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For Christmas 2011, a group of us went to the mountain of Hà Giang. Beautiful is about all we need to say to sum it up. Time it so you can hit the Sunday market in Hoang Xu Phi, and expect travel to take 8 or so hours in each direction.
How we got there:
17-passenger van. We rented 17 passenger van, Cost: $400 for 3 days. It took about 8hrs total (including lunch and rest stops) to get from Hanoi to the Pan Hou Eco Lodge.
Where we stayed:
Pan Hou Eco-lodge. Cost: $40/night, $10/lunch, $12/dinner. The lodge was great. Rooms are basic and clean. There's no TV and no heat. I don't remember if there were sockets to plug in electrical devices for charging, though. They offer massage, a steam room (order 1hr in advance), and a few other spa-like treatments. Just be careful of the foreigners who like to run around naked. Aside from the spa, there is a garden to wander through.
You eat you meals in a big room with a central fire place. After you finish eating, you can go to the equally spacious bar next door to have a pint, a glass, or a shot and get warm by the fire. Did I mention it gets chilly in the mountains in December?
The friendly staff helped us work through issues with our driver (who didn't want to take us to the market), got us a guide, and told us about other activities in the area.
What we did:
- Sunday Market in Hoang Xu Phi. We weren't planning on going to the market, but when we arrived on Saturday, one of the staff members told us about the Sunday market where the folks from the different ethnic groups come into town wearing their traditional clothes. The town is 45km away from the resort, along a winding, narrow road. Plan at least 1 hr and 20min driving in each direction. The market itself starts early and we heard it wraps up between 11 and noon. We had a great time looking and taking photos. What made the market even more interesting is that the locals were interested in us as an oddity, rather than a piggy bank. A massive difference when compared to Sapa.
- Walk in the hills. We arranged this through the front office. The guide just led us along the paths that connect the houses in the hills close to the Lodge. Though we probably could have found our own way because none of the walking was jungle walking or anything like that, it was nice to have the guide. Views were gorgeous and would be even more stunning in June when the rice has finally gotten to the irridescent green stage. We walked about 3hrs before heading back for dinner.
Ha Giang is not a 3-day weekend trip from Hanoi. You need at least 4 days, if not 5, to make it worthwhile. You'll spend 2 of your days driving, so it just depends on what activities you want to do while you're up there. With 4 days, you can do a full day walking in the area, you can visit the Sunday market, and still relax for an afternoon.