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Map of Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark

Educational map and story of the DVKPG in the North of Vietnam. (Masterthesis)
by

Melina Mertens

on 23 November 2013

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Transcript of Map of Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark

Route in DVKPG
The way to the geopark leads from Ha Giang town to Quan Ba district where the words Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark welcome the visitor. The road gets bad, but it is possible with the motorcycle. The first cultural village is Nam Luong hamlet in the Quyet Tien commune. The Nam Luong Hamlet is difficult to find. The locals indicate the way. A small and muddy road leads to the house of Ngu Khoi Phuong and his family. He lives in a wooden house with a concrete floor. They have a television inside and cell phones. One of the girls is peeling corn in front of the television. Around the table hang a lot of diplomas of the children with pictures in frames. Mr. Phuong likes living here with the many mountains surrounding him. He gets out two books: one with a lot of Vietnamese songs and one with stories, songs, drawings of clothes and of houses. His house consists of a kitchen and a bedroom on the right, a living room in the centre and another bedroom on the left. Above this is an attic as big as the house. Outside are the bathroom and the stalls for the cows. Mr. Phuong explains that they call one of the mountains Gu Bo, ‘the back of the cow’.
Quyet Tien Village
The road leads further to Tam Son town and the Nam Dam village. Along the road there are different houses that serve as homestays. There is a house with a lot of people. They have a dark living room with a little table and little wooden chairs. The girl would like to tell the tourists about her traditions, food and stories. Then she would ask the tourists where they are from. She really likes living here, especially the nature. Her father really likes to go up to the lake nearby and wants to take tourists there too. There aren’t a lot of tourists because there is no money to build a bedroom or toilet. The committee came there to put up panels with rules. The panels explain what visitors can and cannot do in the homestay houses, like when to enter the house.
Further lives Lý Dai Duyên, 62 years old, with his family. He prefers living here because of the nice weather. There is a place he really likes, with water from the mountains. He likes it if the tourists come here, but maybe they don’t like it because of the comfort. The house is very low and dark, what makes it cool. It has a large garden with vegetables and animals. Around the house the kids are playing with the Quay Cu (toll). Other people peel and replace the corn to dry. They get all the corn off for food for the animals and to make flour. They make the flour with a tool made from two big stones that can turn. In this village people speak the Dao language with Chinese characters. Years ago Chinese people came over here to live in this region.
After lunch Duyên and his friend walk to the water place. Kids are swimming in the water. The small road leads through the village and the surrounding mountains. At the lake there is a big waterfall, that goes down for several meters. On the way back there is the homestay of the friend. In his house his wife is playing with their granddaughter and grandson, because the parents are out to work. The friend shows a very old book in Dao language about the Le Cap Sac ceremony. This is for young men who are considered ready to get married. The ceremony is held in January or February and they kill an animal, like a pig. It is a very old rite that they still perform these days. On the road back to the first homestay there are many people coming back from the market. Back at the house the kids are playing. Someone is sanding wood. A man comes to pick up corn leaves.
In the morning it is clear that the people get up very early to work. Outside it is very quiet because the sons and daughters are off to work. Nearby the house are the public showers. Further in the village is the homestay of Lý Sinh Leng, 77 years old. He likes to walk to his brothers and sisters and talk to them about life and work. He works in the house and he lives there with his son. The tourists only come to his house to visit, they never stay. He would take them to see landscapes, farms, fields, mountains, the lake and his brothers house. The family grows vegetables in the garden that they sell on the market. In this way they make money to buy new clothes and rice wine. Around noon Mr. Leng starts to prepare lunch. He makes a fire in the kitchen with corn leaves. He makes rice, vegetables and meat. Around the house are small roads that lead through the nature. Dinner in the evening is with the whole family and corn wine. The people here often wear a combination of traditional and new clothes, like a jeans and a traditional vest. Women in general wear more traditional clothes than men.
Nam Dam Village
The next cultural village is Na Sai village in the Dong Ha commune. There aren’t any homestays in here. Ms. Nung Thi Chang offers her house. She is 87 years old and from the Thay group. The house is very big and they all live on the first floor. Underneath is a storage for corn and weeds. Miss Chang came here at the age of 30 from Bac Di (Yen Minh district). She likes living here because she can talk to people about life and work. Here people teach each other things, like peeling corn. It is very hot so her grandson, Dùc Anh, 18 years old, stays inside. He likes to go to the river with his friends to cool down. He finished school and will go to work next year. They don’t have enough money for university. There aren’t any parties here in the village, but he likes to sing. Here they eat lunch on a carpet on the kitchen floor.
