Nestled at an altitude of over 2,800 above sea level, Ta Xua stands as one of the highest mountain peaks in Vietnam. It is located in Bac Yen District, Son La Province, and borders Tram Tau District in Yen Bai Province, and is about 240 kilometers from Hanoi.
Ta Xua has a cool climate all year round, and is known as a captivating cloud hunting destination from October to April.
Ta Xua is known for its steep and winding roads near dangerous cliffs. Travelers can get to Ta Xua by motorbike or car, or even trek to the summit if you're feeling adventurous. There are different trekking routes from Yen Bai and Son La.
The renowned "Dinosaur Backbone" area is approximately 15 kilometers from the heart of Ta Xua and about 5 kilometers from Hang Dong Commune in Bac Yen District. It leans against the Ta Xua mountain range, overlooking a valley that plunges hundreds of meters deep.
The area features a 1.5-kilometer trail, regarded by backpackers as one of the most beautiful places in the north to witness cloud formations. Often, thick clouds linger from early morning until 10 a.m.
On clearer days, from this area, visitors can immerse oneself in the surroundings of lush forests, terraced fields, and H'mong houses dotting the mountainside.
The Dolphin Cliff is characterized by two large rocks resembling dolphins swimming in a sea of clouds. The cliffs are adorned with patches of moss, adding to their wild and natural beauty, blending with the surrounding landscape.
To reach the Dolphin Cliff, starting from Bac Yen Town, follow the road leading to Ta Xua Commune. Along the way, visitors will encounter a fork with road signs: one direction to the "cloud paradise back" (8 kilometers), and the other leads to Ta Xua Tea Hill.
Choose the latter, and visitors will arrive at the Dolphin Cliff. Visitors staying at Lu Tre Homestay will find it convenient to reach the Dolphin Cliff when heading towards the hydroelectric dam.
A rock outcrop shaped like a turtle's head sits at an elevation of 2,100 meters along the path to Ta Xua's peak. To access the Turtle's Beak, you'll need to traverse approximately one kilometer of high slopes with sharp rocks.
From the center of Ta Xua Commune, travel about 7 kilometers in the direction of the Commune People's Committee to reach the Camel Ridge.
This attraction in Ta Xua offers splendid morning views, making it an ideal addition to your travel itinerary.
The lonely docynia indica tree graces a small hill at Gio Peak, located at the intersection of Xim Vang and Hang Dong, just over 1 kilometer from the heart of Ta Xua. Standing by the tree, travelers can gaze upon the Suoi Sap River. On clear days, the river exhibits a clear and azure hue.
The Lonely Tree is revered by backpackers as a symbol of resilience amidst Ta Xua's rugged terrain and is often cited as one of the best spots to witness the captivating sunset, especially in the early evenings.
The Ta Xua primeval forest occupies the southeastern slopes of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, extending from an altitude of 2,600 meters to the summit. This forest exudes an enchanting, mystical charm, with its constantly changing altitude along the Phu Sa Phin range.
Within the forest, visitors can encounter various rare species of flora and fauna, such as the moss forest. Meandering forest paths combined with dappled sunlight create a fairy tale-like atmosphere.
Ancient tea hill
Ta Xua's ancient Shan Tuyet tea is celebrated as one of Vietnam's most distinguished teas. The Shan Tuyet Ta Xua Tea Hill, situated at an altitude of over 1,500 meters above sea level, remains shrouded in clouds throughout the year, resulting in a humid and chilly climate.
These ancient tea trees, aged over a century, receive minimal sunlight, endowing them with exceptional medicinal properties and a unique flavor. Ta Xua tea leaves possess a snowy-white fur-like layer, while the brewed tea reveals a clear and viscous yellow hue. Its initial taste is smooth and astringent, with a sweet and fragrant aftertaste.
Ta Xua Steppe
The Ta Xua Steppe, located along the same route to the Dolphin Cape and the Lonely Tree, lies about 10 kilometers from the commune center. The road is wide with gentle curves, and near the Dolphin Cliff, visitors will encounter signs guiding you to the Ta Xua Steppe. This expansive natural landscape not only offers breathtaking views but also serves as an ideal setting for recreational activities, sports, and camping adventures.
