Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘dong van’

Urban Ha Giang

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Most of the pictures we see from Vietnam’s Ha Giang province focus on rural life: landscapes, markets, villages, people from ethnic minorities in traditional costume. Nothing wrong with that, of course; I’ve taken plenty of those pictures myself, and posted them here.

But what about the urban life of the province? Dong Van, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Ha Giang City may not be the most vibrant locations – nobody goes there for the nightlife – but there’s plenty of interest in the everyday life of these unassuming, low key towns. Travelling through the province in the autumn of last year and the spring of this, I became fascinated by urban Ha Giang: the banh cuon joints, the cafes and tea stands, the meat and vegetable markets, the games of checkers and volleyball, the windows and doorways, all the little things that make up the lives of these highland towns.

I think these towns are more than just places to spend the night before speeding off on the next leg of the loop. They are surrounded by mountains and karsts but, overlooked by breathtaking scenery, daily life goes on as normal. I suppose even the most beautiful surroundings can become mundane if you see them every day.

Of course, you can’t completely ignore the rural element in this part of the country, even in the towns. There’s no dividing line; the rural and the urban blend into each other. Walking down the streets of Dong Van or Yen Minh, you can catch glimpses of the surrounding countryside through gaps between the buildings where houses are being knocked down or built up. Dong Van is a town surrounded by mountains and sheltering a basin of rice fields. People from Vietnam’s numerous ethnic minorities are in the majority here.

These pictures were all taken in Dong Van, Meo Vac, Yen Minh and Ha Giang in April and May of this year.

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Borderland (day 3 in Ha Giang)

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My third day in Ha Giang province, and we spent the morning driving from Dong Van to Lung Cu and back. Lung Cu is the northernmost point of Vietnam and is best known for its mountain-top flag tower, a none too subtle symbol of national pride just a few kilometers from the border with China. The morning was cloudy but dry, so for the first time on this trip I was able to put aside my waterproof poncho and non-matching plastic over-trousers (not pictured). The sun came and went, sometimes peeking through the cloud, changing the colours of the rice terraces and mountainsides along the route.

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On returning from Lung Cu, there was time for a quick lunch in Dong Van before hitting the road again in the afternoon. Next time I visit Ha Giang, I’ll spend a little longer in Dong Van, two nights rather than one, and try to be there for the Sunday market. The town has a strong Chinese flavour (unsurprising, given its location close to the border) and reminded me of Yuanyang in Yunnan province, which I visited back in 2013.

After lunch back in the town, we set off for Du Gia, via the Ma Pi Leng pass. This high-altitude mountain road follows the Nho Que river from Dong Van to Meo Vac. Many people say it’s the most beautiful spot in all of Vietnam, and I’m not going to argue. It’s fully deserving of every superlative you can throw its way – truly stunning, awe-inspiring, breath-taking. Having just heard, the previous day, the result of the U.S. election, I needed this reminder that there is plenty of goodness in the world. I began to entertain thoughts of waiting out the next four years up in the mountains of Ha Giang, and leaving the rest of the world to it.

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Late in the afternoon, the road went higher and the cloud came lower. The heavy mist and black, volcanic rock, along with the mostly empty road, made for an eerie, unearthly atmosphere. I wish I’d taken more pictures along this stretch, but we were keen to reach our destination before it got dark, and time was against us. But it’s good sometimes to leave some pictures untaken. I have those images in my head still, and I can try to get them on camera another time.

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That’s all from me for 2016. Thank you to everyone who’s been following the blog, and best wishes for the new year.