I got to know Binh Lieu quite by accident one day in late October 2020, when gossip about backpacking trips became a main topic. Among the famous roads of the East – Northwest, the name Binh Lieu appears as a mysterious new element. Just in time when the white reeds bloom all over Binh Lieu, we decided to go there right away to catch the blossom. And Binh Lieu welcomed us with pleasant surprises.
Whether located in Quang Ninh province along with famous landmarks such as Ha Long Bay – a world natural heritage, Yen Tu mountain – a spiritual destination in the high sky or the poetic Co To island in the middle of the sea, Binh Lieu – a small mountainous district in the northeast of Quang Ninh – still bears a pristine and majestic scenery of a remote region.
There is a border ring road winding around lush green mountains with spectacular bends leading to sacred milestones marking Vietnam’s sovereignty. There are golden undulating terraced fields as the rice is ripe. There are the Na Lang suspension bridge and the fairs in the ancient villages of the ethnic people. And most romantic of all, there is a paradise of immense white reeds, blooming on “dinosaurs spine” every autumn.
Where to go in Binh Lieu?
- Vietnam – China border ring road
- “Dinosaur spine” – Milestone 1305
- Paradise of reeds – Milestone 1297
- Other interesting destinations:
- Na Lang Suspension Bridge
- Khe Van Waterfall
- Hoanh Mo border gate
- Song Mooc village
- Essential Travel Information
- Special food in Binh Lieu
The border road between Vietnam and China in Binh Lieu is probably one of the most beautiful roads in Vietnam that I have ever experienced. About 43 km long with 28 boundary markers at an altitude of 700m above sea level, the winding road cuts through high mountains, forests of acacia, anise, fragrant cinnamon, through many valleys and villages. The continuous slopes of natural scenery surprise after each bend, leaving us in constant admiration.
The autumn weather in the Northeast is as unpredictable as a teenage girl. Sometimes the sun shines brightly, illuminating every scene. Layers of mountains and hills mingle with the forest to create green bands that follow each other, stretching over and over. And when it suddenly changed to rain, dragging clouds onto the road, a colorful picture of nature suddenly faded and blurred. Even the road ahead seemed to disappear as visibility was only about 10 meters out.
Standing on the top of a windy hill, looking out into the distance to see the border ring road is an emotional experience. In a scene that seems reachable by hand when clouds and wind gently blow through your hair carrying the scent of plants, the border road appears to zigzag, dividing our own picture in two halves. This side belongs to Vietnam, the other side belongs to a neighboring country. That boundary looks very fragile but has a very sacred meaning, affirming the country’s sovereignty.
The gentleness of the reeds spreads a drifting look to this route, making it more unique than other famous backpacking routes in the Northeast. The reeds here are taller than a person’s head with many different shapes, sometimes like a feather broom, sometimes like a magic wand. In the midst of thousands of hills and mountains, the reeds look fragile, swaying and rocking rhythmically with the sound of the wind.
Interwoven in that scene are terraced fields, some places are ripe, some just harvested, and some are still stubble, making the natural scenery both seem wild and full of the breath of human life.
Of the 28 border markers in Binh Lieu, milestone 1305 is the most challenging, because it is located on the highest mountain here. Touching this milestone means conquering the Ma Thong Thuan mountain range at an altitude of nearly 1,100 m.
Dubbed “dinosaur spine” because in the past, the trail on the top of this mountain was very wild, dangerous, and slippery. The narrow dirt path “crawls” on the endless undulating hilltops, with the
slope extending into the blue clouds. Now, this road has been firmly cemented with steps, sometimes with railings and solid handrails. It seems that simple, but to reach the milestone of 1305, it took us 4 and a half hours for 2 ways up and down.
This distance of only 2 km is actually not too tricky, even quite safe because most of the time you will be walking on stairs. However, it is not for everyone because of its steepness and length. Imagine, you will have to climb more than 2,000 stairs, equivalent to a 100-story building. There are steep slopes that make you think you will reach your destination if you cross them. But no, when you arrive, another slope appears just as high as the previous one. The feeling of “thinking it was the top but turning into nothing” repeated a few times, really discouraging many faraway visitors.
