Dong Cao - Vietnam Ephemeral Beauty

By Lang Thang.

Dong Cao is the name of a Dzao Village in Bac Giang Province, northern Vietnam. Dong Cao is also the name of a mountain near the village with breathtaking beauty. The area is recently getting known to the young Vietnamese travelers and photographers for its little prairie and the heavenly beauty that is similar to no other travel attractions in Vietnam...

Unlike most mountains in the North and the Central Region of Vietnam, which are either of sheer rocks with pointed peaks or covered by forests, Dong Cao has a large and undulating top stretching for a few kilometers. A large area of the mountain is covered with fine grass, which makes it an ideal spot for camping. From the top of Dong Cao, you can have a 360-degree view of the surrounding nature with mountain peaks arranged one after another. The scenery is even unreal at dawn and at dusk when lighting conditions change and the mists start moving...

Dong Cao, Son Dong, Bac Giang, Vietnam
Pasture at Dong Cao

Though Dong Cao has a relatively flat top, it is on a high altitude. And getting to the mountain involves real trekking and hiking for about two hours. You would have been tired by the time arriving on the pasture of Dong Cao. There are no tourist facilities in the area yet; only a few adventure photographers are aware of, attracted by and drawn to Dong Cao. So, if you plan to come to Dong Cao, then be prepared with camping gears or staying with local ethnic Dzao people in their home. They are friendly and willing to help should you need.

Dong Cao, Son Dong, Bac Giang, Vietnam
Late afternoon at Dong Cao

I arrived at Dong Cao in one late afternoon when autumn was just around the corner. It was breezy and dry. I could feel the chill and freshness in the air. The sun was setting casting up some weak sunbeams from behind the mountains far in the distance. Fog was rising and getting thicker, turning the horizon, the mountains and the forests into dark blue colors: the scene was like artificial!

Night had come before I realized that it was late. I had been sitting on a boulder being mesmerized by the wild and virgin beauty around Dong Cao for three hours! It was my stomach that brought me back to reality and to a house with no walls on the mountain slope. It was the shelter for rangers whom I talked to asking to buy food. It took the three rangers a couple of hours to prepare the meal, and dinner started at mid night! Though we had only grilled chicken and local rice wine, it was one the most sumptuous feasts I had ever had...

It was 5 A.M when I got up the next day, so it was 3 hours of sleep, a very good one though. I got my camera and went further into the prairie. It was dark still and the mountains around were  barely visible. The sun would start appearing from behind the clouds after twenty or thirty minutes. A day at Dong Cao started in freshness and tranquility!

Dong Cao, Son Dong, Bac Giang, Vietnam
Sunrise over Dong Cao Mountain

Walking for a while, I found the sun rising from a mountain range on the horizon. It was blue sky with certain patches gilded with bronze color. To my left, it was lines of mountain peaks one after another, all the way to the horizon; to the right, it was a sea of clouds with mountain peaks emerging from underneath just like islands. I wasted no opportunities to capture the most beautiful moments at Dong Cao with my camera...

Dong Cao, Son Dong, Bac Giang, Vietnam
Mountains around Dong Cao with symmetrical shapes which are so pleasant to the eyes

After a couple of hours lost amid the wild beauty of Dong Cao, it was time to go down. There was some work in Hanoi that I wanted to be back early. Strolling back to the rangers' house, I found there were young pine trees growing everywhere in the ground. So, it was clear that there had been a project to cover Dong Cao with pine trees. This would mean that in the next five or ten years, there would be no more Dong Cao as a pasture, or a camping place, or a venue for photographers...

Dong Cao, Son Dong, Bac Giang, Vietnam
Sea of clouds near Dong Cao Prairie

Wow, I'm sure it's good to have forests, but thought the local ethnic communities might benefit more from tourism in the pasture than from a forest. Besides, there are forests everywhere in the region already; in the nearby district of Luc Ngan, forests had been slashed down for lichee plantations, and now lichee fruits are so cheap that they want to replace the trees with something else... Maybe they'll think of reforesting the land! There was some kind of melancholy all the way back to the city. I kept my fingers crossed that more and more travelers would have trips to Dong Cao; so that if we could not help to save the beauty of Dong Cao, then we could keep the memories of an ephemeral beauty of Vietnam forever...

To travel to Dong Cao, you can contact AdventureGreen, a Vietnam-based tour operator specializing in adventure travel and responsible tourism. The company offers trekking trips and photography tours around Dong Cao for 2 days/1night. The trip to Dong Cao could be combined with expeditions into the primeval forests of Khe Ro, Yen Tu or  with a cruise on Halong Bay.