Đồng Văn Karst Plateau's ancient village

August 21, 2022 - 09:08
Thiên Hương Village in the northern mountain province of Hà Giang has an unforgettable charm for young visitors, particularly photographers and nature lovers, due to its stunning landscape and tranquillity.
ORIGINAL ARCHITECTURE: Houses roofed with terracotta tiles hidden behind the trees in Thiên Hương Village. VNS Photos Van Hni

by Van Hni & Trang Linh

Thiên Hương Village in the northern mountain province of Hà Giang has an unforgettable charm for young visitors, particularly photographers and nature lovers, due to its stunning landscape and tranquillity.

Also known as Mã Pắng Village, it sits about 7km from Đồng Văn Town, Mèo Vạc District, famous for the Đồng Văn Karst Plateau recognised by UNESCO as a Global Geopark.

Only 30 minutes away from the township centre by motorbike, to reach the hidden ethnic village, you have to pass a bumpy and rural road on one side of a cliff while the other looks down on an abyss.

The village is on a mountain so high that it meets the cloud, like a gate to the sky.

Looking around, visitors can catch the stunning curved roads of the mountainous terraces.

It is inhabited by more than 40 households of the Tày ethnic group who seem to be hiding from the outside world. They live peacefully by farming and producing wine.

Separated from modern society, the village retains its traditional cultural features, preserving its local customs, antique architecture and off-the-beaten-track trails.

"Entering the village, you will be impressed most with pictures of rammed earth houses roofed by terracotta tiles over 100 years old," said Hà Vân, 33, a young photo enthusiast and experienced traveller from HCM City.

Vân has been to Hà Giang many times and loves nature and the people there. After being convinced by one of her friends, also a travel lover, she first chose to explore Thiên Hương on a trip two years ago.

But the girl loved Thiên Hương so much, that she now visits every year whenever she returns to Hà Giang. Her last trip to the village was in April, and she plans to return in October or November this year.

She is always amazed at the pristine timeless beauty of the village whenever she visits.

"My first impression when arriving in Thiên Hương is that it possesses an archaic beauty. Although it has existed for hundreds of years, as told by locals, the landscape seems to have not changed," Vân said.

HAVING A GANDER: A peaceful morning in Thiên Hương Village. VNS Photo Van Hni

The village is an attraction for those who like peace and often travel alone. From the small path to the old houses and their interior furniture, everything reflects the old style of the ethnic community. The scenery is peaceful, providing a sense of relaxation and comfort.

"For me, I am a bit addicted to the home brew there," said Vân.

Thiên Hương villagers have a long tradition of brewing wine from maize, which has its unique taste that tourists love.

It takes a lot of time and much care for the locals to make just one litre of Thiên Hương wine.

"To brew the famous delicious wine, locals have to pick more than 30 kinds of medicinal herbs to make the yeast. They cook the maize in a big pot, then pour it out and wait for it to cool down," said Vân, who spent several days in homestay with a Tày family to find out how the villagers make wine.

"Next, the yeast is pounded and mixed with the cooked maize. The mixture is piled up and then fermented in bags. After a week, it can be distilled to make wine,"

Thiên Hương brew is processed with great care, so it has a delicious and sweet taste. Drinking it is very different from other traditional wines as you can feel smooth and warm in the stomach.

Vân not only enjoys the delicious local brew but also participates in local entertainment activities such as wading in streams and catching fish.

"I like independent travel, so to experience staying in old houses and the life of the locals is a great attraction for me," Vân said.

"It is best if you stay here for a few days. When walking around the village, you will meet local elders who are hospitable and ready to teach you, if you ask them, how to make bamboo wickerwork, weave cloth with handlooms or bake cakes."

Tày people often build their houses in the traditional architecture of two high floors. The lower floor is the space for worship and family activities. Upstairs is the family's food store and furniture.

For many generations, Thiên Hương villagers have not built any new brick houses but preserved and repaired their old homes. They believe this is an invaluable asset that must be protected and passed on to the next generation.

INNOCENCE: Local children play on a village road.

One outstanding trait of the Tày houses is the ancestor's altar. On two sides of the altar are parallel prayers. In front of the house's gate, three amulets hang to drive off evil spirits.

Hoàng Sơn, a tourist from Hà Nội, said walking along the small path leading to the village was also an exciting experience and a rare chance to enjoy wild nature and the beauty of the countryside.

"Walking along the path full of white flowers is special. The path winding around the village and to the old houses with stone fences and wooden gates is like walking into a wonderland," Sơn said.

The banyan trees that are hundreds of years at the village's entrance make a particular impression. They stand high like guardians of the village and are regarded as symbols of longevity and supple vitality.

In Vietnamese culture, a banyan tree symbolises spirituality. It is also a sacred tree regarded as the residence of the gods, so no one dares cut them down.

PINK HUES: Buckwheat flowers blossom on a hill near Thiên Hương.

Under the most ancient banyan tree in the village is Thần Lâm Temple, which was built long ago to worship the Forest God. Every year in the third lunar month, a ceremony is held to pray for happiness and prosperity.

Tày women keep the tradition of wearing black knee-length dresses and black headscarves while working in the fields. The men wear black garments during their daily lives.

Women earn their living by weaving cotton cloth. Both men and women also work in the fields and brew maize wine.

Sơn suggests local authorities create special tours to the village to contribute to boosting tourism. However, he recommends paying attention to preserving and protecting the original architecture of the village.

Hà Giang is a tourism hub in the northern mountain region, with 19 ethnic groups, many unique tangible and intangible cultural values, favourable natural conditions and diverse topography.

According to the Director of the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Nguyễn Hồng Hải, Hà Giang tourism is emerging as a key sector in the local economy.

Hà Giang is now striving for tourism to spearhead the economic sector by 2025, creating a driving force for socio-economic development.

This unique and beautiful village is a must-see for anyone visiting the region. VNS

AT PEACE: In a corner of the forest near Thiên Hương.