Zac Peterson
Zac Peterson
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Explore the terraced mountains of Hoàng Su Phì district

Hoàng Su Phì district is in the southwest of Hà Giang province, Vietnam. Bordering China, it is a green, mountainous area populated by ethnic minority peoples that still practice their traditional way of life. In the hills around Vinh Quang, the capital town, much of the land has been terraced for farming rice. When flooded with water, these terraces reflect the sky and make the side of the mountain glitter. The district is also home to Hà Giang’s two tallest mountains: Chiêu L?u Thi (2402 m) and Tây Côn L?nh (2419 m).

Hoàng Su Phì feels very off the beaten path. During my four day visit, I didn’t see a single other foreigner. Most tourists to Hà Giang come to tour the incredible rugged landscape of Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, and skip the rest of the province. To be fair, the Dong Van Plateau area is one of the most incredible places in the world, but Hoàng Su Phì also deserves to be seen. In my opinion, if you are on a time constraint you should skip your trip to Sapa and motorbike through Hoàng Su Phì instead.

The two ways to get to Hoàng Su Phì are by minivan bus or motorbike. Local buses heading for Vinh Quang leave Hà Giang city at 6:00am and 11:30am. However, these small buses are difficult to deal with, because they need to be called beforehand to pick you up, and the operators don’t speak English. If you stay at an English speaking hotel or hostel, like Bông Hostel (65 Minh Khai St), you can have them arrange the pickup for you. Getting back to Hà Giang city from Vinh Quang is much easier, as the bus waits by the main intersection in town (22.7433N, 104.6800E). Be prepared for a cramped ride, because there are only about 12 seats, and it also functions as a postal truck.

The main reason to take the bus to Vinh Quang would be if you were able to arrive on a Saturday, so you could wake up Sunday morning for the Hoàng Su Phì market. The market is the biggest in the district, and is one of the best ethnic markets to visit in Vietnam. The earlier you arrive at the market, the better, as it’s interesting to witness people all converging on this one area. Market day is a great time for the ethnic minority people from around Hoàng Su Phì to meet and interact. Flower H’Mong, Red Dao, Dao Ao Dai, Tay, Nung, La Chi, Ha Nhi, Co Lao, and other ethnic groups can be seen here buying and selling animals, produce, medicinal herbs, clothing, and household products. The market takes place in the street in the center of the city.

Another reason to take the bus to Vinh Quang is to trek up into the hills. You will have to hire a guide in Hà Giang city, and very few people in Hoàng Su Phì speak English. You could also just wander around on your own.

The best way to see Hoàng Su Phì is by motorbike. If you have at least two days of time to devote to the trip, rent a semiautomatic motorbike in Hà Giang city and drive south on QL2 to Tân Quang, then turn right on DT177. You are going to want a semiautomatic rather than an automatic because they handle the mountain roads better, and because the locals also ride them, so are familiar with fixing them should you have a problem. There are countless beautiful places to explore on the trip. Below are the highlights.

On the main road, the mountain pass on the border of B?c Quang and Hoàng Su Phì districts is incredibly beautiful on both sides.

The drive down to N?m Khòa community is worth it if you want to stay at a homestay and go trekking. The trek to Nam Hong village is really nice.

The drive up to B?n Pèo community has some good viewpoints of terraces.

Driving up Mount Chiêu L?u Thi is challenging, but worth it if you have the time. I wrote a separate tip covering Chiêu L?u Thi in detail.

The upper Túng Sán valley on the western slope of Mount Tây Côn L?nh is covered in wild tea trees. The Co Lao people live in this area. It is possible to climb the mountain, but I never visited this particular area, and I can’t find good information on where to start the hike. You can also find old tea trees in Ho Thau and Phin Ho.

Some of the most beautiful terraces can be found in B?n Lu?c, the community covering the mountains southwest of Vinh Quang. There is a homestay here.

Drive the mountain road that runs south of DT178 to go through some amazing terraced areas. The valley between Vinh Quang and Coc Pai is a national heritage area.

Drive up to B?n Phùng village, the hub of the La Chi ethnic group. This town is also surrounded by incredible rice terraces.

Pan Hou village ecolodge is a good place to base yourself for trekking. Nam Hong, Giang Thuong, Phin Ho, and Lang Giang are cultural villages that are also nice to stay in.

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