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Trip of a lifetime: Car breakdown, heavy rain, slipper trek for breathtaking Mu Cang Chai

Monday, October 10, 2022, 08:58 GMT+7
Trip of a lifetime: Car breakdown, heavy rain, slipper trek for breathtaking Mu Cang Chai
A little girl is pictured in a local traditional dress in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dang Le

Editor’s note:Vuong Anh from Ho Chi Minh City recalls her three-day trip, during which she and her friends traveled to Mu Cang Chai in Yen Bai Province, northern Vietnam to admire the stunning beauty of the place.

Although I have traveled to many places in Vietnam, this was the first time I had set foot in the northern region, especially Mu Cang Chai District in Yen Bai Province.

My first trip to the northern region in late September gave me and my friends prestigious moments and unforgettable experiences.

We prepared for the trip one month in advance, from air ticket booking to looking for a local tour guide for our group of eight people.

One of my friends and I joined a Facebook group where travelers share and review their tours of Mu Cang Chai. After searching for information and reviews in the group, we finally found a good local tour guide providing homestay services and guiding our three-day tour of Mu Cang Chai.

From September, terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai turn yellow. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

From September, terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai turn yellow. Photo: Vuong Anh

The trip begins with rain

From Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai, we booked a nine-seater car to feel more comfortable after a two-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Our car departed from Hanoi at 9:00 pm.

Everything seemed to be smooth until midnight. Our rental car had a serious problem with the electricity box and the driver had to stop the vehicle on a pass.

It was so dark at that time. We could see only high trees, a dim light from a house faraway and hear dogs barking. It was such a creepy feeling when standing in a place which we had no idea.

Our driver had called for help for half an hour, and fortunately, the problem was fixed after four calls. We finally could continue.

We reached our homestay in La Pan Tau, Mu Cang Chai District at four in the morning. When we arrived, it was raining heavily. The homestay owner walked to pick us up and brought some raincoats and umbrellas for us. As the homestay was on a slope which was so small that the car could not reach it, we had to walk in the rain.

It kept raining. We were quietly disappointed as our plan on the first day in Mu Cang Chai might become a wash.

Luckily, the sun appeared after all. There was nothing making us happier than the sunshine at that time. At 10:00 am, we began traveling to the first destination.

Because of the morning rain, our plan was changed. Instead of trekking to Ta Cua Y Valley, we went to check in in two popular destinations: Na Hang Tua Chu bamboo forest and Mam Xoi Hill.

Gorgeous roads

We traveled by motorbike, but we did not drive. Local drivers who are mostly Hmong ethnic people carried us on their motorbikes on winding roads with one side being high mountains and the other being abysses.

The rain made roads slippery, but our drivers could control their bikes very well. Sitting behind them, we totally enjoyed breathtaking views along the way. Terraced rice fields were flooded with sunrays under the blue sky dotted with white clouds. On the background were mountain ranges stretching to the horizon. We felt we were just little humans when admiring such majestic scenery.

Charming check-in points

After around 15 minutes, we got to Na Hang Tu Chu bamboo forest. The after-rain atmosphere in the bamboo forest seemed fresher than usual. Every time we touched the bamboos, raindrops fell to us, making us shake a little bit. They were planted so close that the sun could not shine through them. Their green color was perfect for photo backgrounds. We spent 30 minutes taking photos in the bamboo forest.

We then got back to the homestay to have lunch before traveling to Mam Xoi Hill – our second destination on the first day.

This hill was a highlight of the whole trip. The hill was home to gorgeous terraced rice fields turning from green to yellow. This was the first time we had seen the terraced rice fields with our own eyes and smelled the fragrance of young rice.

The view of Mam Xoi hill was like a painting by Mother Nature, featuring all shades of green from light green of the young rice to deep green of the mountains.

There was also a field of buckwheat flowers in full bloom there. Their white and light pink colors brightened up the whole hill.

We also saw several small stilt houses on the terraced rice fields, where Hmong ethnic people stayed to look for their rice fields.

From the stilt houses, visitors could see the panoramic view of Mam Xoi Hill. You can go to these stilt houses to take some photos but do not forget to pay VND5,000 for each person to the house owner.

