Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Ha Giang

First published September 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

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A timber, tile and clay structure encircling a stone courtyard surrounded by a stone wall with haunting limestone peaks looming all around, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a remarkably atmospheric place to stay in Vietnam’s northernmost province, Ha Giang. Originally built in the 1930s as a home for a wealthy Hmong family, the adobe structure was faithfully restored in 2011, and is now the most distinctive place to stay in the town of Meo Vac, at the end of the legendary Ha Giang Extreme Loop. Located just out of town, on a slope among fields of elephant grass and sweet corn, the Auberge de Meo Vac (also known as Nhà Cổ Chúng Pủa) sits at the bottom of one of the steep limestone karsts that hold Meo Vac in a protective fist. I’ve stayed here a couple of times – once with a friend on a motorbike road trip, and once with my family on a 4×4 tour of the north – and loved it. There are dorms and private rooms, making it suitable for budget and mid-range travellers alike.

Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangHoused in a restored adobe Hmong home from the 1930s, the Auberge is a unique accommodation

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REVIEW: AUBERGE DE MEO VAC


Address: Chung Pua hamlet, Meo Vac town, Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Prices: $14 (dormitory), $55 (private double room) | Tel: (+84) 0 219 3871 686


MAP:

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Hidden away down an increasingly narrow paved road, which becomes a lane, which becomes a pathway, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a 5-minute stroll north of the sleepy town centre of Meo Vac. The Auberge is enclosed by a thick stone wall, around which locals grow sweet corn, herbs, and other vegetables. The wall runs around the perimeter of the Auberge, creating a kind of compound for the accommodation. But it doesn’t feel too private or closed-off, because the stone walls, although very thick, are only a few feet high, allowing guests to see out over the surrounding crops, houses, and limestone peaks.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe rammed earth, wood & tile Auberge is located down a lane just outside the town of Meo Vac

The first time you visit the Auberge, excitement builds as you approach the entrance gate via the narrow pathway. An imposing double wooden door leads through thick mud-brick walls, flanked by faded carved stone reliefs of dragons. Rough paving slabs lead under the arch and into the main stone courtyard, where the two-storey, yellow ochre facade of the Auberge bears down on the communal patio.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe entrance to the Auberge de Meo Vac is through a large wooden gate, opening onto a stone courtyard


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe attractive adobe facade of the Auberge glows in the late afternoon & morning sunlight

The complex of buildings that makes up the Auberge de Meo Vac is fairly simple and small, but striking, stark, and very attractive. The main structure fronting the stone patio is a two-storey rammed-earth building raised on a stone base with wooden beams supporting its overhanging tiled roofs. White windows with decorative ventilation slots adorn the otherwise bare adobe walls. Accessed via stone steps to a thick wooden door, the main structure opens onto a shared living room, with lamps, wooden furniture, and a large fireplace. Up the steep and fairly treacherous wooden stairs, the second floor is cramped but cosy: it feels like the loft of a medieval home. One side of the main courtyard is open to the countryside, but the other features a wood-and-tile structure on stilts, with the bar and reception downstairs, and the communal dormitory upstairs. The stone courtyard is the main focus of the Auberge: it’s a special and enchanting place to be.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe main building is a two-storey earth, stone & wood structure with an outbuilding attached


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe tiled rooftops, stucco walls & decorative windows make the Auberge an intriguing structure

The Auberge de Meo Vac is absurdly photogenic and picturesque, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons, when the low sunlight illuminates the clay walls, casting a warm light and long shadows across the stone courtyard. The Auberge has a remote, other-worldly, and timeless quality. To me, it can feel quite disorientating at times: I’ve stayed in similar places in southwestern China, on the Mongolian steppe and the great plains of Central Asia, and even the deserts and oases of the Arabian peninsular. And that is part of the magic of Ha Giang Province: it’s stark, bold, beautiful, haunting, empty, and enthralling. The Auberge captures much of this in its style, location, and accommodation. It’s a fitting place to stay when visiting Meo Vac as part of the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop, especially after days of long, hard riding in the mountains.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge de Meo Vac is a very photogenic place with its tiled roofs, stone courtyard & scenic setting


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge has a timeless quality & reminds me of similar places I’ve visited around the world

The sleeping capacity of the Auberge de Meo Vac is very small. There are only four private, double-occupancy rooms (two on each floor of the main building), and a communal dorm on the first floor of the outbuilding, which sleeps a maximum of 8-10 guests at a time. The dorm accommodation consists of single mattresses laid on a wicker mat on the wooden floor in a cosy room with soft lamp light, wooden beams, bare stucco walls, a wood-burning heater (necessary in the cold winter months), windows looking over the courtyard, and a balcony with lovely views onto the Auberge rooftops and surrounding countryside. At upwards of 330,000vnd ($14) per person, it’s expensive by dorm standards, but still in the budget price bracket, and well worth it for the experience of staying in such a memorable place (even if you do have to put up with the snoring of your dormitory companions).

