6 – Taking a break in Meo Vac

13.05. – 15.05.2016

After riding nearly 200km from Cao Bang I finally made it to the Ha Giang region, Meo Vac to be precise.I have read about the large Sunday market there, so I decided to stay two nights here. A day rest from riding the bike was probably a nice idea, before starting the Ha Giang Loop in earnest.

So heading down the hill I passed the first section of Meo Vac and soon enough I was on the main road passing a sport stadium on the left, and a Ho Chi Minh memorial on the right. I was slightly tired and a big sign of a hotel got my attention. Turning left onto a road passing the indoor market I saw a few guesthouses on the left, and probably the largest hotel on the right, directly opposite of the market. Unfortunately I must admit that I cannot remember the name of the hotel, though you cannot miss the  six floor high orange / yellow building. Here is the review of the hotel. One thing that surprised me was the fact that they didn’t want my passport – so I didn’t get a permit you apparently need. Well – if someone stops me I claim I arrived straight from Bao Lac

After freshen up I used the remaining daylight of the day to explore Meo Vac. It is not a big place, but it is a nice place. It is settled in a valley surrounded by mountains, with roads heading up into the distance. The roads are rather wide there, though parts of the pavement have holes, so you better walked along the street. Most houses are built-in the traditional way, though unlike other places in the area most houses are grey or white. You do not see as many colourful houses as in other places. As it got dark I witnessed some rather unusual things again. There was a tent erected in the middle of the road, and a few local men prepared a whole pig for dinner, removing limbs and using a burner to fry it. This included the head of the pig. The locals there found it rather entertaining watching a local taking pictures of the scene. I always consider how strange it must look for them to see foreigners taking pictures for their normal daily, for example water buffalos, rice terraces, a pig’s head. I would feel the same if I see a tourist takes a picture of a cow or wild boar in Germany I guess.

But as usual people were friendly and welcoming, and even during my first night a tradition started with a few owners of shops to say Xin Chao, and I always got a big grin when i saw them again. It felt a bit like a daily routine to greet each other. But I also realised another thing – dogs in Meo Vac are bit more vicious. Most are chained to a wall, and I got a few nasty surprise in the evening walking along the street when suddenly a dog jumped from one of the entrances to a house, barking like hell. It is one thing I didn’t enjoy in Meo Vac.

As it got dark I decided to head to the indoor market as they apparently started a night market there. Well – there was no food stalls, and only a few vendors selling cloth etc there. It really was empty. And the stalls in the front of the market along the road selling Banh Mi and other items closed rather early as well.

So I followed the road west passing my hotel and walked into a food place  called Ngoc Lan Quan that looked a bit busier. I only got a seat at the back of the food place, but I am still glad I found this place. The food there is very good, and the owners are very friendly. But I didn’t know about that during my first visit. I enjoyed my fried rice with chicken (I cannot even remember if I had fried rice in Vietnam before!!!) and a cold Bia Hanoi while watching the other guests, including a group of foreigners who were there with their guide. After the previous stay you definitely see more foreign tourist in the Ha Giang province, but it is nothing in comparison to Sapa or Ninh Binh for example. However, I was a bit surprised when I saw the daughter of the owner moved tables away from one side, and put some plastic carpets on the floor. I was even more surprised to see that a rather large bag with sweets appeared,which was thrown onto the carpet. After another minute I finally understood what was happening when more kids appeared with little gifts, and two cakes were delivered. At 7:30pm the little daughter had her birthday party. I remember that for my birthdays friends came over in the afternoon (ok, that changed when beer was discovered!!!), but things are different in Vietnam.

Not wanting to interrupt anything I decided to go for a little walk. Heading back passing both the market and stadium I was on the main road, which was slightly transformed now – at night there were lights switched on over the road, making it look like little stars when standing underneath it. The statue of Uncle Ho was also lid up – it really looked beautiful. And to make sure I know where I was, there was loud announcement and the kind of music you know from Communism propaganda movies back in the 80s. It was surreal to be in such beautiful place, listening to that music and announcement.

