Wedged between Quang Binh province to the south and Nghe An province to the north, Ha Tinh's best known feature is a road leading out of the province -- to Laos. It's through this province that snaking Route 8 leads to the Nam Phao / Cau Treo border crossing between Vietnam and Laos.
On the Lao side, the road links up with Lak Xao, continuing on eventually to the Mekong River, while on the Vietnamese side, Route 8 strikes west till it intersects with Highway 1 near Hong Linh and not all that far from Vinh -- the capital of Nghe An province to the north.
That most people don't even realise they're passing through Ha Tinh province says a lot about what the province has to offer -- we spent a couple of days hanging out here, and to be honest, aside from a sticky honey and sugar treacle concoction known as Cu Do, we didn't find an awful lot to see or do.
"Why am I here?" a question deep thinkers have been asking themselves throughout the ages. And you'll ask yourself that question, too, if you wind up in the provincial capital, Ha Tinh.
Other than being the capital city of the province of the same name, Ha Tinh doesn't really have that much to offer. The city is full of carts drawn by small horses rather than oxen, and you're likely to see scads of them trotting swiftly around, ferrying goods and helping out on local construction sites. They function much the way cyclos do elsewhere in the country -- the drivers hanging around waiting for customers who require something large and heavy to be lugged from point A to point B. They'll even offer to give you a bumpy ride wherever you're headed, price negotiable. They make for good pics, but the drivers will usually ask you to pay for the privilege of taking a snap.
The other distinctive feature of Ha Tinh is Cu Do -- which sounds remarkably like the word 'Gouda' as in the cheese. But cheese it is not. It's peanut brittle, in a sticky honey and sugar treacle, infused with ginger and squeezed between two slices of rice cracker. It's a surprisingly Westerner-friendly taste treat, and if you buy Cu Do elsewhere in the region, is it likely to have been made here. If you buy it in Ha Tinh, though, it's freshly made and the insides are often still gooey.
Like any city off the tourist trail, it's worth a visit just to see the real Vietnam for a day or so. There's some decent accommodation, and the bus station will connect you to anywhere you want to go.
Of course, all this isn't to say Ha Tinh isn't going to be the next bright shining light on Vietnam's tourist map, but rather that we found we didn't need to put our sunglasses on.
Cheap, decent Internet is available throughout town. There's a 24-hour Vietcombank ATM just south of the bus station on the same side of the street. There are three buildings claiming to be the post office, but the only one that functions as such is the southernmost one at 06 Tran Phu, Ha Tinh. T: (039) 855 423. Open daily 06:30 to 21:30 -- a little longer in summer!
By Don Morgan