In the afternoon it is time to plant peanuts in the field. First they go to the river with the motorcycle. This river is crossed with a little bamboo boat. To come to the actual field, they have to pass through another river and other fields. At the field, the buffalo is turning the earth and the two girls start making rows in the earth. In these rows, the seeds are placed. The mother puts fertilizer next to the seeds. The grandson puts the earth back over the seeds. This is very hard work and the heat only makes it worse. When the sun starts to go under, they return back to the house. After the hard work a nice dinner awaits and everyone watches a Vietnamese show on TV.
After a good night of sleep, the day starts with a noodle breakfast. Further along the street lives a retired teacher. She was born in Yen Minh but moved here when she god married. She preferred living there. It was closer to the town and life was easier. If her three sons get married she will go back to open a shop. Life here is more and more difficult, some families don’t have enough food. She would like to talk to tourists about the nature and the culture. Then there is the house of the village chief. He visits the families to ask them about their life and work. For him, the beautiful nature can be attractive for tourists. He is afraid that the folk songs will disappear with the young people. There is no time to teach them. Everyone has to work and the young people go to school outside of the village.
Next to the houses is a path along water supply system. It goes along the rice paddies, the river and the mountains. There are different kinds of houses: made from earth, concrete or stones. In the river children are playing and swimming. Next to the road are many bamboo trees that make a creaking sound. In the house the older people stay at home to do the housework, like feeding the animals, peeling corn, cooking or cleaning. Other people go to work on the fields. Now the young people also help with work in the house and on the field, because there is no school. Around lunch and dinner everyone comes back and hangs around in the house, watching television or just talking. The grandmother tells a story about a brother and sister. They survive a flood and everyone else in the village is dead. They ask a turtle and a bamboo what they should do and they both answer that they should get married and have children. This doesn’t work out and they decide to go their separate ways. The man goes to the land and the woman to the highlands. This explains why the people of the highlands are less strong than the people of the land. Dinner this evening is at the house of the chief. His house is a very big concrete house with different floors. His wife knows a lot of traditional songs. The songs are about their daily lives. They both know a lot of the local languages. He needs the local languages to talk with the people in the village and she knows the languages from the songs.
In the morning there is a market, about five kilometres further. The market is very busy. All kinds of things are sold, like clothes, fruit, meat, shampoo, tools, etc. Right next to market is the Lung Tam cultural village. They have a project for women who make bags, pillows, scarves, etc. from natural material. The lady of the organization shows us their workplace. She explains how they make fabric out of the wood. She explains that the fabric is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The fabric is seen as a connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Na Sai Village
Buc Ban Village
In the morning for the road leads to Yen Minh. On the way the nature is very impressive and rough. There are fields with big karst rocks dropped in the middle, corn planted between the rocks and very steep mountains. After a while there is the information centre of Yen Minh. It has all the brochures about the DVKPG, but nothing more. They sell many things like stones, drinks, tea, oil, wine and bags. There are some people drinking or smoking. The lady of the shop says that there is a new cultural village, Dong Minh. In Yen Minh is a hotel, perfect to visit the nearest cultural village in the afternoon. At lunch there are two French tourists. They travel through Vietnam and read about this region by accident on the internet. To avoid the tourists they came here. With the sign they discovered the geopark, but they don’t know anything more. They come here to discover the nature and the culture.
Right next to Yen Minh town is the Buc Ban cultural village. There lives Nguyen Thi Thuy. She is from the Tay ethnic group, 40 years old and she works as a farmer. Several years ago she moved here when she got married. She likes living here more because it is so quiet and clean. She likes the people here, her work, the culture, etc. There is a cave nearby, but it is very dark on the inside. There have been some tourists here, mostly foreign, who come to see the cave. She can see them and then she says hello. In the village, there are five households that do homestays, including herself. She didn’t change anything to the house, because it is a traditional house. Only outside they built a toilet and a shower. Her mother in law (73), has six children and the youngest is the husband of Thuy. The mother in law got married when she was 14 years old and she worked very hard all her life. She has lived here all her life. When she was 16 she saw a foreign tourist that came here. Thuy explains that marriage is only one day in the village. The man goes to the house of the woman to take her away. Then they all eat together.
In another house lives Luc Thi Din. She is 49 years old and a teacher of mathematics and writing. Din was born here and got married here. She ones went to the province of Halong Bay. She likes living here more, because of the traditional life, like the holidays. She knows a story about the cave. There lives a person in the cave with a golden bowl and chopsticks. If someone gets married, they can borrow the bowl and the chopsticks. After the marriage they have to bring it back. One day someone lost the bowl and the chopsticks and the caveman got angry. Someone had to give back a bowl and chopsticks, but the cave person took him away. The man from the family entered the cave in 1999 and found a stone there in the form of a person. He sold it, but then he got sick. So he shouldn’t have taken it
After Yen Minh it is time for Dong Minh village. This village is becoming a cultural village. The road to go there is very bad and dangerous. Closer to the village a concrete road appears. The village is surrounded by different kinds of mountains and rice paddies. Some women are working in the rice fields. They advise to go the house of the village chief. There is his wife Vang Thi Lieu, 48 years old and from the Xuông ethnic group. This is a concrete house with a wooden roof. It is surrounded with a garden and stalls. In the living room there are a lot of pictures and drawings on the wall. Lieu likes living here and she thinks it is the most beautiful place in the world. She says that there aren’t many tourists, because it is so far away from the road. If tourists come to the village she would show them the school. To her the school is very important for the children.
