Today we have to travel from Cao Bang to Ha Giang, northern Vietnam, for 235 km by minibus, which in normal conditions would take 3-4 hours, but in abnormal conditions like ours will extend up to 12 hours!
MINIBUS N.1, CAO BANG – BAO LAC
But let’s go back to the stages of this joyful journey. The first minibus is the best one, half empty, the handy-woman is very friendly and even gets us breakfast during one of the many many stops in order to pick up more people possible.
Passengers are sometimes kids, probably of little bit richer families who can afford to buy bus tickets to go to school, otherwise it’s bicycles or on foot along the steep hills and mountains. [We are in one of the poorest regions of the country, where on average people live with 8,000 Dong per day (0.30 cent), absurd…]. Other passengers are local people who need to cover short distances. We are the only ones who do the whole route and more, not to mention the only foreigners.
The road is ok, there’s green everywhere around, driver is safe, instead a fearless minibus going to Bao Lam takes us over. We are going to Bao Lac, 40 km before Bao Lam, so that vehicle would be more suitable to us. Fate smiles to us, and when we get to Bao Lac, village in the middle of nowhere, asking “Ha Giang?”, they point us the other bus further on, which was about to leave, they pick us up and go.
So far we have done 118 km in 4 hours…
MINIBUS N.2, BAO LAC – BAO LAM
Next 40 km will take almost 2 hours, since the crazy driver will stop repeatedly to upload and download different goods. Moreover, the road gets worse, holes, dirt roads, works in progress are everywhere. For works in progress we mean most of the times dredges that are literally devouring the mountain, so works that don’t necessarily involve the road, at least not now, and for sure not asphalt, this unknown…
Finally at 11.30 we get to Bao Lam, another village in the middle of nowhere, facing a river in a long valley. Not even the time to say something, they point to another minibus, 3rd of the day, direction Ha Giang (“Ha Szan”, as they pronounce). A good Vietnamese lunch based of sticky rice, chicken and vegetables keeps us alive, preparing us to the last stage. It’s only 88 km…it will take 5 endless hours. Yes, 17km/h average.
MINIBUS N.3, BAO LAM – HA GIANG
The road is not even deserving to be called so, it looks like a war path. The driver and his two fellows are very young lads who sweeten the trip with even a DVD player and Vietnamese pumped up music. They pull over randomly inciting people to jump on, especially they hit on girls.
We wonder how things work here, like one day you’re walking on the street, or sitting on the sidewalk, minibus comes by and they ask you “Hey you, want to go to Ha Giang?” and you think about it and are like “Yeah why not?” or “Nah I’ll go tomorrow”. We do not understand.
We do understand, partly, the enthusiasm of the boys who, providing this service, are making good money; not only they carry passengers but every kind of goods, sand sacks, potatoes, water, ice, wood, etc., even a fragrant load of cinnamon delights us. Passenger bus, lorry truck, post service, all in one. Still covering these 90 nightmare km everyday, maybe even back and forth, is pure madness. The road is really horrible, but even tank trucks are driving here, probably at the speed of 7km/h…
It has been a long, intense and painful journey through this remote region in northern Vietnam, but it was the only way for us to cross these charming mountain areas. And tomorrow the astonishing landscapes of Ha Giang province will reward us!
Surely an experience we will remember for a long time…
WHERE TO STAY:
- Primrose Homestay Cao Bang: the most established place in Cao Bang, the young staff is very friendly and welcoming, cheap prices!
- Ha Giang Backpackers Hostel: one of the first hostels to open in town, great hospitality and new interiors;
- you can pre book all your accommodation in Vietnam with free cancellation here.
HOW TO REACH HA GIANG:
- Various local minibuses: Cao Bang-Bao Lac-Bao Lam-Ha Giang, infinite hours, prices between 80,000 VND to 130,000 VND per person;
- Direct bus Hanoi-Ha Giang: 300,000 VND.
|Hanoi - Ha Giang $7 – $13 5h 10m|
|Hanoi - Ha Giang $16 6h|
|Hanoi - Ha Giang $16 6h|
- Book your tickets to travel in Vietnam on amt.12go.asia
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.