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDormitory accommodation is very good & cosy, even if it’s a bit pricier than most dorms

The private rooms are tasteful and atmospheric, but a bit dark and cramped for the price: 1,320,000vnd ($55). Large, comfortable beds sit on woven rattan carpets with lanterns illuminating the bare adobe and stone walls and structural wooden beams. Unfortunately, privacy is a problem, due to very thin walls and large gaps in the partitions. It’s also important to note that all rooms – private and dorms – have shared bathrooms, which are located on the ground floor behind the main building. Like everything else at the Auberge, the bathrooms are very tasteful, featuring stone and stucco walls, tiled floors, and beautiful stone sinks outside in the garden under bamboo bushes. Be very careful when negotiating the walk to the toilet during the night: it’s a death trap of wooden struts and steps.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangPrivate rooms are atmospheric but a bit gloomy & lacking privacy, especially considering the price

Room prices do not include breakfast, but all meals can be taken at the Auberge if you order in advance. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (including vegetarian options) are available for between 100,000-250,000vnd ($4-$10). All meals are set menus according to whatever ingredients are in season and available at the local market in Meo Vac. The food is fresh, local, beautifully presented, and delicious, with the possible exception of the continental breakfast, which is fairly average. As an example, my first meal at the Auberge was stir-fried morning glory, local gourd, bamboo shoots, spring rolls, pickled ginger, stewed pork, and egg rolls.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDinner at the Auberge (including vegetarian options) is very good, but breakfast is disappointing

Meals are served on the premises: you can choose to dine on the wooden picnic bench outside in the stone courtyard (perfect for summer nights under the moon and stars), or on the wooden furniture in the open-sided bar area, or in the communal living area on the ground floor next to the open fire (very cosy on cold, wintry nights). Drinks are available throughout the day, including juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee, cocktails, such as gin and tonic, home-brewed plum wine, and local corn liquor. In general, I found the alcoholic drinks to be good, and the coffee bad. The Auberge can also arrange lots of activities, such as hiking and trips to local ethnic minority markets.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangMeals are served in the courtyard on dry, clear nights, or in the fired-warmed living room on cold nights


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe indoor communal areas at the Auberge, including a bar & a living room, are warm & cosy places

At night, as in all homestay-style accommodation in Vietnam, there’s the procession of sounds from outside: the night-time chorus. By day, even rural Vietnam is largely dominated by human sounds: motorbike engines, voices, farm machinery. But by night, animals rule the airwaves. From early evening the cicadas and the frogs and other bugs hum in the background; then the dogs in the dead of night, and cowbells from restless cattle in their straw cowsheds; then the cockerels, crowing from 4am in an increasing cacophony, until the sun rises. And, if the weather is bad, the sound of the rain hitting the tiled rooftops.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAt night at the Auberge, the sounds of the Vietnamese countryside seep in through the windows

But one thing to remember when you’re staying at the Auberge de Meo Vac is that this is not a homestay; it’s a business. And, although staff are nice, they are not ‘hosts’ like the families of a homestay. Don’t expect a personal touch: this is a hotel, a unique and special one, certainly, but nonetheless a hotel and a business: you aren’t entering someone’s family home, and witnessing their daily life. This can feel quite jarring, because the Auberge feels like a homestay: but it isn’t.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAlthough it may look like one, it’s important to remember that the Auberge is not a homestay; it’s a hotel

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this accommodation and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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6 Responses to Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Ha Giang

  1. russ says:

    what about mosquitoes?
    does the private room have a shower and toilet ?

  2. Noemi says:

    Hi Tom, you’ve captured the spirit of the place really well, timeless and outwordly it is (as well as some of its realities:). I’ve been twice and look forward to a third longer visit. The home made plum wine was to die for last time I was there, and of course the nearby Sunday market is a must. Thanks for the memories!

  3. Vicki Berger says:

    Great Tom
    It was a memorable place to spend my birthday a year ago.
    Do you remember when the moon rose in the cleavage of the mountains as we were having dinner ?
    If it had been in a movie, we wouldn’t have believed it.
    Thanks for arranging that and our trip.
    The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a movie.
    We called the Auberge the Inn of the Fifth Happiness as my birthday is the 5th
    Vicki

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