Across the road is another house. Here the living room is on the first floor and it is very big. The husband, Chang A No, used to be a soldier. He just retired from working in the Dong Minh commune. He likes the weather, the landscapes and the people of the village. However he doesn’t think it is the most beautiful place. He is used to it, it is not special anymore for him. He already heard about the cultural village two years ago. The committee came here to explain, but he doesn’t remember much of what they said. He would show tourists the trees, because they have many special trees.
Back at the chief’s house a lot of other people arrive: the mailman, the daughter, the son in law and the chief. These people hang around there and eat lunch together. Next there is the house of Lú A Saù, 63 years old. He lives in a very big and high house, because he has six children. Now the children are all out of the house. He went to Hanoi once, but he likes living here. He was born here and he thinks there is no place so beautiful. Tourists will come here when the road is better.
Dong Minh Village
In the morning the journey continues to Mau Dué. In the centre of the commune is a market. It is a very busy and big market. There are a lot of different ethnic groups who wear their traditional clothes. At one place everyone is gathered around the televisions playing a movie. Next to the market, is the Ngam Xoc cultural village. There the village chief says that the village is very big, it spreads along the national road. It has developed quite well economically, but culturally there are a lot of problems. Many of the villagers didn’t go to school or only until the age of 13. Many people don’t speak Vietnamese. To sleep and eat there is another house further on the road. This house is concrete with a roof made of golf plates. A group of men are rebuilding the kitchen. It is a shop with boxes from drinks, noodles, shampoo, etc. Later on people come here to buy things. One of the people in the living room explains a tradition at marriage. They pass one a little cup to drink wine for everyone. Outside one woman washes the smoked pork. It had been hanging on the ceiling for six months. There are a lot of people here to work on the kitchen, but also to hang around in the living room and children playing. All the men that are working stay to eat. The woman of the house has one room where she makes corn wine. She puts the corn in big plastic barrels that are closed with a lit and plastic foil. Here the corn stays for a long time until it turns into wine.
Around the corner behind the house is the school for the young children. It is a very new building and it is funded by a Japanese organization. Further is the path that the people use to go to work on their fields. This path leads through the nature. On this path is the house of a woman and her son. She has lived here all her life. For her it is very beautiful. She would like to welcome the tourists in her house. They could do things together like working or celebrating a holiday. However, she thinks the village is too poor and too far away for the development of tourism. Further along the road lives a young woman with three little children. Her husband is out for work, he is a businessman. They live in a small wooden house that is very dark on the inside. There are many little coloured flags in the house from the Tet holiday. The house has two kitchens, because it is built according to the traditional architecture. Now they don’t use any of the two kitchens, they built a new one outside. In the village many of the people don’t speak Vietnamese . It is not possible to talk to other people.
The next morning it is necessary to go the committee. There is an officer who knows more about cultural villages. He is occupied with the social and cultural development of the commune. The Ngam Xoc hamlet is a cultural village because unique ethnic groups live there. The families here are very poor so they want to build new houses and new roads. They have a program of research in the village about the local language. The language is only spoken, so they try to find everything to write it all down.
Next is the house of the old man who advised us to go to the committee. His house was build in 1984 and he planted a lot of trees around the house. It is a very nice house with a set of chairs and a table in the living room. His house is built according to the traditional culture of the Hmong architecture. The houses have three rooms, a central living room and a kitchen on each side. One kitchen is with a fire on the ground. The other is higher, where they make the food for the pigs and wine. Now the house still has these three rooms, but the kitchen is outside. They use the other rooms as a bedroom and a dining room. For a marriage, the first place to go to as daughters in law is the high kitchen. If someone dies they hang an instrument next to the door of the high kitchen, like a cymbal. Around the house is a good view. The family has a lot of trees and a big garden surrounding the house. This means they are a rich family. After lunch here, a walk around town follows. Back at the guesthouse people are passing by. The children are pushing forward branches of trees that have been put on wheels. In the house they are pealing the rice with two big machines.