I finished the evening the usual way, and went to one of the stalls between the stadium and Huo Cuong Hotel for a ca fe sua da. The second last one coming from my hotel became my usual evening place. The coffee and sugar cane juice are nice, and you can buy some little snacks like freshly grilled meat skewers and some little dumplings.perfect for a late evening visit. I really enjoyed sitting there, listening to the communist music and announcement and having a few words with the locals. Though I guess they found it more entertaining when one of the legs of the little chair I was sitting on moved – and I was suddenly down on the ground next to the chair!!! It was a nice relaxing end of the day.

 

The next day I used to rest a bit. I am on holiday, and I deserved a little break. So I slept a little bit longer, and enjoyed a slow breakfast by having a pho opposite the hotel (at the corner of the market) and checked the indoor market out – near the main entrance there are stalls selling fruits and vegetable. Nice little place for a little stroll.

I also wanted to take advantage of my stay and get my laundry done. Easy to do that I though – I was wrong. Neither my hotel nor the other large hotel in Meo Vac, Huo Cuong Hotel, offered already service. So I had to wash my cloth myself – what a shame!!!

After all the hard work I took one of my books and made my self comfortable at one of the coffee stalls along the stadium. It was great to just sit down, enjoying a ca fe sua da and juice while reading my book. Let other people rush, I prefer taking my time.

Though after a while I wanted to stretch my legs and walked a bit more through Meo Vac, and finding the cattle market that will be busy during the Sunday markets, and even spotted a nice looking artificial football pitch – with floodlights!!!

Though in the end I decided to do something. I saw a little viewing point south of Meo Vac, and decided that it would be nice to visit it. Turn to the main road keeping the stadium on you right side and the Uncle Ho monument to your left, and go straight ahead (towards Bao Lac). After a sharp corner you can turn off the main road, onto a smaller mountain road. This step road will bring you to the viewing point, and there is a rather large car park on your right. Unfortunately I had to walk up a few stairs to reach the top, but I was rewarded with a great view of Meo Vac and the surrounding area. It was just stunning.

There was a Vietnamese couple up there as well, and we helped each other to take pictures, though I had to be on pictures with her and him. Well – at least one place where people want a picture of me….It was rather nice to sit down and watching the world goes past. Lorries making the way down the steep road, locals working on fields, and I saw the first people arriving in Meo Vac from the surrounding areas for the big market. It all felt so real, you cannot get to a more rural Vietnamese setting than this.

I rode back to Meo Vac, and explored the place with my bike, finding a little section running parallel to the road leading west to Yenh Minh that look a bit like a minority village setting. I think there was also a little homestay, but I am not sure.

In the evening I returned to Ngoc Lan Quan for dinner, this time I took advantage of the barbecued pork ribs and skewers and some spring rolls. On the table next to me was a guide a dn driver of an older French couple who had a hotpot, though not sitting with the driver and guide. I found it a bit unusual. So I had a chat with them (or rather the guide, as the driver only spoke Vietnamese), and soon enough I shared a few glasses of corn wine with them. When they left I was ready to go as well, however one local from another table jumped up and stopped me by putting a can of beer in my hand – he wanted to share a beer with me. Well – though following a Vietnamese tradition I emptied the can quickly, and was instantly invited to join another table with 2 younger locals to drink a few beer and corn wine, before a second bottle of corn wine was ordered..and we drunk more. It was actually very entertaining to see one of the guys falling asleep. Thankfully it wasn’t me. it seems I can handle corn wine better than rice wine. Considering the amount I was forced to drink it was a good thing though. I actually want to leave at some point, and after a brief farewell I only headed back to my room and returned to give the daughter of the owner a little belated birthday present – one of the key rings I got from Cologne. The girl and the parents were very happy and as a thank more corn wine was served. Obviously!!!

