If you get the chance to visit the northernmost province of Ha Giang, you should not miss the opportunity to take in the imposing landscapes of Lung Cu and the diverse groups of ethnic people that live there.
The Lung Cu flagpole, marking the country's extreme north, is a tourist destination that inspires a deep sense of pride in Vietnamese people.
Just over 400km from Hanoi following National Highway 2 and 4C, the rocky plateau of Dong Van awaits visitors, with mountain paths like blood vessels sticking to the land standing between them and the summit of Lung Cu.
From a distance, Lung Cu is a spectacular sight, with the view dominated by giant boulders and the national flag flying above Dragon Mountain, all set to the backdrop of magnificent forests.
The flag tower itself stands proudly 1,600m above sea level. Its design is an imitation of the Hanoi Flag Tower, with eight bronze drums guarding the sides of the octagonal tower.
The national flag adorning the top of the 135-stair tower has an area of 54m², symbolising the unity of Viet Nam's 54 ethnic groups.
Border guards are tasked with keeping the flag flying in all weather conditions, and have to replace the flag as often as once a week, following the constant battering it receives at such a high altitude. It is a hard task as they brace themselves against strong winds.
From the top of Dragon Mountain, the paddy fields and earthen-walled houses dot the sumptuous panorama, interrupted by two lakes that are said to be the dragon's eyes. Even though people say that Lung Cu is a ‘thirsty' land, the lakes never dry out.
The houses in Lung Cu also betray the superstitions of the people who live in them. Charms hang over the doors to expel demons and evil spirits, and the ancestral altar is carefully placed opposite the main door. The houses are usually open plan, but when newly-weds are welcomed into a family, the hosts use fabric to make a private compartment for them to enjoy.
Lung Cu Commune is home to nine villages, situated at a height of between 1,600-1,800m above sea level. In the winter, the weather is very cold, and sometimes it even snows. There are seven ethnic groups in Lung Cu. They are very friendly and hospitable. Visitors to their houses are considered distinguished guests, even if they are strangers. A bowl of their maize wine will soon warm you up.
Most ethnic people in the area cultivate rice and the Mong and Lo Lo still preserve the traditional weaving industry with flax fibres.
Lung Cu is also the land of the peach, the plum, tea, honey wine and thang co (horse meat hot pot). The bustling markets where the honey-yellow sunlight has never changed, the cheerful, shy smiles of the ethnic girls in colourful, handmade dresses, the playful grins on the children's faces, and the welcoming nature of the people as a whole never fail to charm visitors.
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