The road form Lao Cai province to Bac Ha on both sides of the road. White glass grows on both sides of the road. White, grey and light yellow grass, all stand taller than a man and stir restlessly in the light breeze. Golden sunlight lights up the grass and the verges glow with bright colour. The entrances to Ban Cam, Ban Phiet and Phong Hai town – one after the other the turn-offs flit past. A dawn glow illuminates the road. I don’t know exactly where Bac Ha is, and am still under the impression that the town lies somewhere around the next bens in the road. But this is wrong. We have to turn left at the Bac Ngam T-junction, and then continue driving on a winding and narrow road for another 30km before we reach the town…
Under a bright sun and cloudless sky, we view a range of green mountains. Wild violet flowers varlet the ground at our feet. My stomach is no longer affected by altitude/ car sickness. Instead my anxiety about my old car affects us all. Will the car get as far as the next milestone? Or will we have to stop halfway up the mountain, or skid into the rocky dry steam below? Finally we are able to relax. Built on a slope, Bac Ha leans against the Kieu Lieu Ti mountain range. Like a beautiful maiden smiling at visitors, the town, warm welcome to all who arrive at its gates. At the centre of Bac Ha town, my mobile phone works brieoy but then contacts of lost again, swallowed up like a small cloud by a big mountain.
During the Tran Dynasty, Bac Ha belonged to Thien Hung town, but during the Nguyen dynasty it was a part of Quy Hoa district. Then it became a district of Hoang Lien Son province (the old province). Nowadays, Bac Ha district belongs to the northern province of Lao Cai. Bac Ha town is situated in a valley on a limestone upland 1800 meters above sea level. Bac Ha is pronounced “Pac Ha” by local people and Pakha by the French colonist in former times. Pac Ha means “100 bunches of straw grass: Today, this kind of grass is hardly found but “Tam Hoa” plum trees grow everywhere in Bac Ha. The plum flowering season has not yet arrived. The grey – white trunks stand sadly in the light breeze and littered sunlight. From a distance, plum orchards poke through smoke wreathing the hillside. Coming closer, hundreds of bare branches knit together to create zigzag shadows, flitting about like tattoos on the faces of people standing below.
If assessed objectively, Bac Ha is not an attractive tourist site. In daily itineraries of travel agents it is only a promoted destination in the “Hanoi – Sapa” tour package. If you visit Bac Ha on a northern day, when Mong and Dao people are not wearing colorful costumes to market, you might feel bored because Bac Ha has nothing worth visiting. (We do not include here the famous Can Cau market, which is crowded with colorful costumers of the Mong Hoa people. This belongs to Simacai district but tourists still think it as a part of Bac Ha.)
Besides some old wooden house, providing the features of an old mountainous settlement, most of the house of a here have been rebuilt in brick and along the lines of the typical delta architecture. There is only one rather big two star hotel, the rest are small guest houses, cafes and low – price restaurants, with cheap plastic chairs and Chinese pictures. You won’t find a single proper place of entertainment here. Virtually the only building worth mentioning for its architecture is a semi-ruin: The palace of Hoang A Tuong – Meo King.
The owner of this palace is Tay person, not a Meo person as the local people call him. His name, in recorded documents, is Hoang Yen Chao. His son is Hoang A Tuong, on inheriting the position of Pac Ha’s landlord documents, made his fortune from a monopoly on forest exploitation exploitation and the sale of salt, opium and food. In 1914, before the Hoangs built the palace, a geomancer was invited to choose a good position for the palace. The building on a large piece of ground and was designed and erected by the French and Chinese architects. It has a harmony and grace about it but also a certain domes, like those in a Middle Ages Monastery. Graceful maidens in colored clothes appear and disappear. The scene calls to mind the images of highborn girl in a feudal society.
After visiting Hoang A Tuong Palace, we paid a sunset visit to Pho village. The bumpy road with its with its simple thatched cottages, the deep clop all buffalo plodding home, the innocent children, all these things give to visitors a sense of sadness. The sunset reddening the smiles on the faces of maidens and even the charm of the terraced fields could not lighten the atmosphere. Perhaps Bac Ha of Still in its deep sleep, waiting for the white and brilliant plum flowers to bloom.
This article is written by lan nguyen