Dong Van is a small town, but like most of Vietnam’s border towns is growing quickly. Vietnamese are moving in to these areass from neighbouring provinces and changing the ethnic mix. Ethnic minorities are more visible in villages in the surrounding countryside while the town has a stronger Vietnamese ethnic constituency.
One of the nicest features of Dong Van is the area around Pho Co, where many rundown original clay houses are located. There is no information about them but we were advised that they date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Top things to do in Dong Van
This friendly restaurant serving Vietnamese and Western dishes is fast becoming Dong Van’s hub for foreign travellers. The couple who run it have lots of experience in the restaurant world and are an excellent source of local information. It’s open early for breakfast, and late at night it functions as a rooftop pub.
Where the locals go for breakfast in Dong Van. The menu begins and ends with banh cuon – freshly-steamed and filled noodles – served the northern way with a small bowl of broth that you season yourself.
Lung Cam Cultural Tourist Village
ocated in the narrow, incredibly picturesque Sung La Valley is the village of Lung Cam. Deemed a ‘cultural tourist village’ by the local authorities, the highlight here, aside from the stunning setting, is a century-old traditional Hmong house. The adobe structure, surrounding a stone-paved courtyard, was, in a former life, an opium emporium, and more recently featured in a Vietnamese film.
Around 25km north of Dong Van and just a few kilometres from the Chinese border, Lung Cu is a massive flag tower erected in 2010 to mark the northernmost point of Vietnam. The summit is reached by almost 300 steps, and the views across rural villages are stunning. The flag is 54 sq metres, to represent Vietnam’s 54 official nationalities.
At the top of the karst peak that overlooks central Dong Van are the dramatic ruins of a French fort. It’s possible to scale the peak, using the path that starts just east of the old market square. It’s a sweaty half-hour to the top, from where you’re rewarded with stunning views of the town and the patchwork of rice fields and peaks that hem it.
At the northern end of P Co, just past the old market plaza, a narrow lane, backed by a limestone cliff, meanders into the compact old quarter of Dong Van. The traditional terracotta-coloured adobe houses here, with timber details and slouchy tiled roofs, date from the French colonial period, although many have been updated.