Part 3: Dong Van – Meo Vac (20km)
This is actually only a short ride, and you could be tempted to say that you only an hour or two to get to Meo Vac. However, this section is probably the absolute highlight of the loop – for some it is the most beautiful ride in Vietnam. The road follows some of the most impressive valleys and hills you can find in Vietnam, and the last thing you want to do is rushing here. Make sure you have plenty of time stopping at various places to take in the sights.
From Dong Van follow the main road out-of-town – the same you used to arrive in Dong Van. After leaving town the road passes some rice fields and soon enough the road starts to ascend into the mountain area again. And from here on it will be difficult to beat the scenery. Even reading about it nothing could have prepared me for this stunning area.
Soon after reaching the highest point of the mountain you are overlooking the surrounding area consisting of limestone karst, valleys full of rice terraces and rivers hundreds of metre below you, offering a stark contrast between the green of rice and grass and the dark colour rocks. After this lush green you pass some harsh looking rock formation with houses standing between them – looking slightly lost there. And the whole time the road is hugging the mountain on one side, while on the other side the slopes drop down a few hundred metres. The road is fun to ride – even though you still have to keep an eye on it to avoid potholes and some gravel sections. And make sure you keep an eye on traffic and the locals walking on the road carrying their heavy goods on their back – riding over the edge is not a good idea!!!
Between the stunning landscape you will pass some lovely looking villages where houses are built amongst rocks and next to rivers, offering a nice contrast to rice fields and the otherwise harsh looking environment. Such contrast really makes this area so interesting. Here it might be a good idea to take a few stops, get off the bike, sit down, your feet hanging down off the road with drops of hundred metres or more – and just let the view sink in. These are places were you feel so small, and where you can appreciate the beauty of nature. Some might even become philosophical about it….
This is definitely not an area to rush through – it really would feel cheating.
Half way through this section you will arrive at maybe the highlight of the trip. On the left you will see a larger house with a car park and a few vendors selling food and drinks. Inside the house is even a little food place. But the most important sections are the two viewing platforms. One next to the road, one below that platform. The view here on offer can be hardly described – except that it is stunning. On one side you can look down into a valley where a lovely blue coloured river flows, while on the slopes of the mountains above the river is full of terraces, fields, houses or just forests providing a bright colourful contrast.
On the other side there are just mountains with little gaps between so the river could get through. If you would see such view on a painting you might call it cheesy and not realistic. But if you see it in reality with your own eyes you cannot help to be stunned. I am not sure you could beat that view – for me it is one, if not the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. Forget Sapa, forget Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta. This is the most beautiful and most impressive part of Vietnam – at least it is for me. A stop here is for me mandatory. And take the effort to walk through the hours and down the stairs for the lower platform, you can get a very nice view from there as well.
After such a view it would be easy to feel disappointed what you see afterwards. But no, not here. The road continues winding along the mountains still offering fantastic views, some impressive rock formation hanging above you, while locals still waving at you when passing them.
The following 5km the road is hugging the mountain before it starts to head down to the valley again. The descend looks steeper that it is, but make sure you use your brakes accordingly. Reaching the valley the road now passes little houses and lots of rice fields, and you will soon arrive Meo Vac on the main road.
Meo Vac itself is a lovely place to stop. It is located in a valley and surrounded by hills on all sides. It offers less accommodation than Dong Van, but it still has a wider choice of hotels and guesthouses. Food places, cafes and karaoke bars are also available. Here are more details about Meo Vac.
On a Sunday the biggest market of the region takes place in Meo Vac – and it really is a good enough reason to make an attempt to be there for that day. It is not a market for tourists, but for the locals buying and selling cattle, water buffalos, rice, corn wine nd other day-to-day good. It is surely fascinating to visit it. Here are more details about the market.