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Off the beaten track in Vietnam.

I’ve just got home from another wonderful trip through the wilds of Northern Vietnam. Like my visit last November I was doing some volunteer work for SNV, a Dutch NGO based in Hanoi. From Hanoi we travelled by car up into the Northern Highlands through areas that don’t get too many tourists. Last time I helped design four logos, write a few taglines and whip up a couple of brochures and a website, and this time we were just as busy. We did logo design and straplines for the remaining four provinces, plus whipped up a lazy three brochures in two days back in an ad agency in Hanoi. On this jaunt up north we visited the province of Cao Bang – pronounced “Cow Bung’ (I suggested ‘Cowabunga, dude!’ for the strapline) then the towering mountains of Ha Giang on the Chinese border and the steeped rice terraces of Yen Bai.

Our first stop was the village of Pac Ngoi on Ba Be lake where we stayed in a homestay (that’s our ‘house’ on the far left in the pic below). For $3 a night you get a comfy bed with a fan and lovely balcony overlooking the river and a fridge full of cold beers.
Ba Be lake, Vietnam

This is the lovely balcony (not bad for $3, eh?)
Ba be lake homestay, Vietnam

And how’s this for a scenic setting for a volleyball game. This was just below our balcony…
Ba Be lake, Vietnam

On the way out of Ba Be Lake we stopped at a small village for the weekly market and it was like stepping back in time with scenes like this…
Vietnam

and this…
Vietnam

and this…
Vietnam

and a modern twist walking past a huge sign…
.Vietnam

We spent most of our time in the province of Ha Giang, which was home to one of the most spectacular drives I have ever done. The road between the charming towns of Dong Van and Meo Vac is known as ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and winds it way precariously up steep, lush green mountains that somehow are filled with rice terraces and corn fields.

This is our driver Truong halfway up Heaven’s Gate…
Heaven's gate, Ha Giang, Vietnam

This is the poorest province in Vietnam, but the mountain folk are a friendly, sturdy lot who walk for hours up and down steep roads to the weekend market. Along the way we passed lots of curious locals like these kids lugging piles of some sort of leaves…
Ha Giang, Vietnam

I loved the town of Dong Van. The ‘old quarter’ was filled with, well, old buildings and what I loved the most was that there were rice paddies smack in the middle of town – that looked something like this…
Dong Van, Vietnam

And the other thing I loved is that in these parts of Vietnam the pith helmet is in fashion. All the men wear them. Bring back the pith helmet I say – it would work a treat with my safari suit…
Dong Van, Vietnam

After Ha Giang, we had a big presentation in Yen Bai then it was back to Hanoi to whip up lots of work. When I finished in Hanoi I took a few days off (although it wasn’t really ‘days’ off’ because the trip and work was so much fun anyway) and did a 3-day cruise in Halong Bay. I’ll post some pics from that Chinese junk junket on my next blog…

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