Ngam Xoc Village
In the morning it is time to go to Meo Vac town. Along the way there is much more karst and corn. After about an hour Meo Vac town is visible in the valley underneath. A walk around town shows that this town is more aimed at tourists. They have some shops that sell traditional products and more hotels. There is a sports centre and a lot of government buildings. Near these buildings is a gigantic statue of Ho Chi Minh. After waiting a long time the meeting with the cultural officer can start. For him a cultural village is a way to develop the traditional work and culture, to keep the customs alive. Next to that it is also good for the social and economic development of the village. They talk with the local population about keeping their culture alive. There is a little house up the hill for a view over Meo Vac. They want to make an information centre of it for the geopark. Up there is a very good view of the city and the surrounding mountains. Some other visitors come up there to take some pictures.
After dinner there is a program on the television about tourism in the Ha Giang region. They talk to some American tourists. They like being in the area and the local population is very friendly. The program shows images of the geopark and the tourist information points. After this program the lady from the hotel comes with bad news: she says that it is not possible to leave Meo Vac town tomorrow because there is a military exercise in the whole district and all the roads will be blocked. A few hours later she comes back and says that it is possible to leave Meo Vac very early in the morning. This gives the possibility to visit the Sung Mang cultural village in the morning.
Meo Vac Town
In Sung Mang commune there is a market. It is a very big and very crowded market. For the first time we see Dao women with big black hats. The road to Sung Mang is very dangerous, filled with stones. In the village is a very old wooden house that is very dark inside. In the living room sits a woman who is separating small wooden sticks. She makes incense to sell on the market. There is an older woman in there smoking the pipe. She is the mother in law. She only speaks Dao language. Next to the house is an old school. Inside, the grandmother roasts some corn. The corn tastes very good and they go into the field to pick more corn. Later the grandfather comes home. He drinks tea. Then his friend comes in. He lives a few houses away, between the corn fields. He has some traditional clothes hanging in the house. In the living room he has a lot of posters. Around the house there is a wall made of stones only. The house is built according to the traditional Dao architecture. The old man says that he once went to Tuyen Quang. It was bigger there and the life was more exciting. However it was too hot, so he prefers living here. His children like to go to the beach. He doesn’t like it because he doesn’t know how to swim. He tries to, but he always sinks under water. He offers lunch, boiled corn and corn cake.
Back in the first house, there is another old man. He is the father of the woman. Outside the grandmother is hitting dried plants to get the seeds out. The father talks about the traditional black hats of the Dao women. He says that there are only three women left in the hamlet who wear it. The young women don’t like wearing it anymore. After this the father goes over to his house, further along the corn roads. On the way he shows traditional Dao graves, hidden between the corn. There are a lot of people coming to his house. The son of the old man sits there with his little daughter. All the people that came to the house appear to be from the committee. They think it is better to stay in a hotel in town that night.
After the night at the hotel it is time for a walk around the village. The road goes upwards to some houses and through the nature. People and motorbikes pass by, but mostly it is just karst mountains and flowers. Back at the first house they eat roasted corn. After resting a while, it is time return to Meo Vac town. At the old school building the children are playing. The grandfather is doing his laundry. He and his grandson are chasing a butterfly with a spray. Later the children are reading in their schoolbooks. The girl is carrying a baby on her back with a traditional fabric. The grandfather goes to sleep in the living room. The women arrive home after working on the field. It is quite amazing to see through what the grandfather can sleep. People are walking around him and talking. The women that arrived home start cooking. Then it is time to hit the road.
Sung Mang Village
Back in Meo Vac there is a cultural village, Sang Pà A, just behind the town. The village are some streets with modern houses. The people here wear the modern Vietnamese clothes. This doesn’t look like the other cultural villages. There are some women peeling corn. They say that the village consists of people of the Lo Lo ethnic group. They don’t wear the traditional clothing anymore, only on ceremonies. The people moved here to be closer to Meo Vac town and the national highway. They heard about being a cultural village from the village chief and officers from Meo Vac. According to them there are no special places regarding nature in the village, but the cultural activity is very exciting. They hope that there will be a cultural house in the future, to introduce the culture to the tourists, like clothes or bags. There aren’t many women left who know how to make the traditional clothes. Now there is a small project from Hanoi to learn about the traditional embroideries of the Lo Lo people.
Sang Pa A Village
After everything is arranged at the committee the journey continues to the next cultural village, Nao Tra. Above the road there are systems for the water made of bamboo. To arrive in the commune, Tat Nga, it is necessary to ride on small earthen paths, right next to the valley. From there a man leads the way to the house of the village chief of Nao Tra. The village chief lives in a wooden house on pillars with animals living underneath. The chief explains that the traditional jobs and clothes aren’t any more like some years ago. The young people don’t make the traditional clothes anymore because they can buy clothes on the market. The villagers use drums for traditional holidays or other occasions. There is one man who knows a lot about the traditional culture. He says that there are tourists coming here, but not a lot. The village is very far from Meo Vac, so it is difficult for them to develop. He can see that a cultural village is often only a name. Through de day it becomes clear why they want the animals away from the houses. They give a lot of flies and other insects in the living room.
