Bali in the 1970s. Cinque Terre in the early 2000s. Austin before the first long-board-riding-Los-Angelite made their way over (cough go away damnit cough). All locations that once existed as mere footnotes in the bible-following words of the Lonely Planet, yet now, are literally unavoidable when traveling within their nearby radius. Places that created such awe and amazement for those that were lucky enough to visit their originally unspoiled grounds, the only realistic future (if you are a non-sarcastic optimist such as myself) was that of a capitalistic-tainted, watered-down version of their prior self. An inevitable, and unfortunate realization one must accept in a world of limited beauty, and unlimited access to its terrain.
Due to the imminent demise of these "lost paradises," a sense of pride seems to be earned whenever one graces their initial presence. Whether warranted or not, authentic or arrogant, the gratification for which is sought, is almost a religion in itself for those ordained to a life of travel. Untouched Paradise. Secret Oasis. Off-The-Beaten-Path. All desires and dreams of your everyday world traveler, yet all keywords in a Google search that are more than likely to result in finding oneself ON-the-beaten-path, and surrounded by dozens of other equally-disappointed adventure-seekers. However, and yes, I say however, if one is lucky enough to be an internet-searcher-extraordinaire (an official "other skills" on my latest resume), these soon-to-be-lost lands do still exist, and with a bit of leg-work, can result in an experience of a lifetime.
After weeks of narrowing down our list from recently-opened-to-tourists-but-still-a-b*tch-to-get-around Burma, Bali-but-not-like-Bali-bastard-offspring, and other hit-and-miss sounding places, we stumbled upon a little known province in the far north of Vietnam - Ha Giang. Despite being represented by a mere 1/2 paragraph in the latest Lonely Planet, and only 10 listings for accommodation on Trip Advisor (in comparison, Bali has over 10,000), the 3-4 semi-detailed, adjective-filled blogs discovered in our search provided just enough alure to push Ha Giang to the top of our list. Jaw-dropping landscapes, incomparable vistas, and a culture just opening its arms to the hearts of those from the "West." Add 4-days spent on a motobike, and consider us me us sold!
The first step of our journey into the relatively unexplored was the ever-important step of learning how to pronounce the name of our desired destination (an issue we have come across with approximately 99% of SE Asian destinations visited thus far). As everytime we asked a travel agent, hotel clerk or random intelligent-looking person on the street, furrowed-brows would stare back at us in confusion. Ha-Gee-Ang? Ha-Gang? Ha-Gong? Ha-Gung? After going through almost a dozen variations, the answer to our stumbling attempts were finally answered -- "ohhhh, Ha-ZAHN!" Ah yes, Ha-Zahn, it was so obvious! How could we be so ignorant not to assume Gi = Z?
After mastering the verbal dictation of Ha Giang aka Ha-Zahn, the next step in our search involved finding a way to navigate the supposed 8-hour, 175 mile journey from Hanoi (yes, that would be an average neck-breaking speed of 22MPH). Despite multiple bus companies serving the route, the only bits of detailed information we were able to uncover from countless searches were in Vietnamese, and from what appeared to be 15 years prior. Nonetheless, luck was on our side in the form of a front desk hotel worker named Daisy.
Alike many of the Vietnamese people we had met so far, the innate desire to be as friendly/helpful as humanly possible led Daisy to play hero for us for the day. After ringing the unresponsive-to-English bus company as to determine potential departure times, she also took the 30-40 minute journey out to the station (alongside her husband and newborn daughter) to hand-hold us through, what she described (and we experienced), the unnavigatable. To say we were out-of-place is an understatement, as what would normally be touts flocking to us as to empty our pockets of money, were instead curious locals inquiring as to why those of "non-Asian descent" had ventured into this part of town.
Two bus tickets in hand, and eight curvy/bumpy hours later, eyes droopy from the impossible task of attempting any semblance of sleep as our Red Bull amped driver honked incessantly throughout the night and Vietnamese iPhone's blared with static-filled music, we arrived in Ha Giang. Dropped off in the pitch black of night, with the yell of "you, get off here" (a very reassuring way to be escorted off a vehicle when one has absolutely no idea where they are), we found a surprisingly-unsketchy-by-the-hour hotel to catch a few more z's, before locating the man we had been told to contact back in Hanoi -- Johnny Nam Tram. Resembling a younger Ho Chi Minh (for the 99% of you with no clue as to who this man may be -- or what he looks like -- I recommend a fancy tool called "Google"), Johnny was overly helpful in not only orienting us to the region through which we would be traveling, but most importantly, providing us with the motobike on which we would be navigating the next 4 days.
Onto the trip:
Day 1 = Ha Giang - Quan Ba (45km, 3 ass-numbing/motobike-spent hours)
Day 2 = Quan Ba - Yen Minh - Dong Van (100km, 7 A-N/M-S hours)
Day 3 = Dong Van - Meo Vac - Yen Minh - Quan Ba (125km, 8 A-N/M-S hours)
Day 4 = Quan Ba - Ha Giang (45km, 2 A-N/M-S hours)
The Typical Day:
After four days traveling around the breathtaking landscapes of the "unbeaten path," Julie and I returned back to "civilization" (aka 2+ words of English), ready for our continuation down the coast of Vietnam.
Onto the impossible-to-narrow-down pics: