparent the havoc this topography wreaks on weather. It had been dry and relatively clear for the first half of the drive, but as soon as we crossed over to the other side of the hills visibility dropped to around 20 feet and the amount of moisture in the air increased massively. Cautious driving took us down several sections of switchbacks and eventually out of the clouds. Through more hamlets, past more ethnic minority people trudging along with corn strapped to their backs, and we were soon in Lung Cu. The most noticeable landmark in town is a huge flagpole atop a hill, signifying the northern tip of the country.

We parked and went into the office where they sold entrance tickets for the flagpole, where we experienced the type of unexpected freedom you sometimes run into here: the ticket man asked for our travel permit for Ha Giang. "Oh, we left it at our hotel in Dong Van."
"What is the name of your hotel?"
"Umm...we have no idea."
"Do you have your passports?"
"Ah...well go ahead anyway."

For some reason we decided to walk up the steps to the top, and it started pouring as soon as we began. At the summit it was cold and the rain was coming down in sheets. We assumed anything north of us was China, though again there was no distinct border. Lines on the map are really just lines on the map. I imagine the farmers that live in this area probably cross between the two countries every day.

The rain cleared as we saddled up for the drive back to Dong Van, but a few kilometers in the first major mechanical problem of the trip struck. Anthony's bike began cutting out anytime he went above first gear. It sounded like there was something in the engine, so he began to coast back down to Lung Cu. Along the way the bike restarted and kept running, so he turned back around and had no choice but to go all the way to Dong Van without stopping. Our guess was that water had gotten into the gas tank, luckily it cleared quickly. I took a slower pace, stopping to enjoy the scenery, especially once the sun came out on the other side of the mountains. It was amazing how quickly weather conditions could change.

The road back to town was full of livestock, as families walked herds of goats, cows and water buffalo home for the evening. I received the usual mix of emphatic hellos, curious gazes and thousand-yard stares.

Dinner that night was at the same family-run restaurant we had eaten at twice already. An uncle kept trying to get the two young boys there to have their picture taken, but they weren't really into it. Small towns like this shut down early, and it was already eerily quiet out as we walked back to the guesthouse. The best parts of the trip were now behind us, but we were still excited about doubling back all the way to Ha Giang, as every kilometer of it had been beautiful.

I am a serious baby.

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