After lunch it is time to meet the master of ceremonies. He knows how to play the drums. He leads the people on special occasions like holidays, marriage or a funeral. His name is Hoang Thien Sieng, he is 50 years old and from the Giay ethnic group. They have drums and folk songs for ceremonies like the Tet holiday. When the people here get married, the party is only one day. Sieng helps to find the right day. On the day of the marriage they eat traditional foods and sing folk songs. Sieng explains that there are 15 people in the village who know how to play the drums. At a funeral they have a ceremony with the drums to lead the person to the second world. Most people here only wear the traditional clothing on special occasions, because they are very heavy and warm. Sieng has a special vest that he uses for the ceremonies. It is a long vest with a lot of drawings in different colours. His wife made it by hand. She wears the traditional Zhay clothes: a green blouse with flowers, wide black trousers, a black skirt, a black scarf on her head and silver earrings. She also has black teeth. Further along the road there are two pagoda’s. It are two little wooden houses. One of them has the big drum of the village. On the holidays the men sit in the house and the women sit outside to eat. The other pagoda has a special document in it that changes every year at the Tet holiday.
Further in the village is the house of Sung Van Chuc, 47 years old. They have a very old weaving machine made of wood. There are bananas hanging over the stove to dry to make a traditional cake from Ha Giang. This cake is made with rice for the holiday on the 15th of July of the lunar calendar. Mister Chuc is a carpenter and he made all the furniture in the house. The furniture he made is very beautiful with a lot of detail and he is making more things under the house. Back at the house of the village chief four men arrive in the house. They come to drink corn wine before they start the meeting this evening about electricity.
In the morning we enter the house of Huang Thi Pai and her three little grandchildren. Upstairs there is a living room with a table and she offers her good tea. It is the same kind of wooden house on pillars, but with no animals underneath it. In the living room they have a shrine and they have a lot of posters and diplomas on the wall. She is 53 years old and has lived here all her life. She likes living here. Especially when it is the Tet holiday so she can sing folk songs and talk to other people. Further in the village is the house of the brother of the carpenter of yesterday. He lives there with his wife and two children. They got married when he was 20 and she 16 years old. Today they are working to place a new floor outside, so the husband doesn’t have to go to work. They also live in a wooden house on pillars. They have the animals underneath it so there are a lot of flies in the house. The husband says that there were three foreign tourists in the village this year. These tourists visited the pagodas and the house of the master of ceremony. The village chief had a meeting about tourism with the local population. He said that they should welcome the tourists, wear the traditional clothes, sing folk songs, know about their traditions, etc. But this is all for the future because now there is no money to do this. They don’t know the traditional stories. Only the old women know them, but they don’t speak Vietnamese. The woman shows a hat that she made herself out of bamboo, like the typical Vietnamese hat, but flatter.
Nao Tra Village
Next on the route is Kau Vai, famous for the love market. In Kau Vai, the local teachers live in a house next to the school. They have computers in their rooms to make documents. There are also houses for the students to stay in if the school is far away for them. Further in the village is a small concrete house that was once built for French soldiers. Next to the village on a little road in the forest there are two pagodas, one for the men and one for the women. Each has a statue and the story goes that these two people were in love, but didn’t get married. That is why they have the love market for other people to get married. Right next to the village is a karaoke bar, one of the favourite hobbies of the Vietnamese. It is a bit of a dodgy place with an old karaoke machine and a dirty table.
Regardless of the karaoke last night the day starts early as usual. Noodles are served as breakfast. One of the teachers, Kien spends a lot of time going to the small villages in the neighbourhood to find the children and take them to school. Many of the local families don’t have the means to bring the children to school or they have to work. He says that he doesn’t really care about being a cultural village or living in the geopark. It is always hope, that the geopark or the cultural villages will bring improvement, but the hope is never realized. Next to Kien two other young teachers live in the house. Both of them like teaching here for the children in the hope that it can change their lives. Back in town is a shop. One girl is working there, she is the daughter of the owners. She is 16 years old and goes to school in Meo Vac town. Once she heard about the geopark, but she thought it was only in the Dong Van district. She likes going to school and talking with her friends. She wants to go to university later to become a teacher for children. The shops has closets against the wall with all kinds of products on them. Her bed is in the shop, it is very pink with a lot of posters. She helps in the shop if she doesn’t have to go to school. It is fun to work here because she sees a lot of her friends. Today the committee is selling rice to the people who cannot afford it to buy rice. On the road from the shop to the teachers house, they carry water with their motorbikes. They have to get their water in a well somewhere else.