It was cloudy that day, white clouds blurred all of the scenery. The white reeds that had just passed into blooming season now only have a few dry blades left. The back of the dinosaur no longer has flying reeds but disappears into the mist. The steps continued to stretch continuously, from one slope to another. There were many parts where we felt like walking in the clouds, both excited and curious about what was on the top of the slope and wondering if we should continue when the path was surrounded in walls of white clouds.
After all, we overcame ourselves, completed the journey and reached the border between Vietnam and China at milestone 1305. Surprisingly, this marker is not at the top of the mountain. Go all the steps made of cement, you will see a dirt pathway leading down to a small valley, the two sides of the grass are quite luxuriant. Don’t stop there, keep going for another 5 minutes and you will reach your destination.
The destination looked quite ordinary, just a stone tablet with one side written in Vietnamese, the
other in Chinese. However, the journey here is worth the experience, to feel the beauty of nature and understand more about the importance of border landmarks.
Milestone 1297 actually does not belong to Binh Lieu territory but belongs to Bac Xa commune, Dinh Lap district, Lang Son, adjacent to Vo Ngai commune, Binh Lieu district. But because we are located on the same border road, dubbed “the paradise of reeds,” we decided to stop by and look for luck after a cloudy day at the “dinosaur spine”. It was really satisfying when we were able to admire the most beautiful natural scenery on the journey.
It was a sunny day and the wind was cool. The white clouds were like cotton balls trying to squeeze into dark streaks as they awaited to transform into light rain. A few rare blue patches in the sky are enough to make the perfect backdrop for the vast reeds, still blooming at milestone 1297.
It is no exaggeration to use the beautiful phrase “paradise of reeds” because even if you turn 360 degrees, the reeds are still in your eyes. As a wildflower, white reeds can grow everywhere, on cliffs, under the forest edge, on the roadside or on the mountainside. The flowers bloom profusely, releasing small white seeds that are blown away by the wind and proliferate. The reeds can be low and wrapped around the feet, or can be taller, covering the head. With such intense vitality, reed grass is often considered the wild beauty of the mountains.
The way up to landmark 1297 is easier and shorter, only about 1 km. The gentle steps running between the hills of undulating reeds like a silver-tinged layer, gently winding, bobbing like waves when the wind passes by, makes a traveler like me think I am being led to “heaven”.
Although not very high, the view at milestone 1297 really softens a traveler’s heart. Encompassed in my line of sight are mountains that overlap in a strip. The green color of the forest is adorned with the white color of reeds, shining in the golden autumn sun, creating a surprisingly beautiful picture of nature. Standing quietly here, listening to the sound of the wind tapping on the reeds, breathing in the scent of plants, one will feel a refreshing sense of joy.
Na Lang Suspension Bridge
Located in the middle of a great green expanse, Na Lang Suspension Bridge is known as an ideal sightseeing spot in Binh Lieu. Connecting Na Lang village with Binh Lieu town, this bridge with its towering design and over 120 m long span is only for pedestrians, bicycles and motorbikes, mainly to support commercialization for locals.
Walking slowly on Na Lang bridge, feeling the vibration of the bridge every time a motorbike passes by is an interesting experience. The natural scenery from the bridge looks vast and quite peaceful. It was shallow water season, so the flow is quite calm, creating ripples around the small rocks. Both sides were full of verdant trees, in the distance there were the still overlapping mountains of the Northeast.
We walked down to the water and were quite surprised by the pastel pink reeds. From above, they looked so small, but up close, they were taller than a person’s head. Meanwhile, the bridge is like an iron dragon standing out in the middle of the green mountains.
Khe Van Waterfall
Khe Van Waterfall is located in Huc Dong commune, about 12 km from the center of Binh Lieu. The waterfall is 100m high with 3 distinct floors, each has a different beauty. The first floor of the waterfall is gentle with a large space, in the middle there is a rock protruding like an elephant in a prostrate position, surrounded by hundreds of large and small rocks creating an attractive wild landscape. The second and third floors have faster water flow, the rocks are covered with moss and are dangerously slippery. All the streams pour into a clear blue lake.
In the dry season, the waterfall flows slowly, condensing into lines. While in the rainy season, the water rushes violently, creating a resounding harmony throughout the mountainous landscape. The natural vegetation around the waterfall is also rich, bringing a great wild beauty.
