On the road to Northern Vietnam!
Vietnam is a country as beautiful as the history it holds. Rich in tradition and culture, over the years, this place has always kept the culture intact in the core of the people who carries it forward. Connected to the very roots, the relationship between its people and the land is that of a child and a mother, beautiful and pure, away from the world to understand.
One might expect this timeless beauty as just another South-Asian country, but the wonders it hold are unimaginable. Such scenic view that makes it harder to believe if these could even exist. Called the ‘Land of Timeless Charm’, this country has two totally different sides. A part of it is on its way to face the world, trying to cope up and going as fast as it could; another part of it makes you feel like time stopped there about 500 years ago. The old civilization still exists in the same way as it would have back then, carrying each tradition with it; the new one trying a little too hard make a name for itself in the world. The north of Vietnam is the place that holds this treasure and a journey through its roads is the only way you can win it.
Ideally, it best to travel from Vietnam’s future to its past on a bike that could easily be rented (or illegally bought) in the city Hanoi. This place has been the capital of North Vietnam since 1902 and is still going strong. One can easily find here the various imprints of the various dynasties that once ruled Hanoi. Even though some relics have not survived through wars and time, the city still has many interesting cultural and historic monuments for visitors and residents. A tour around the old quarter can cover most of the destinations in a day on your bike with a little walk along the Hoan Kiem Lake, usually known as the West Lake. The city is bustling and busy and the roads filled with vehicles on their way to get somewhere, moving hastily ignoring the people trying to cross the road.
It is no art here to cross the road, just pure luck; no looking left or right, just walking with hope that bikes will stop. Mostly, they do not and the local Vietnamese have gotten used to it. After passing this side and entering the other is like a journey from one world to another. Just few kilometres away from Hanoi crossing the Ba Vi National Park,
you can find yourself in the most pristine part of Vietnam and that is where the journey begins. This part has the heritage that is the pride of this country. Is the villages hidden behind the trees and mountains, each with a hidden quality of its own. The first of the village is Bat Trang which is famous for making ceramic products. From tile paintings to vases, cups, bowls, spoons, plates and even ceramic dogs, you can find anything in the market.
Some people might even let you try a hand and teach you to make a ceramic product. The next is the Chuong Village, a place whose life depends on making ‘non’ hats out of palm leaves. In the Phuong Trung community, generations have passed and people still make these conical hats; a whole village running on ‘non’ hats.
The first ancient village, Duong Lam also rests here with the tales that are about 1,200 years ago and relics that can be dated back to 400 years. The roads have shape as that of the bones of fishes making the rider a part of the journey Duong Lam has gone through.
The people you will find in these villages are still unknown of the outer world. They still wear their traditional clothes and lifestyle and are always happy to see the travellers. The district in the northern Vietnam named Dong Van resides many such minor communities of the country. Hidden by the mountain frontier, getting to these villages is half the fun. The snaked road is built with brilliance and covers about 1,500m up the colossal mountain ranges. Uncharted by the visitors, the mountains have no English translations making it hard to navigate without the help of a local guide. Just when you reach the bottom of the mountain, the view is replaced by the rice paddies which are carpeted over the whole area. These are the few villages on the way to another mountain where one can find civilizations built on rice. These people do not know anything more than tilling land with the ox driven plough, fermenting corn to make wine, collecting tinder to warm their homes and cooking rice. The town was chosen as the French’s northernmost post during the 59 year long colonisation Vietnam went through and the view from the upland clears all the doubts why they chose Dong Van.
The 19 communities that live here meet every Sunday, national holiday and at New Years for the market. Located at the root of Don Cao Mountain, the whole market is designed with the style of Vietnam-China and it has interference with feng shui plateau. They have rows of stone pillars with sophisticated carvings. Dong Van market situated in the middle of Dong Van highland valley basin as an impressive point. This market is designed with U-shape structure and the architecture on the stone was built during the period from 1925 to 1928.
Dong Van Karst Plateau is one of the special limestone mountains, including the marks of the history of the earth’s crust process and tradition of indigenous communities and is therefore considered the first geological park of Vietnam. It holds districts like Quan Ba famous for its grandeur twin- mountain and the sight it grants. Dong Van karst plateau has 80% limestone and is one of the most distinctive karst in Vietnam with black and majestic boulders. The shapes of boulders are created by environmental conditions and different stages of development. Here, the whole scene is rocks with various shapes such as petals, flowers, flower branch (Khau vai rock garden, Veo Vac District) or the shape of tiger (Lung Cu rock garden). Van Chai rock garden has green grass that creates the majestic and grandeur beauty for landscape. The ethnic communities play their role by attracting people by their unique cultural and spiritual values, just like the mountains by their splendour. Communities like Mong, Dao and many others living in the plateau have built houses by picking stones, carved stones to grow corn and even renovated the mountainside to grow rice. The manmade structures are just as pleasing to watch as the one created by nature. The people organize a fair where all the neighbouring districts come in colourful costumes to meet and have a good time.
The old quarter of Dong Van district preserves the tradition and cultural values of the ethnic people which are intangible. The main attraction here is not just the beauty of the landscape but the people of communities like H’mong, Tay and Chinese living in houses built 100 years ago. The place shines in the sunlight with a pinch of grey being reflected by the houses. From above looking down, next to three markets arranged in U-shape with yin and yang roofs are two ancient streets that lead to the mountain. Across the mountains lie other districts with villages that can outrank the magnificence of the previous one, which might take another long road trip to cover. One might choose to take the normal route but on a bike you get to see the real Vietnam and live with it just for a little while.
Vietnam’s beauty is a reminder to all the people of what earth looked like without all the skyscrapers with just mountains touching the sky; a place so simple and yet so beautiful. A timeless beauty protected by the people, who like all of the visitors are still not able to get over the charm of Vietnam.