A bit further on the road is a rocky desert. It is an area where many rocks lie in the landscape. Like someone dropped them there. Now it has a lot of corn in between. The people have to climb between all the rocks to get to their corn. Back in the village there is a big group of children watching a program on television outside. A teacher there says he knows about the geopark because he got information about it. For him it is about development, economics, tourism and geology. He is a primary school teacher so these children are too young to learn about geoparks, they have to learn Vietnamese in class. He tells us that in one of the meetings three months ago they talked about cultural villages. They talked with the local people and officers about the activities of the village to make a document of their lives on different levels. There are people who break stones from the karst mountains to build their houses. They don’t want it, but it is difficult to stop them. They don’t have any other material to build their houses, but it is against the geopark rules.
Kau Vai Village
In the teachers house, some school books are lying in the closet. These books are all text without any pictures. When the teachers have to go to school there are some girls that can take care of the children. This is the moment to leave for Dong Van. Passing the school before leaving, all the children are singing a song in one of the classrooms. On the road there are children going to or coming from school, carrying their books. Just outside Meo Vac there are small wooden houses where the material to make fabric is dried. After a while the surroundings get more and more mountainous. Everywhere are goats and corn planted between the rocks. Closer to the Ma Pi Leng stand two information stones from the geopark besides the road. They are located very well at a good view point, but they are totally broken. At the information centre of Ma Pi Leng there is a panel with pictures and information about the geology and the culture of the surrounding area. The information centre offers a good place to see everything from the pass. It is an impressive landscape, because it is so high and the river is going through the mountains like a snake. Just after the information centre there is also a water reservoir for Ma Pi Leng village where the people have to go to for water. The road here is called the happy road. Years ago people from all over Ha Giang helped to build the road. They were very happy with the hospitality of the local people and the local people were very happy that they had this road. The happy road continues to Dong Van.
In Dong Van town the vice manager of culture, Pham Quoc Lâp, explains about geoparks. For him it means an area with geological heritage. He knows this because he went to one of the classes of the management board in Ha Giang. The geopark is very new, so they are still organizing themselves. They want the teachers to explain to the children about geoparks. Then the children can tell it to their parents. The local population has to know what a geopark is about, what the importance is, how it can change their lives and how it can develop the region. They want to make a small book with pictures and information about the geopark for everyone. For Mr. Lâp, a cultural village is about installing electricity, making water accessible and keeping the traditional culture alive. He says that there should be a mix of tradition and modern things in the villages. They also want the local people to be friendly for visitors. After this conversation a visit to the committee for the documents is necessary. There the officer doesn’t want to accept the document of Ha Giang to be in the four districts, because they used Tipp-ex on it. The document has to made again and sent to Dong Van with the bus.
Road to Dong Van
While waiting in Dong Van, the town is worthwhile a visit in the morning. Right in the old centre a banner of a cultural village appears. In the beginning of the main street is an information stone about fossils in the rocks here, but it is not clear where the fossils are. In the village they have old yellow houses made of wood and earth, dating back to 1925. There are also new houses in the modern Vietnamese style or just square. After the houses there are rice fields and there is a water installation where people come to wash their clothes. Next to this installation is a wall of strange beige rocks with old trees growing out of it. Back in the main street lives Luong Muy Ngo, 68 years old. He has an old yellow house made of earth. Outside corn is drying. He was born here and his generation of the family all live in here. In his house are two shrines, a lot of pictures and diplomas on the wall, pillows on the bench, a wooden table, a fridge, closets and a lot of things lying around. In the village they have only 23 old traditional houses left. He explains that the village is part of the old quarter of Dong Van. At the end of the 19th century people came here from another place. There was nothing here, only nature. They built the town here and other people started to come as well. His family was one of the first generations in the town. Then he speaks about some ceremonies they have in the village. For example, on the lunar 9th of January they have the Long Tong ceremony with traditional plays with bamboo. Another ceremony is on the lunar 15th of August during the night with food, drinks, drums and folk songs outside for the moon to give them good food and fields.
In the afternoon there is traditional music playing somewhere outside. It comes from the football field further along the road. They are practicing a dancing act with traditional clothes, instruments and umbrellas. This is for the 20th of August when there is a big festival for 120 years of Ha Giang province. In the Old Quarter there is a tourist shop with traditional clothes, instruments, drinks, puppets, bags, stones and dead animals. The girl who works there says the traditional clothes and bags are made by the local people. The stones are from the woods or the caves. People bring them to the shop. The house is an old traditional house. They cannot change the outside from the committee. In the cultural village stands the house of Be Van Cuong, 40 years old and a farmer. He moved here from Yen Minh in 2001 when he got married. He says it is not very different and that he likes living here. He lives in a modern house made of concrete. It has a living room with a table, a cooking set and a television set. He says that the committee had a meeting about cultural villages a long time ago. The committee chose this village because of the houses and the traditions, like the festival on the 15th. He would like to build an extra room to host tourists, to get some money and improve their lives. There aren’t many tourists staying here. They stay in the hotels and only come here to look at the houses. If the tourists stay in his house he would like to show them around in the village.
