There isn’t really an east or a west in Vietnam. It’s a long, thin country, stretching from north to south. Asking which side is east and which side is west is a bit like asking which side of a snooker cue is left and which is right. Or something. I guess Vietnam is the same. Although I’m already realizing how inadequate that analogy is. Anyway.
Look at a map of Vietnam, and look at its furthest northern point. Nearby you’ll see a town called Dong Van. This is where we chose to stay for two nights of our trip through Ha Giang. We chose to spend two nights in Dong Van for a few reasons, but chief among them were that it would give us a day to explore this bewilderingly beautiful region; and also that, having covered upwards of 400 kilometers during the previous two days, we felt we deserved a rest from long days of buttock-flattening-biking.
There’s loads to do around Dong Van. I’ve already written about invading China, which was tremendous fun and I recommend you do it as well sometime soon. But there is also plenty more to do. Just exploring the roads and tracks around Dong Van is an experience in itself – you’ll track through endless mountain roads and breathtaking scenery.
Also worth doing is heading to Lung Cu to see the Vietnamese national flagpole. Perched atop a hill beyond 839 steps, it’s 33 meters tall and it cost several million quid to renovate a few years ago. If you want more accurate statistical gumf, you can Google it. I’m not here to give you statistics you don’t even care about.
I’m much more interested in the placement of this flagpole. It’s almost at Vietnam’s most northerly point. So that’d put it on the border with… Hang on, just let me check… Ah, yeah. China. Right on the border with China. Vietnam’s historic enemy. So they just happened to put a great big massive Vietnamese flagpole barely a mile from the Chinese border. They’ve got the whole of Vietnam to choose from, and they chose here.
Why, I wonder? Why here? In seeking an answer I can’t fail to notice the border, which is a significant feature of the local landscape. Assumption is rarely a robust foundation for drawing conclusions such as these, but perhaps it is safe to assume that proximity to the border and thus proximity to China played a significant role in the decision to place the flag here. Put short, they wanted China to see it. They want China to know that this is Vietnam. And what better way to do that than plonk a massive bloody flag right there on a hill?
Thus I’m moved to ask, should the flagpole, currently fixed atop a neatly grouted castle-like structure, actually not be mounted upon a giant middle finger, extended in a Chinese direction and proudly asserting that the Chinese can swivel on it? I’m someone rarely interested in metaphor, yet I imagine the current flagpole, given its location and finger like appearance, could easily be taken to represent such a proud gesture. And lets face it, we’d all like to tell China to Just Fuck Off sometimes, wouldn’t we?
Go see for yourself. From Dong Van, follow the signs to Lung Cu national flagpole, to your right on QL4C. Then, just drive. Its free to go and see it, and there are a few passable small restaurants around the town near the flagpole. Well worth a visit.
Anyway, yes. Back to Dong Van. We stayed at the remarkably comfortable Lam Tung Hotel, and you should too. Its inexpensive and bewilderingly comfortable. Brand new, too. Dong Van town itself is an unremarkable place I suppose, but you’ll spend most of your time out and about on motorbikes anyway.
In short, if you’re planning a trek around this part of the world, stay in Dong Van. Plenty to do, a good hotel to stay in. What could possibly go wrong?