Ta Xua boasts several cafes with names like Mi Oi, Hien Coffee, Thao Coffee, H'mong Coffee, and Ban Coffee. These cafes offer stunning views, making them perfect for cloud-watching and ideal spots for photography enthusiasts.
Even during cloudless periods, they provide a serene place to enjoy a cup of hot tea while marveling at the majestic natural surroundings, witnessing the gradual descent of the sunset, or simply unwinding. Prices for drinks range from VND30,000 (US$1.20) to VND60,000.
When it comes to culinary delights in Son La, the must-try specialty is mac nhung (solanum dulcamara) porridge. As the fruits in the fields ripen after each harvest, they are picked, washed, and transformed into various dishes, with the most renowned being porridge.
This dish boasts a unique blend of bitter, sweet, and spicy flavors, perfectly suited for the chilly weather in the Ta Xua highlands.
In addition to mac nhung porridge, visitors have an array of options to choose from. They can savor a hearty pot of black chicken hotpot, indulge in salmon or sturgeon, or relish popular northern mountain dishes such as buffalo meat, nam pia (internal organs with excrement soup), bamboo-tube rice, sour meat salad, and five-colored sticky rice.
Travelers can access Ta Xua using a range of transportation modes, including motorbikes, personal cars, and passenger buses. Starting from Hanoi, the route takes you through Son Tay Town, over Trung Ha Bridge, along Highway 32, and rightward towards Phu Yen and Bac Yen Districts along Highway 37.
The main road leading to the heart of Ta Xua has been paved with concrete, making it much more accessible than in the past. Even 16-seat vehicles can make their way to the summit.
Travelers can opt for passenger cars offered by bus companies such as Khanh Thinh, Quang Nghia, and Nguyen Hang, at a cost of VND700,000 per person for a round trip. These cars usually depart from Hanoi around 10 p.m. and arrive in Ta Xua after approximately five hours, with brief stops along the way.
Once travelers arrive in Ta Xua, they have the option to rent a motorbike for convenience. However, if they aren't confident in their riding skills, it's advisable to consider hiring a local motorbike taxi driver, as the roads in the region are quite steep, narrow, and filled with twists and turns.
While Ta Xua is a burgeoning tourist destination, it lacks large hotels or upscale accommodation options. Nevertheless, approximately 20 homestays and motels dot the area, catering to a range of budgets from VND200,000 ($8) to VND1 million ($42) per night.
Accommodations are mainly concentrated in the central and adjacent areas, featuring community-style houses (stilt houses) and some private rooms. They include Xa Homestay, Nam To Homestay, Mua Tru Homestay, Bao Chau Homestay, and Long Anh 1 Homestay.
Additionally, guesthouses like Phu Hoa, Tra May Ta Xua, Thu Bien, Hai Hang, and Nguyen San provide alternative choices.
For those seeking a unique experience, Homestay Lu Tre stands out as the highest-altitude accommodation establishment in Ta Xua, situated approximately 7 kilometers from the central area. Some high-clearance vehicles and motorbikes can reach the doorstep, while others can park at the gate, with guests covering the remaining 300-meter distance on foot or using a motorbike shuttle service. Accommodation options include bungalows, houses, and stilt houses.
Ta Xua also beckons camping enthusiasts. By selecting the right spot, visitors can relish the opportunity to witness the sunrise or sunset from the mountaintop.
While cloud hunting is a highlight of Ta Xua, it's essential to consider the weather. Checking the forecast is advisable, and it's best to select a day with low nighttime temperatures, pleasant daytime warmth, and ample sunshine. Familiarize yourself with the direction of the sunrise in the cloud hunting area to capture the best angles for your photographs.
Avoid arriving in Ta Xua during the evening, and try not to travel in large groups. When traveling by motorbike taxi, it's a good practice to inquire about the fare and engage in a bit of bargaining.
The estimated cost per person for a two-day, one-night stay ranges from VND1.5 million to VND2 million ($62-82). During holidays and peak seasons, it's advisable to book accommodation in advance, as Ta Xua tends to fill up quickly.
The area can accommodate a limited number of tourists simultaneously, typically around 700-800, so planning ahead ensures you secure your spot at this destination.
Story by Tam Anh