Dong Van Town
After waiting a long time on the bus, it is finally time for Lung Cu. On the way to Lung Cu two good information stones about the landscapes stand next to the road. Further along the road there is a wall made of fossils. In Lung Cu the necessary documents are retrieved at the committee. After these permissions the climb on the stairs to the flag tower starts. At the ticket office they also have a small tourist shop with T-shirts, traditional clothes, puppets and other things. Halfway there is a house with tourist products and panels with information. The big panel with pictures in only in Vietnamese, but the information stone is also in English. Almost at the top there is a very important fossil with an explanation next to it. At the top is an impressive view of the surroundings. The flagpole itself is also very impressive because it is so gigantic. It has images carved in of several Vietnamese things, like jobs, kings, pagoda’s, the geopark, etc. This is definitely a very important place for the Vietnamese.
Lung Cu Flagtower
Next to the flagpole is the Lo Lo Chai village. The village chief is 36 years old and has been the village chief since 2000. A lot of people bring little books to him. These are for each family and contain all the information about them. The village chief was born here and got married with a Lo Lo woman. The wife of the chief works for a group for the women of Dong Van. It is to help them with a job, to talk with it each other and to improve their lives. The chief went to other places like Sapa and Hanoi. He likes living here better because of the weather, the rocks and the friendly people. In Sapa there were very small children who could speak English and he liked that. Here there are 84 houses with Lo Lo families in the village and 10 with Hmong families. He himself is from the Lo Lo ethnic group. He explains their traditions. For a marriage, a funeral or other ceremonies they use bronze drums. Only two people know how to play it. There is a mountain (Lung Cu Fu) that looks like it is cut off. The story goes that the French cut it off. Before it was higher and there were flowers growing out of the stones. The dragon mountain next to it is to keep the village safe. Lo Lo Chai is a cultural village since 2007. There have been a lot of changes, like more food and work. They have a group that knows all the dances and the songs. They perform them on special occasions. There have been a lot of foreign and Vietnamese tourists. It is good for his village. They get money from them, they can see other cultures and it makes them feel proud. They don’t have homestays in the village. It is not so simple due to the traditional houses. He shows the oldest traditional house of the village. It is a wooden construction with soil walls of 40 to 60 cm and it is very well preserved. In the living room sit a lot of people. A traditional Lo Lo house has three rooms: a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. The house is over 100 years old. The family of the house has four sons. Only the oldest son can stay here and the others have to move out when they get married. They live and work here. On the ceiling hang some wooden arrows, plants and chicken bones for good luck. There are green trees hanging outside on the door. This means that a baby was born. When the baby is born the mother stays in the room and she shouldn’t use much water. She cannot go outside because the wind is not good for her. Everyone is going to the house of the newborn to give the family wine, rice, eggs, chickens, money, etc.
After this the manager of jobs, youth and sports explains. He is 25 years old and works here since February. He wants to organize classes to keep the traditional jobs because they are a cultural village. He organizes activities for young people about the importance of their traditional culture. They want to explain to the young people to maintain the landscape. They think it is very important to teach about it . It is for their further development. The young people are interested in the geopark and the protection of their surroundings. They try to explain to them by referring to the future.
In the house of the village chief lies a magazine about Vietnam with an article about the Lo Lo Chai village. It is the same information the village chief gave, only more extensive. The village chief also has a video about the traditional clothes, the dances, the daily life and the songs of the village. In the village lives another woman with traditional clothes. It takes three years to make a complete outfit. She makes it by hand with fabric from the market. She likes to show the tourists the traditional clothes. It is the most important part of their culture. She learns her daughter how to make the traditional clothes and how to do the dances. Before the girls finish the clothes, they cannot dance. It is important for the girls to make clothes and dance to find a husband. Her daughter in law is 22 years old and has two small children. She was born in here and got married to a Lo Lo man. She used to be in the dance group. Now she doesn’t have time anymore. For the future, they would like to rebuild the cultural house. Outside the wine is cooking above the fire. Inside is a lot of corn lies on the floor for wine. In a house further along the road lives Sinh Di Do, 26 years old. He likes living here because of the rocks. For him a geopark is an area with stones, traditional culture and the local people living here. It is about keeping the nature as it is now. There are a lot of other (young) people sitting around. If they had a lot of money they would make traditional clothes and rebuild the traditional houses. They all know the traditional dances, but they are not in the group. Only 15 people can be in the dancing group.
