Part 2: Yen Minh – Dong Van (45km, 85km for Lung Cu)
The second part of the loop is a very interesting journey, especially if you add the detour to the Vietnamese North Pole Lung Cu, the most northern point of Vietnam.
From Yen Minh follow the main road out-of-town, until you reach a main road. After passing some rice fields you come to a T-crossing. Turn left onto the QL4C and the road will lead you back up to the mountains. When you reach the top, stop briefly and enjoy the scenery. To the right you can see Yen Minh, to the left the road that leads to Meo Vac. It really is a nice view.
From here you ride through a gap between two hills and it is like riding into a different world. One minute you are overlooking the area from the top of the hill, and a minute later you are suddenly on a plateau with lots of rice fields in front of you. The scenery changes quite often in that area, but this is probably the most extreme one. The road now leads you through rice fields, where you can watch locals working on the fields. It felt more like being in the Mekong Delta than on a plateau in the mountains. The next stretch of the road initially passes some terraces for rice and fruits – and again you can see lots of locals working very hard there, but soon enough these terraces become less and a rather wild scenery appears. The contrast between rocks, forests and terraces is rather impressive.
But this scenery doesn’t last long, as you are soon back in the mountains where the green grass offered a great contrast to the grey rocks. This area north of Yen Minh is actually part of a Unesco heritage area, being one big geological park. This is one of the few areas in the far north-east where you can find signs highlighting some interesting sites like rock formation – which is actually interesting (not just for geologists!!!). In addition the road led higher into the mountains, and soon you pass a sign announcing that you have reached the frontier area to China. From here the road winds up into the mountains again, with only hills and trees to be seen.
After some serpentine you are back on a plateau and reach a little village. When I passed the village on a Monday the market was just being cleaned – so if you leave Yen Minh on a Monday try to leave a bit early and you might be able to visit the little market. Following the road through the village you soon start with the next ascend into the mountains – and on the way you get some nice view over the valley and the village. So it might be worthwhile to stop on the way up for one or two pictures. Careful on that stretch – some corners are very tight and incoming traffic could be overseen.
After the ascent you reach a larger car park. Here you can decide to continue the QL4C, or turn left towards a buckflower farm. The road leads to some nice little villages, and ends at the border to China. So if you arrive early there, a little detour might be worthwhile.
The road leads up again into the mountain, passing another village and soon you are back to the wild scenery – riding between hills, and no more terraces. On that stretch you come to single building at a crossing – it is actually a hotel. Here you have to make a decision.
Option A is to continue on the QL4C road, heading straight to Dong Van. On the way you will pass an old H’Mong palace. This is the fastest road to Dong Van.
Option B is a detour of around 40 km, bringing you to the most northern point of Vietnam. If you arrive not too late here, I would highly recommend to turn left and follow the road up the mountains. It really is worth every single kilometre extra to ride.
After a few km further up the mountains you get the first reward of the detour. The view opens up to your right – you can see terraces all the way down to the valley, while in the back you can see limestone karst reaching out to the sky. It is a dramatic and absolute stunning view. The road continues to hug the valley to your right, and you will be treated for more beautiful views. You will see locals walking cattle and goats home on the road (be very careful when passing them – sometimes you have to ride through the herd, but don’t do it in corners). Rushing through this section would be a crime. You get some views others won’t see anywhere else in Vietnam. And the road is just perfect to ride a bike on it. So enjoy it. And appreciate it. No one wins riding fast – but you get more out of the trip if you find natural beauties and treasures as you in that area.
At the end of that road you will reach Lung Cu – the Vietnamese North Pole. You can see the flag tower with the massive Vietnamese flag from some miles away. While you pay the entrance on the bottom of the hill, you can ride the bike all the way up to the restaurant. However, you still have to walk up a few stairs to the top.
The view from the first platform is not bad. However, the 360° view from the flag tower is amazing – seeing both Vietnam and China at the same time. Taking a picture with the Vietnamese flag is mandatory. Here are details about Lũng Cú.
For Dong Van you need to return part of the way you came up first. But thankfully not the whole section. When the serpentine starts have started, overlooking a massive valley, there is a road turning left down a hill – follow that one for Dong Van (there should be a sign). The road goes down forest into the valley, and then up again into the mountains. This road offers once again some stunning views, and you might be able to enjoy the sunset from here. The road will merge with the QL4C and after a short while you have reach Dong Van, coming down the road from the west.
Dong Van is maybe the most touristic set up place outside of Ha Giang – but still having a very non-touristy feel. Along the main road leading through the little town you can find plenty of accommodations here, lots of food places, travel agencies and even a square with souvenir stalls and cafes. The little old town is nicely set up and restored – so you could easily stay here for a day or two. Here are more details about lovely Dong Van.