In my Ultimate Motorbiking Adventure In Ha Giang, I saw many sights more stunning than words can describe. Dong Van however, just felt different. I think it’s the best town in Vietnam. Find out why here and in my interview with Phan Tan Evid below:
A Wet Arrival In Dong Van
After a cold and wet morning hauling my motorbike up the mountain roads from the town of Yen Minh, I finally arrived shivering in Dong Van. The first place I stopped was the Green Karst Restaurant and Bar; I had spotted it on Google maps and noticed the Westerner-friendly vibe it seemed to have and trust me, at that moment, I needed something comforting and familiar.
As I clambered off my bike and shook the water off my soaking rain poncho, I was greeted by Tan, the owner of the restaurant, who had just finished giving some advice to a German tourist couple. He parked my bike for me and beckoned me inside, stopping to chat about where I was from and where I was going.
Kindness In The Town
I noticed how he really went above and beyond what most people do to keep customers happy; by offering me his jacket to stop me from shivering and later asking one of his staff to go with me to the market to buy warm clothes. From travel, I know that this level of consideration is something which is hard to find unless you shell out a lot of money these days. Kindness is actually common in Dong Van, as I would later find out.
We chatted about my route around the Hà Giang province – Read more about that HERE and he told me about his new initiative; free English lessons for people in the town above his restaurant every two days. His own English was impeccable and his aim was to spread this through his community to help his people prosper in the face of growing tourism. Being an enthusiastic English teacher, I quickly volunteered to help alongside two other volunteers – I wanted to meet local people and feel like I was doing something beneficial.
The class itself didn’t disappoint; everyone was eager to learn, from school children to two Xe Om (taxi) drivers well into their fifties who took painstakingly detailed notes. The next morning, loads of people in the town who had come to the class greeted me like a friend from their community, rather than a tourist. I was sad to leave.
Dong Van is different – the town has a genuinely friendly vibe, an ethnically diverse people and is in the middle of the most beautiful mountain landscape I have ever experienced. I was intrigued and sought out Tan to ask him about it.
Interview With Tan
Me: Why is Dong Van different?
Tan: Since Dong Van Karst Plateau was recognised by UNESCO in October 2010 for being the first global geopark in Vietnam, we started to welcome tourists.
This town is different, because this is the main hometown of the tribes. Most of the people living here are from ethnic minorities. In Dong Van there are about ten different groups of people; Mostly they are Hmong, the second largest group is Tày. There are some Giáy, some Lolo, some Dao, and a small percentage of Vietnamese people living together in the town.*
Dong Van is different from other touristy areas, because here we make sure to keep the original authentic customs and traditions. Here, you can see that most people live based on the traditions of the Hmong people in the mountains. Like in the old days, people keep very good relations between all members of the family. So we still live together for five generations in one house. The young people take care of the elderly and the old people take care of the kids for the young people. Everyone is happy together.
Me: Do you find it a challenge to maintain friendships when tourism is growing and you are business competitors?
Tan: Most people have lived here for a long time. We have very good relations and acquaintances and we keep the friendships between families alive. When we started to have tourists, people had the chance to open their own business. Everyone started to be busy in earning money every day. But because of a long-lasting friendship, we know that nothing will change in our relations. The competition in our lives has not affected their daily friendships. So after a busy working day, we all come together in the night to have sweet conversations.
That’s why nowadays Dong Van is one of the most beautiful places as well as very hospitable to tourists from everywhere. Most of the tourists say Dong Van is a safe place for traveling, because people are not cheating you. We are business competitors but we do not fight. Dong Van is a place with mostly poor people who don’t have a very high education so they wish to see and contact more people with a higher education to learn from their experience of business and service. We just want to learn how to make tourists even happier.
*Get more info on the ethnic tribes of Ha Giang by looking in the ‘demographics’ bit of this Wikipedia page
Closing Thoughts On Dong Van
I for one, hope that Dong Van doesn’t change very much with the rise of tourism. I hope that the traditional values of friendship and living together happily remain strong in the face of competition and consumerism. The rational voice in my head says it’s only a matter of time before places like Dong Van change irreversibly into tourist hot-spots, but still, I’m grateful to have seen and experienced this amazing town when I did.
What do you think? Have you been to a town anywhere in the world like Dong Van? Do you know any other amazing places in Vietnam? Let me know in the comments below :). Find out more about the Legends of the Twin Mountains of Ha Giang HERE and about my experience living in Vietnam HERE.