A traveler sits in a stilt house to admire Mam Xoi Hill in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dang Le / Tuoi Tre News

A traveler sits in a stilt house to admire Mam Xoi Hill in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dang Le  

The next stop was Mong Ngua Hill, which also featured beautiful terraced rice fields. When we reached Mong Ngua Hill, it was full of the afternoon sunrays. Some said that the sunset view on Mong Ngua Hill was the best and you should not miss this view.

This was how we ended our first day.

'From the homestay that we stayed three days in Mu Cang Chai, aside from terraced rice fields, we witnessed the rarest thing – milky way. This is the first time I have seen the milky way with my naked eyes.' Photo: Dang Le / Tuoi Tre News

'From the homestay where we stayed for three days in Mu Cang Chai, aside from terraced rice fields, we witnessed the rarest thing – Milky Way. This was the first time I had seen the Milky Way with my naked eyes.' Photo: Dang Le 

Tough but unforgettable trekking route

The next morning sunlight spread over the terraced fields around the homestay, making us extremely happy as our trekking trip to Ta Cua Y Valley would go on as planned.

At 7:00 am, we traveled to the trekking point. As last night’s rain made the dirt road slippery, our drivers could not control their motorbikes very well. So, we decided to walk to the checking point and got there in 15 minutes.

But everything had just started. Our tour guide and two Hmong porters were our companions during the trekking trip. They carefully prepared trekking poles cut from tree branches for us. The trekking poles really prevented us from falling on slippery sections and helped us get over slopes during the trekking route.

We walked slowly to enjoy the fresh air in the forest at first. We heard birds and cicadas singing, smelled scents of wildflowers, grasses, and tao meo – a specialty wild apple in Mu Cang Chai.

But then, the route got harder. It became steep, rough, and was full of stones. After the section, we waded through many creeks which made up nearly 50 percent of the trekking route. To keep our shoes dry, most of us waded barefoot in the creeks. Although the water was as cold as ice, it still gave us a very refreshing feeling.

Trekkers wade through creeks during the trekking trip to Ta Cua Y Valley in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tri Ta / Tuoi Tre News

Trekkers wade through creeks during the trekking trip to Ta Cua Y Valley in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tri Ta / Tuoi Tre News

After the creeks, we conquered a steep and muddy path. Some sections of it were so small that we could walk in a row only.

It took us more than two hours to complete the five-kilometer forest route.

The two porters and our tour guide were always by our side during the trek. Although they had to carry food and drinks, they walked quickly and even helped us go through the tough sections.

We got to Ta Cua Y Valley at lunchtime. The two porters prepared lunch for us, with grilled chicken and pork.

Ta Cua Y Valley was a different world completely owned by Mother Nature. The valley was nestled between mountains and filled with plants, boasting untouched beauty. There seemed to be no people in the valley, except us. We saw several herds of cows and horses grazing but no signs of their owners.

After a hearty lunch in the breathtaking green space, we spent the remaining time enjoying nature. At 2:00 pm, we started trekking out the valley. It was such an arduous journey but in return, we had moments during which we were totally in harmony with nature and gained worthwhile experiences.

A porter lights a fire to cook a lunch in Ta Cua Y Valley in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

A porter lights a fire to cook a lunch in Ta Cua Y Valley in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

Time to say goodbye

We visited Khau Pha Pass on the last day. On the pass, which is one of the four great passes in northern Vietnam, we could admire the splendid panoramic view of Mu Cang Chai.

On the road to Khau Pha, we once again witnessed masterpieces of nature: majestic mountain ranges and picturesque terraced rice fields. Every time I saw the scenery, I just held my breath and enjoyed them.

A view is seen from Khau Pha Pass in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

A view from Khau Pha Pass in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

Before saying goodbye to the charming Mu Cang Chai District, we visited the Dinosaur Backbone hill in the district’s De Xu Phinh Commune. Standing on the hill, we were exposed to a mesmerizing sight of mountains and terraced rice fields. The zigzag dirt road leading to this spot made us so scared, but it was a thrilling experience, too.

The Dinosaur Backbone hill marked the end of our three-day tour of Mu Cang Chai, which was worth a visit in your lifetime.

Dinosaur Backbone Hill in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

The Dinosaur Backbone hill in Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam. Photo: Vuong Anh / Tuoi Tre News

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