The farmer of Hà Giang

Hà Giang Loop

If there is one thing you must do in Vietnam it’s the Hà Giang Loop. Renting a semiautomatic in Hà Giang and cycling towards the Chinese border is one of the best things you can do in northern Vietnam. It’s the biggest feeling of freedom – the biggest adventure you probably get. Neverending curves through the landscape of King Kong. Shades of green you have never seen before. Mountains in a shape you will never forget. Endless roads. Endless great experiences, endless cultural goods to discover, endless shots of Happy Water at family dinners. I did it too. And I was and I am still absolutely thrilled about it. There is just one story I want you to know too. 

Neverending roads to remote villages

When you roll through those endless valleys in northern Vietnam – you forget about the little basket on your semiautomatic and you feel like a rebel. You’re probably overcoming huge fears as a not used cyclist on those slippery and narrow roads. And by the days you feel like you own them. But surprise, you don’t. And people in northern Vietnam didn’t wait for you either. 

The villages are far away from bigger cities, the connections are bad (as mentioned, it’s an adventure for us tourists, but a struggle for locals shipping their goods from A to B). Only cities or villages like Hà Giang, Yen Minh, Mèo Vac or Du Già profit from the tourism. All the other villages are left with dirt, emissions and me looking at them like they’re the zoo’s attraction. 

A village close to Du Già

We stopped in a village along an endless road between Du Già and Hà Giang. It was the last day of our loop. And if I say we – we were a gang of ten people by now – gathered from all over the (western) world while cycling the loop. 

We split in the village; I decided to take photos, as the farming in this beautiful, magical surrounding fascinated me. I was alone and next to “Sin chào” – hello – I couldn’t say a word in Vietnamese. Just by writing this – I already feel rude. 

With hand and feet I asked the girl with the orange shirt if it is okay to take pictures of them. And I was ignored. I was ignored for about ten minutes. And I just waited, waited for something to happen and observed what they did. Communication was never that hard. She just stared at me with her arms crossed, like a wolf protecting her pack, waiting what next step I would dare to do…

… and I was a little helpless. Until I remembered the few pencils and paper sheets I had in my bag, as a present for kids. 

Don’t imagine this to be romantic now. There was no thank you (“Cam on”) n’or a smile. But it was enough to melt the ice just a tiny bit. And at this point I understood how rude I am. How much I pretended I am in a zoo. Bringing a gift is the very least I could do. I felt poorly prepared.

I took a few pictures and as part of the process, I’d love to involve people. To let them take the pictures. But they didn’t dare to touch my camera, Yet they were curious of what it did. And honestly, at that point, I am not even sure if they have seen a camera of that size before. They were so surprised of what they saw on the little screen. I heard the first giggles. By the way, also a big giggles when the grandmother – I’ll just call her like that – tried to surround my leg with her hands. Well, she couldn’t. 

Anyway, the reason the ice really melted was my new French friend Manuel who joined our encounter after a while. And he of course wanted to try the farmers work himself. It was a big laugh. Can you spot the locals walking by in the back?

And the ice melted

While the ice between us melted, I was so thankful for them. I was rude. I interrupted their world. I couldn’t speak their language. Why would they want me to take pictures? 

This taught me so much. I was not prepared. Creating a story means being aware of what might happen. Of giving back. Of connection. Awareness. Taking pictures is so much more than a click. And I swore to myself to go back there and to bring them gifts. They won’t remember, but I will. 

This is the story of my most beautiful encounter during a five month journey in Southeast Asia. 

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