(No.3, Vol.9, Jun-Jul 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Le Thanh Cuong
In April, the last fiery flowers of the cotton trees spark on mountain slopes. With the long-brewing desire inside to conquer the scenic tourist path from Bac Ha (Lao Cai) to Xin Man, the most desolate highland district of Ha Giang Province, we hit the road on a beautiful weekend.
From Bac Ha township, the winding road up the Lung Phinh slope to the Lung Cai – Ban Gia fork is very smooth, lined with newly planted corn fields that began rooting and springing tender buds and terrace fields waiting for the first rain showers to begin new crops. Some milpas previously used to grow soya are now growing pharmaceuticals in order to make more income for local farmers. Looking from above down at the rows of ashweed and artichoke covered with nylon sheets, one realizes how well the highland farmers are catching up with new technologies.
Having passed Lung Cai, we come to the frontier area, which begins with Nan Ma Commune, where it is rumored among trampers the valley is fantastic during the season of ripening rice. Although coming not at the time this natural scene is exhibited, we had nevertheless a very specific feeling one always has when coming for the first time to a new land. We passed the center of the commune with a school, an administrative center and houses on the roadsides, just like the other Bac Ha and Si Ma Cai highland communes of Lao Cai. Nan Ma folks told us that this national tourist destination witnessed the heroic death of 11 military entertainers during the war of resistance. The place also boasts the Cave of Fairies where one can pray for good health.
It was summer but the weather felt like that of autumn, making the journey so much more pleasurable amidst the imposing, majestic highlands. We were especially impressed by the rocky mountains and the paddy fields full of big and small rocks scattered all around. Here and there, rocks stack up like massive quires of stone papers. Sometimes we encounter Xin Man villagers working the rocky land before sowing the seeds, an image we have previously seen only on TV. Forest flowers bloom timidly on the slopes. A rare coral tree covered in brightly red flowers stood out like a landmark in the serenity of the mountains.
From the top of the slope in Nan Ma, we looked down at the multiple coils of the road deep in the gorge, knowing that’s the path we would take to get to Coc Pai. The view before us was breathtaking. We went under lush pine groves that whistled in the wind. The town of Coc Pai sunk deep at the bottom of the gorge at the end of the coils of the road. Someone in our group was so moved by the scenery as to utter a few verses lauding the beauty of the fatherland. At Coc Pai, the center of the Xin Man District, we asked about the way to proceed. From hearsay, from the 0km post of Coc Pai township, one has to go 25km to get to the Xin Man frontier bazaar or to the Fairy waterfall, and 145km to reach the chief town of the Ha Giang Province. But some folks in Coc Pai say that it will be possible to get up to the Fairy waterfall only in May-June.
Perhaps because there are now outstanding professional services like in other famous tourist destinations, here at Xin Man, instead of fuss and crowds, we felt very quiet, very private, very relaxed, completely freed from the mundane haste. Many foreign tourists like to come here just to walk around in the village and share the everyday life with the local ethnic minorities of H’Mon, Cao Lan, Nung, Yao, La Chi, Phu La, Tay etc. on these rocky mountains. That’s why the stretch of road between Bac Ha – Xin Man is so suitable for the tourists who want to explore and experience the eternal calm, the poetic and majestic scenery, the simple life and unique culture of the local highlanders.
On the tourist map of Ha Giang Province, Xin Man is marked as an attractive destination with locations planned by the district government to be developed into typical tourist packages to attract visitors to this rocky plateau. From the words of a Coc Pai town resident as we took a rest, tourists coming to Xin Man can visit Fairy Waterfall, Windy Pass, the ancient rock field in Nam Zan Gorge at the headwaters of Chay River, and hot spring at Nam Choong (Quang Nguyen Commune.) They can also enjoy foods and drinks of the local ethnic minorities and learn about the unique features of their culture, as well as legends about places that have secrets yet to be deciphered.
Winding roads, rocky mountains, rumbling waterfalls, scenic terrace fields, and friendly, hospitable people were enough to give us a day as happy as could be while we experienced the beautiful tour in the Northwest full of interesting novelties. We vow to come back in the season of ripening rice and buckwheat blossom.