After all the alcohol I just needed something non alcoholic, so I went ot the karaoke bar opposite of Ngoc Lan Quan. An obvious place of course. it is very busy with locals on a Saturday, and therefore a great place to sit in the lobby while having a ca fe sua da and watching people come and go. Obviously, as a foreigner you get some attraction – and not long until I got another beer from a local. Well – how could I say no to a beer!!!. Just when I thought that it is, I got suddenly attacked by two spiderman children. They played in the entrance hall before, and then thought it would be funny to use the strange-looking man as a climbing tool. The parents and other locals found it all very entertaining, and so did the kids. It was a great end to a very entertaining evening.

 

The next morning I was up a bit earlier to enjoy one of the  highlights in this area – the Sunday market in Meo Vac. It is apparently the biggest market in that region, with locals from the different minority villages coming here to sell or buy. I was really looking forward to it.

Exciting the hotel I saw the change that took place from the previous day immediately. The road along the indoor market was full of stalls and full of people, many wearing their traditional cloth of their village. It was so colourful, so beautiful. This was a real market, and not a tourist market. The vendors were offering anything – rice, mobile phones, cloth, fruit, vegetables, spices, corn wine. And near the cattle market I saw the animal section of the market, where you could buy chicken, ducklings, puppies, goats and pigs. It was strange seeing locals walking a pig on a leash. It was just surreal, or others checking out items on offer while carrying chickens. Others put a puppy and chicken into one cage at the back of the motorbike. Or transporting chickens with a motorbike – the chicken hanging with the feet up next to the wheel. It was just surreal.

The cattle market was also very interesting – and very smelly. It was full of cows, water buffalos, and goats. I have never been to such a market, and it was very interesting to watch the locals inspecting the animals, or bargaining prices (at least I think they did). It was just fascinating.

From the cattle market I continued my walk around the indoor market towards the entrance, and the other long stretch was again full of stalls, vendors and local buying ingredients or phones or cloth. I just love markets, and I have visited quite a few in SEA, but never seen anything like that. I think seeing people from the various minority villages with their colourful dresses made it more special I guess.

In addition of the stalls on the street the indoor market was now very busy as well. near the entrance you could buy mainly fruit and vegetable, and the large hall in the back was now busy. The fireplaces were all lit and the section was full of different food places. Again – I have not seen anything like that before. In over a dozen fireplaces you could buy phos, com dishes or rice soup. And thanks for the fire indoors or was very smokey. I sat down at a busy stall and had a Pho. The meat for the soup was actually weighted before added into the soup. The flavour was very nice, unfortunately the meat had more bone than meat to it. But it was such a great experience sitting there amongst the locals during one of their most important days of the week, sharing a meal. I think the owner of the stall I was eating was quite proud, and made sure I had enough broth in my soup left. It was just great. After my breakfast I walked a bit through the indoor markets as it suddenly started to rain, and all visitors tried to come inside. As soon the rain got lighter, it was time to leave the lovely market, get my bags back on the bike and heading west to Yenh Minh. It was time to start the Ha Giang Loop.

 

Meo Vac is a nice little place, and a perfect stop when doing the Ha Giang loop. There are plenty of accommodation options and you find enough food places. So it has a good set up for tourists (except of a laundry service – what is this all about!!!). The Sunday market was an absolute highlight. I found it fascinating visiting it. It is just so colourful and interesting. I enjoyed my time there for sure, especially with the encounters I had with the locals.

 

Recommendation

  • The hotels around the market are ok, but there are some nice guesthouses along the road to Yenh Minh.  Nha Nhi Linh Anh is a great place to stay
  • Ngoc Lan Quan on the road west passing the entrance of the market is a great place for dinner. THere are also enough places to enjoy a Pho. At the corner of the market next to the entrance to the bank is a stall selling good Banh Mi in the morning
  • If you have the chance, visit the Sunday market in Meo Vac. It is apparently the biggest in the region, and is a fascinating place to visit
  • The viewing point south of Meo Vac is a great place to enjoy the view of the beautiful surrounding. If you are lucky and the sun is out you can even watch a nice sunset there. maybe get a beer from a shop to enjoy it on top of the hill.

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