Northwest river captivates intrepid explorers

Nga Do
It was the beginning of winter in the northern province of Ha Giang. Tran Anh Tu, 30, said he still remembered the fog covering the endless mountain ranges on two sides of the Gam River. They took off on a journey straight out of a fantasy, gliding along in a high-speed boat down the river.

The quiet limestone islands with rock pillars stood amid the clouds and sky, and the tiny boats travelling to nowhere stirred strange emotions within him. This was one of the most beautiful scenes along the Bac Me – Na Hang waterway, said Tu, who recently returned from a two-week northwest exploration tour run by The He Tre (Young Generation) Tourism Company. Tu kept saying he wanted to go back some day – with the same tour, journey and destinations. "I'm looking forward to seeing how the Gam River and people's lives have changed," he said. Gam River, one of the beauties of Cao Bang, Ha Giang and Tuyen Quang provinces, is described as the flowing hair of a sleeping, mountainous young lady. The sapphire river lies between mighty, steep rock cliffs, and supplies water to nearby villages. It embodies the purifie d spirit of the mountains and jungle, but can also be a cruel, screaming woman when the floods come. Tu recalled that the scenery surrounding the river created a captivating view, with magnificent, milky-coloured waterfalls emerging from forests high above. Sitting on the boat, Tu could slowly watch idyllic ethnic Mong villages, perched way up next to the waterfalls.

Tran Ngoc Dan, 25, who also took the tour, said she was pleased by the amount of animals she saw and the river's beauty. "Besides its wild and pure beauty, the river also offers a lot of local fish for travellers," she said. "When autumn begins, and the air is getting cool, locals usually start going fishing again." Thomas Joseph Brenner, 40, a Canadian who took Viettravel Tourism Agency's northwest tour, said he ran back and forth across the ship trying to take all the pictures he could. Brenner, who has been to countless places around the world, said the Gam's true beauty could be found in the big and small streams that cross it. Dinh Thi Hanh, 34, said she felt a change from the first time she set foot in the northwest. She enjoyed it much more the second time she went, on a tour with Young Generation. "What a never-before-seen experience for me, seeing this legendary river so close," she said. "It has been sealed into my mind."

Hanh's travel mate, Nguyen Hong Thao, 39, felt similarly. "The northwest journey began at Ha Giang's Dong Van rock plateau, and then the buckwheat flower field, Ma Pi Leng Pass, Co Tien Mountain, Ba Be Lake, Lung Cu Flagpole and the Gam River started to unfold right in front of our eyes, and nothing I could say could describe them completely. After getting home, I still see those superb views each time I open my eyes". Hanh, originally a trekker, told me about her seven-day itinerary across the Gam River. "Bac Me Town is probably one of the most beautiful destinations in our country," she said. "Although I shut out all connection with the outside world during my trip, I could not help but feel a little odd about the rudimentary, frugal lifestyle of this mountainous region. From the country's border area, if you wish to travel to the Northern Province of Bac Kan, it's about 300km to get through highway 34, and it seems the shortest way has 100-per-cent tortuous terrain. So it was easier to take another way back, Highway 2, which was 60km longer and more crowded. I tried to stay one night in Bac Me, and enjoyed a spectacular view the next day – I observed the Gam and Nang rivers from above, and visited the ‘lake on the mountain.' I saw it as a reward for the hard days traversing the land near the border." 

The land between Cao Bang and Ha Giang is home to many rare breeds of fish in the north. Nguyen Ngoc Lieu, a former fisherman in Bac Me, spoke about the plentiful Po Cung river shrimp, a unique kind with sweet and delicious taste. "The Anh Vu fish is very rare and was only offered to the king in the past, and its price is high," Lieu said. "We also offer homestay services for tourists and travellers here that allow them to experience life as a real local. The service benefits both the locals and the tourists." For Tu, the trip in the northwest felt like a dream – one he hopes to have again. "It was like yesterday, when I was lying on the boat heading down the Gam River, looking at the rudimentary roofs and smoke floating out of local households," Tu said. "It felt like happiness, right there and then at that very moment. I felt more blessed than many people around the world. I will wait, until we meet again."

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