Can Yen, Thong Nong, Cao Bang

Cao Bang Motorbike Tour: Roads Less Traveled Part 2

Can Yen and Can Nong Communes of Thong Nong District are close to the Chinese border. The area possesses beautiful mountains and valleys. Trade at the border is not busy and the roads are just quiet. There are new governmental buildings, clinics and schools in every community. Life here is improving definitely.

From Can Yen, there is a direct road to Cao Bang via Thong Nong Town. There is another road which travels via Ha Quang District. I take the latter one as the road condition is much better. Leaving Can Yen which is a valley I have to travel up a high and steep gradient. Once at the top I could get a nice view of the valley. Then the road goes down again to Soc Ha Commune of Ha Quang District.

Can Yen, Thong Nong, Cao Bang
Can Yen, Thong Nong

 

 

Soc Ha, Ha QuangSoc Ha, Ha Quang

 At Soc Ha, you can travel to Pac Bo Cave which is a bit over 10km away. Pac Bo was where Ho Chi Minh arrived back in Vietnam in 1941, after 30 wandering abroad seeking ways to liberate Vietnam from French colonialism. The road between Pac Bo and Cao Bang City via Ha Quang District is excellent. I have been to Pac Bo, so I take the road to Cao Bang.

Road to Cao Bang from Soc HaSoc Ha, Ha Quang

 

 

Xuan Hoa Town, Ha QuangXuan Hoa Town, Ha Quang

It is getting dark soon and it is very cold. If it were day time, then the landscape by the roadside would be just very idyllic. On my last trip to Pac Bo, the road was still under construction and I had to travel back to the city in the dark too. On this trip I had a plan to stay at a Nung Village, far from Cao Bang City. I'm running out of time, so I think I'll stay in Cao Bang City tonight then. It is a bit disappointing but I'll be back anyway...

Hotel in Cao Bang CityHotel in Cao Bang City

It's amazing to be back to Cao Bang City and see how fast it has changed. The roads are bigger and the city has expanded so much. Upon seeing the high-rise buildings by the roadside, I think that here I am again. I'm going to have a warm and nice room and hot dinner soon. But it takes me nearly an hour to get to the hotel and I'm completely exhausted. The small town with a few streets are gone and now it is a big city with lot of traffic. It was a long day, so I just want an easy and early night...

I get up early in the morning after a very good night. Feeling a bit hungry, I go down the restaurant for breakfast. The soup and rolled rice papers are delicious. It's good to start a day with good food then.

Soup for breakfastSoup for breakfast

 

 

Rice papers for breakfastRice papers for breakfast

  Then I get back to the room and ready for checking out. It's a cold and dry day today. The view of the mountains around the city from the room is so beautiful. Things are just fresh and green outside. It would be lovely to have a day doing nothing sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee and a good book then! But I have an interesting adventure to take on today....

Hotel in Cao Bang CityLast check of the room before leaving

 

Bang Giang River, Cao Bang CityBang Giang River, Cao Bang City

 Leaving Cao Bang City, I travel on Route 3 heading south-east to the Chinese border. The first leg of the road today is the same one to Ban Gioc Waterfall that I have been to a few times. The scenery is familiar and still stunning as usual. The temperature is pleasant and it is dry and breezy. The road is excellent.

Road to Ta LungRoad to Ta Lung

At Quang Uyen, I stop to visit Pac Rang Village, a Nung An community. They have been making agriculture tools here for decades. This occupation seems to be vanishing in the Red River Delta nowadays. A family invites me into their house. A young boy shows me around his house and how they do their every day work. It is so interesting to see tools made manually still. Life here does not look that easy, and it doesn't look that hard either. The landscape around the village is just wonderful. People look happy with what they have.

Pac Rang VillagePac Rang Village, a blacksmith community

After a nice conversation about the living conditions in the village, I thank the family for their hospitality and continue the journey onto the Chinese border. Ta Lung border-crossing is quiet nowadays. There are only a few trucks carrying loads of sugar canes waiting to travel to China.

Ta Lung border check pointTa Lung border check point, China is on the other side

 From Ta Lung, I turn into a back road traveling south along the border line. There are different ethnic communities here that I love learning about. The terrain is flat and the scenery is idyllic with limestone mountains, rice terraces and peaceful valleys. People have just harvested the rice and only the stubble is left in the field. There are Tay villages scattered around the valleys.

Mountains at Duc Long, Thach An
Mountains at Duc Long, Thach An

 Riding for a while, I find myself at the end of a road with a cluster of houses on stilts amid an enclosed valley. People are at work now and it is so quiet in the village. I come to a house amid an exuberant orchard. An old man is playing with a little boy who must be his grandson. The gentleman invites me to come in and hurries to make tea. The little boy walks about in a jovial mood. He must enjoy having a stranger visiting his home...