Lo Lo Chai Village
The road goes southwards to the Vuong family castle. About 24 kilometres from Lung Cu. The whole landscape is covered in fog. Once out the fog an information stone about rock deserts, caves and fossils appears. It is not clear where this is all situated. In the town from the Vuong family castle is a big market with a lot of people. At the information centre of the castle stand two tourists from Switzerland. They travel in the Ha Giang region with the motorbike. A friend who works in Hanoi told them about it. They have seen some things about the geopark, but they know little about it. Their travel wouldn’t have been possible without a guide. They stay at houses of people the guide knows. They have also done homestay, which was okay. Both of them really like the region with the nature and the culture. Also because it is not so touristy as Sapa. Now they continue to Lung Cu to see the flag tower, they are very curious about this. On the market sits Vuong Thi Cho. She sits at her stall with her young daughter. She sells lots of things like noodles, drinks, tobacco, shampoo, detergent, etc. She likes working on the market. She also gives explanations to tourists about the Vuong family castle. To sleep there is the local motel on the market square.
Around town mountains in different shapes appear. Further along the road is an information panel in Vietnamese and English. It explains about the geology and culture of the surroundings. There is a lot of corn between the rocks and there is a water reservoir that is quite low. Some houses and school buildings stand along the road. Back at the motel there is a big group of Vietnamese tourists visiting the castle. A group of foreign tourists follow. It is a group of two French and two New Zealand tourists. They are here with Ethnic Travel from Hanoi. Coming from Hanoi, they have Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac on the schedule. They stay at hotels and the houses of local people that the guide (Hmong from Sapa) knows. They don’t know what the geopark is about. Neither do they understand many of the words of the panels. They came here to see the nature and the people with their culture. Next there is a group of tourists who want a tour in the castle with Cho. She knows a lot about the castle. A little later another group of tourists arrive. A couple of Florence booked this tour via internet because the program with nature, culture and hiking. It is a tour that goes from Hanoi to the North and then further to the South through Halong Bay. It is a tour with a Vietnamese guide who speaks English. They didn’t know about the geopark. They saw the sign, but they are here for the tour. The region appeals very much to them. The only thing is that they find the Vietnamese people not very clean. On the market place there is a man sleeping on the ground because he drank too much. He gets up and walks/crawls to another man that also seems to be drunk. This is normal after the market. On the other side of the village the road leads along the rocks. There are many rocks with plants growing in between them, but almost no houses.
Vuong Family Castle
In the morning the road goes further to Lung Cam Tren hamlet. There stands the house of Ly Thi Huo, 26 years old. She lives in one of the soil and wooden houses. This is a special house, it is over 70 years old. She was born here and she married with someone from the village. She likes to talk to others about life, play with her children and watch movies. There are many tourists coming for the house. She likes it when the tourists come here. It is fun and she can see different people. The nature hasn’t changed here and that is what the tourists like. The community wants to build homestays, but that is not finished yet. Some tourists stay in the village, but most go away after their visit.
Further along the road lives a young couple. They heard about cultural villages and the geopark, but they didn’t get an explanation. The board is for the tourists. It is in Vietnamese so they don’t understand very well. Many tourists see the panel and they come to visit the village. They come to see the nature and culture, but they don’t talk or stay. The man likes living there, because it is a simple life, although he has to work a lot on the fields. In another house lives a young girl, Li Thi Chac. She likes going to school and she wants to be a police officer. She likes the tourists. Then she shows the trees and the flowers in the mountains. Today the weather is too bad. She took four tourists up in the mountains and they really liked it. They took many pictures. When it is rainy like this, she feeds the animals or does some other work. She can make rope out of plants, her mother taught her that.
In the beginning of the village stands the house of the policeman, Muo Sé Muo. He keeps an eye on the tourists. The village is a cultural village since 2009. It is famous for the movie filmed here. For him a cultural village means showing the houses or dances to the tourists. They have traditional houses and they keep the traditional customs. He has no problems with the tourists. He keeps them safe and makes sure they go to the right places. Also the people of the village welcome the tourists. The tourists come here in groups with guides, but they don’t stay here. He would like to show them the traditional houses, inside and outside. Then he would explain why they build it like that. He knows about the geopark, but he doesn’t understand what it means. He would like to know more about it. For him the nature is very simple, not special. In the living room he and his wife make a corn paste with a machine. First they clean the machine and then they add corn and water. A sticky paste comes out that they use to bake in corn leaves.
After lunch on the road, it is time to return to Yen Minh. On the way we meet the people from the management board. They are visiting the geopark to find a new road for tourists. Further the road goes through very rough nature. There are many people on the side of the road. They are collecting corn from to take it home. The road goes back to the Buc Ban hamlet. There the people eat rice and banana cakes for the holiday. The next morning there is a market in Yen Minh town. The last stop before Ha Giang is a visit to the cave, indicated on the map. This cave is nowhere to be found.
Lung Cam Tren Village
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