The day we arrived, there were quite a few locals, mainly ethnic people, gathering to eat and rest at the foot of the waterfall. However, the sense of preserving the natural landscape is still limited, so the waste was scattered everywhere, a bit unsightly.
Song Mooc Village
Located in the middle of a mountain range over 1000m high, Song Mooc village is covered with green anise and cinnamon forests hidden in the white clouds. The simplicity of this village comes from the yin and yang tiled houses of the Dao ethnic group, the golden terraced fields and the gentle streams.
I really like walking in the mornings on the village road, watching the sunrise on the mountain top in the distance, inhaling the faint scent of flowers, listening to the movement of a new day after the rooster crows and realizing how peaceful the life is there.
Hoanh Mo Boarder Gate
Hoanh Mo is one of the border gates between Vietnam and China. This is an important trading place to Dongzhong in the port city of Fangcheng, Guangxi province, China. It was temporarily closed because of the Covic-19.
Binh Lieu is located in the northeast of Quang Ninh province, about 270 km from Hanoi, 180 km from Hai Phong. Except for the cold winter with white snow covering the mountain peaks, the climate here is mostly cool all year round with beautiful natural landscapes. Spring is pure with white floral colors of peach blossoms, Na Lang plum blossoms, mu oil tree flowers and countless unique festivals. Summer comes with green grass, yellow flowers and cool flowing waterfalls. And romantic autumn glides in reed grass on the border road.
The diversity of cultural identities is also an interesting feature of Binh Lieu. As a multi-ethnic mountainous district, Binh Lieu has many unique forms of folklore activities. Each ethnic group has
its own particular costume. Walking around the villages, getting acquainted, talking with the indigenous people to know more about their way of life is a rustic and distinctive experience. I was surprised to see Dao women riding motorbikes in their ethnic hats. The hat is nearly 30 cm high, so they can’t wear helmets.
Trekking in Binh Lieu is not too difficult, you just need a comfortable pair of sports shoes, and relatively good health. Note that if you go trekking long distances, you have to prepare your own drinking water and food because there are not many shops along the way.
With unspoiled mountainous terrain and poor living conditions, Binh Lieu does not have many tourist services and few means of public transport. Therefore, to visit Binh Lieu, you need to prepare
your own means of transportation. Those who like adventure can rent a motorbike in the center of Binh Lieu to travel the border roads. Those who want to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery should rent a private car from nearby cities such as Ha Long, Hai Phong, or even drive from Hanoi.
The nearest airport to Binh Lieu is Van Don airport, 75km from Binh Lieu. From there, you can rent a private car or take a bus to Ha Long city center, then continue to Bai Chay – Binh Lieu province or rent a motorbike in Ha Long.
By Bus: From Hanoi, there are Hung Long and Kien Duc buses that have a direct trip to Binh Lieu (you go to Gia Lam bus station). If you can’t get on these buses on time, you can go to Bai Chay bus station, from there catch the internal bus to Bai Chay – Binh Lieu.
By Car (rent or self-drive): Binh Lieu is about 280km from Hanoi, so if you go by car, it will take about 1 day to travel. Take the Hanoi – Hai Phong expressway, at the end of the highway, continue to the direction to Quang Ninh, then stop at the Ha Long intersection. From Ha Long City, you follow Highway 18 and then go to Highway 18C to continue to Binh Lieu.
Accommodation in Binh Lieu
Most of the accommodations are private homestays with basic hygiene conditions, family-style activities, in return they are very sincere and hospitable. Restaurants are also sparse and close early, so homestays will often serve lunch and dinner for visitors.
We spend the night at Song Mooc Homestay , located in Song Mooc village with hilly landscape and terraced fields right in front of our eyes. The room is simple, clean, the owner is kind and enthusiastic.
Binh Lieu has unforgettable specialties.
- Binh Lieu black chicken is originally from the chicken breed of the H’mong people, which can be used to process many delicious dishes such as boiled chicken, steamed chicken, ginger poached chicken, but the most delicious dish is grilled chicken with forest honey.
- Stream fish is also a favorite dish because its meat is firm, delicious and not fishy. In particular, when fried with camellia oil – a typical product of Binh Lieu, the fish will be greasy, golden and eye-catching.
- There are also typical cakes for festive seasons such as wormwood cake (banh ngai) of the Tay ethnic group, or plain rice flan (banh duc).
Travel in November, 2020