The house of a Tay family at Duc Long
The house of a Tay family at Duc Long

The house looks cozy with a tea table in the middle, sleeping area on both sides, a private room for a couple on the left in the back and a neat kitchen in the back. In the front, there is a bamboo platform for drying rice and for having tea. The house looks out to a very nice valley in the front.

View of the valley from the Tay house
View of the valley from the Tay house

 It is about mid day and it is time to move on, I thank the gentleman for a great time and struggle to find the way back to the main road. When I reach Dong Khe Town, only one restaurant is still open. I don't need much anyway. There are quite a few trails to various ethnic communities around Dong Khe, I take a small one that is said to lead to a Dzao community.

Mountains at Duc Xuan
Mountains at Duc Xuan

The trail proves no easy one: it is small, steep and strewn with rocks. Some rocks are so big that they hit the foot brake if I use it. I can only use the hand brake. After thirty minutes I finally come to the end of the trail. The village is nestled amid trees. I have to park my motorbike and go down a small and slippery path to a house. There is only a lady and a few kids at home, the others are at work. Separated from the world as it seems, the family looks wealthy. After a short conversation with the lady I know that they live on agriculture and forestry. Besides, they have a huge herd of cattle down in a nearby valley.

Path to a Dzao village
Path to a Dzao village

People in remote areas like this are normally genuine, some are openly friendly and some are more reserved. When we visit their community, we just have to follow the common sense etiquette to show our respect to them, they all treat us back with friendliness and warm hospitality. The Dzao lady and I had a broken conversation at first, then she invited me to come into her house, showed me around and eager to make tea for me. Isn't it great to be treated like a real guest in a stranger's family, especially when you are on a long journey far from home!

Kitchen at a Dzao's home
Kitchen at a Dzao's home

 It is a real pity as I can't stay for long in the house. I have an appointment with a friend for this evening. The guy is a local tour operator and we operate adventures together to the mountains in the North East of Vietnam. He'd like to take me to his home village, a Tay community close to the Chinese border.

Mountains around the village
Mountains around the village of a Dzao community at Duc Xuan

 I bid farewell to the lady and the kids, then hike up further for the panoramic view of the surroundings. It is green mountain peaks one after another all the way to the horizon. It is so peaceful and the air is so fresh up here. I stand still thinking of nothing and casting my eyes to the horizon for a while, then travel back to town.

A vegetable stall at Dong Khe Market
A vegetable stall at Dong Khe Market

 The guy has been waiting for me at the entrance to the market. We get some vegetable for dinner and leave for his home. The small road goes up and down meandering through scenic mountains and valleys. We arrive at the village in late afternoon. While the family is preparing dinner, we have the time for exploring the surroundings. It is a a little Tay community with rice terraces. There are forested limestone mountains around the area. We walk in the rice field and further into the forest. The trail is small and steep sometimes. It is all covered by trees. It seems to be dark soon, so we hurry back to the home to get ready for dinner. It is dry and cold; a beautiful winter day is drawing to a close.

A Tay community at Le Loi, Thach An
A Tay community at Le Loi, Thach An

 

 

A forest trail at Le Loi, Thach An
A forest trail at Le Loi, Thach An

 

 

Forest at Le Loi, Thach An
Forest at Le Loi, Thach An

Our dinner is served in the kitchen with cozy atmosphere. We have a nice talk of the daily life in the village, the education that the kids have,.... The local rice spirit does a great job to warm up our chit chat that we realize it is about mid night already. It's high time to go to bed; the family has work to do tomorrow and I have a long way to travel back home. I wish every a good night and go out for some fresh air in the front yard of the family. It is so peaceful a night...

I wake up early in the morning after a very good night. My friend is still in bed but his parents are having tea by the fire. I put on some warm clothes and come over to join them. It is cold and dark still outside. The gentleman is plowing the rice field today and the lady has a meeting at the local government. After a while, my friend gets up and joins us. It is getting clear outside beginning of another beautiful day. It is going to be a long day for me and I think I had better make it early.

Crossing a river at Trang Dinh, Lang Son
Crossing a river at Trang Dinh, Lang Son Province

 

 

Crossing a river at Trang Dinh, Lang Son
Crossing a river at Trang Dinh, Lang Son

 

 

A bamboo bridge at Trang Dinh, Lang Son
A bamboo bridge at Trang Dinh, Lang Son

Bidding farewell to the family, I ride on a meandering back road from one community to another. After a couple of hours on the road, I come to a stream with no bridge to the other side. A lady stop by me, take off her shoes and put on a pair of high boots. I have no idea what she is doing until she rides confidently toward the riverbed and crosses it. The engine of her scooter is even in the water but she keeps riding still. She is not alone; a couple is doing the same from the other side of the river! This looks too much for me, I decide to turn around and find another way back to the main road to Lang Son City where I continue my journey on the highway back to Hanoi. It was a wonderful motorbike adventure to the North East of Vietnam. I arrive back home in the early evening, treat myself a cold beer then go straight to bed.