Southeast Asia 2023 – Vietnam: Hà Giang Loop

My injured ankle continued to keep me from trekking to ethnic tribal villages in the mountains of Southeast Asia, but I found another way to get to those parts of northern Vietnam: on the back of a motorcycle! Tour operator Authentic Ha Giang helps visitors who don’t have strong riding skills to team up with their professional “Easy Riders.” Together with my riding partner and our group leader, 24-year-old “Johnny,” I joined a few friendly tourists from around the world for 3 days, making our way on the winding roads and paths of the “Hà Giang Loop.”

Hà Giang Province is Vietnam’s northernmost province, bordering China, and is considered the country’s “final frontier.” We passed many ethnic villages, but at a speed that made it impossible to have any personal interaction with local people, as I had on my hiking treks. To compensate, however, I was able to see so much more of the incredible landscape than I would have been able to see on foot, so I really didn’t mind at all.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Laos: Luang Prabang Trek

After several days of peaceful relaxation in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, it was time to head out on another trek. I found an experienced local guide to take me as a solo traveler off the beaten track to nearby ethnic villages by visiting Luang Prabang‘s ethnology museum. Staff members at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre referred me to Mr. Khankeo Indavong, nicknamed AK, a spirited young independent tour operator who pulled together an itinerary to meet my request and introduced me to Gone, a Lowland Lao, and the perfect guide.

We visited villages of Lao Loum (Lowland Lao), Khmu, and Hmong tribes by various modes of transport: hiking, riverboat, and 4×4 jeep. The Hmong village, Phouluang Tai, at the summit of the aptly named “Big Mountain,” is particularly fascinating. It is inaccessible by vehicles (even motorbikes!) since part of the road was washed away a few years ago. The authorities insist that its residents move to the “new” village down the mountain, with tempting offers of water, electricity, roads, a school, and a clinic. I learned that it’s not an easy choice for everyone, so even families are now split between the old and new village sites.

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Southeast Asia 2023 – Ethnic Tribes and the Secret War

Before I continue my travelogue, I want to share some information about the unique ethnic groups in this part of the world and some of their tragic history in the recent past. My interest spawned from my years in Namibia, where I met friends from the many different African tribes that make that country so fascinating and strong. It was intensified a few years ago when I met a young man – one of my teacher trainers – who told me he was Hmong and that his family was part of the “large diasporic community in the United States of more than 300,000” (Wikipedia) that escaped to the US and other countries after the “Secret War.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and what I have since learned has blown my mind. A part of my country’s history during my lifetime that I might not otherwise have learned about…

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