Could Binh Lieu be the next Ha Giang?

By Darren Barnard   March 29, 2024 | 06:05 pm PT
Could Binh Lieu be the next Ha Giang?
A part of Binh Lieu District in Quang Ninh Province that borders China. Photo by Nguyen Tri Thanh
Nestled in the northeast corner of Vietnam is a district that is growing in popularity among Vietnamese tourists and has potential to be another popular tourism hotspot in the country.

Binh Lieu is a rural district within Quang Ninh Province that borders China with primitive beauty, highland scenery, numerous waterfalls and scenic roads to enjoy.

The winding roads can be distinguished by dividing them into two loops that form a figure of eight spanning the majority of the region, thus making it very convenient for any adventurous road trip. Lush green valleys run parallel to the majestic roads, although the steep gradient of them can be challenging for even the most-experienced of drivers at times. The hamlets situated close to the border are populated by several ethnic minority groups that make up 96% of the district’s denizens. Interestingly, the majority of the information I just presented to you could be easily transferable when discussing the more-established tourist destination, Ha Giang.

The similarities between the two regions go beyond inclining roads, natural landscapes and close proximity to China.

One of the biggest barriers for internationals visiting the area is that one currently has to obtain a permit in Ha Long City if they intend to stay overnight in Binh Lieu and some areas within the district are completely cutoff to foreigners, frustratingly these happen to be some of the most spectacular adjacent to the border.

These restrictions are comparable to Ha Giang which previously required internationals to attain a travel permit for the cost of VND230,000 (US$9.30) in order to access the most northern districts of the loop - Quang Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac. Annoyingly for foreigners the permit for Binh Lieu takes three days to process, whereas in Ha Giang it only required you to fill out a short form before receiving it relatively instantly.

Many within Binh Lieu desire an improvement in this area in particular in the coming years. These thoughts were specifically echoed by one charming local I spoke to, who lives in Luc Hon within Binh Lieu, and expressed a keen interest in practicing his English and for tourism to grow within the area.

One reason that Ha Giang has flourished as a tourist destination in recent years is the abundance of accommodation options in the region, ranging from traditional homestays on stilts to more extravagant stays such as P'apiu Resort and Hmong Village Resort. Ha Giang is now even facing a growing dilemma as a clash is developing between natural purity and infrastructural development within the province.

Contrastingly in Binh Lieu tourism infrastructure is very rudimentary at this stage. There's quite limited traditional homestay options that many foreigners desire, instead they may only have the option of a more basic nha nghi (rooms for rents) with limited amenities. This is particularly undesirable for many, as most foreigners relish the opportunity to stay with a family and receive their wonderful hospitality in the north, which is an essential component of any trip there.

This is particularly disheartening as the region has some unique local delicacies such as Binh Lieu vermicelli, which can be found at Dong Van market, tree root rice wine and stir-fried bamboo shoots, that I would argue are the tastiest I've sampled throughout all of Vietnam.

Besides adventurous roads and delicious food, Binh Lieu is also home to many waterfalls, but none standout as much as Khe Van in the southeast corner of the district. The cascading blue water and wonderful scenery surrounding it is easily accessed by motorbike or car and is a popular spot for swimming, bathing and even grilling for food.

If Binh Lieu is able to loosen restrictions and make it easier for foreigners to visit, Khe Van waterfall will be one of many hotspots within the region and locals would be able to benefit from growing prosperity in a similar manner to Ha Giang and Sa Pa.

Currently, international tourists and expatriates can alternatively stay in neighboring areas such as Tien Yen if they do not wish to wait for a permit for Binh Lieu and they can still enjoy some of the beauty within the district by visiting during the day. Although, similar to Meo Vac in Ha Giang, it’s the areas closest to the border in Hoanh Mo where foreigners will dream of visiting to enjoy incredible hiking trails and the most pristine landscape.

For now, foreigners will have to be patient before the endless of possibilities of Binh Lieu become available to them, in the same way Ha Giang has grown in leniency over the last decade. In the meantime, considering it’s only 260 km away from Hanoi and approximately 100 km from Ha Long City, it’s still got a lot to offer for a short trip.

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