The ideal way to behold the Tolkienesque terrain of the Ha Giang highlands in north Vietnam is from the seat of a motorbike. I came to that conclusion in early May, when tour guide Sung Mi Cay led our group skyward on rented Hondas toward his village—one of many in the north settled by the Hmong, one of Vietnam’s largest ethnic minorities. My daughters, Jenna and Michaela, and Jenna’s fiancé, Jack, had joined me and, as our bikes climbed a steep, switchback path that the government laid just two years ago, a settlement of mostly wood-plank houses emerged from a stone forest of black limestone.
After the pandemic had separated our family for over two years, this was the girls’ first visit back to Vietnam, where my wife and I have lived since 2018 and which, like other countries in the region, resumed international tourism this spring. With the closest airport in Hanoi, six hours south by car, Ha Giang has primarily been the preserve of intrepid two-wheeled travelers content to stay in cheap, rustic homestays and hotels.