'Sea of clouds' feeds northern mountainous fervor

By Xu Kien    February 17, 2020 | 04:15 pm GMT+7

My body trembled with cold and overwhelming emotion. I was on the journey to discover the “sea of clouds” midst northern mountains, where every step requires the greatest caution to avoid a deathly plunge.

Ta Xua, a 2,800-meter-high mountain range in Ta Xua Commune, Son La Province, northwestern Vietnam, is renowned among 'cloud hunting' trekkers.

I headed for the peak at 7 a.m. from Moc Chau, another famed local destination. The journey was supposed to take three hours, but ended up taking 10 due to the unforeseen, challenging weather.

The first part of the journey along National Highway 6 was pleasant, straight with a good-quality road. Turning onto National Highway 37, I was stunned by the continuous sharp turns, which reduced my speed considerably.

Roads to Ta Xua are not particularly smooth.

Roads to Ta Xua are twisting. Photo by Xu Kien.

The high humidity at high-altitude makes the roads wet and very slippery. Exiting the highway, I stopped at Bac Yen Town for a quick lunch. I had a long journey ahead, consisting of small, twisting roads, with only Google Maps as my trustworthy companion.

As I traveled upwards, the weather grew colder. At 4 degrees Celsius, my body trembled each time the wind blew. The cold felt worse with fog blurring my vision, nearly turning day into night. I slowed down and turned my headlights on to prevent any possible collision.

Traveling at slow speed on such a long road wore me down greatly. After several hours, I finally glimpsed sunlight, which restored my hope. Suddenly, an oncoming truck rushed past, forcing me to hug the mountain as tightly as possible to avoid falling into the valley.

After 10 hours, I finally reached Ta Xua and immediately called my hostel.

Tra May Hostel in Ta Xua A Village, Ta Xua Commune, Bac Yen District, Son La Province caught my attention simply by its name, Tra – meaning tea, and May – meaning cloud. Its host, famed among locals as a seasoned tea lover and farmer, welcomed me with a cup of hot Shan Tuyet tea collected from perennial 300-year old trees. The tea, along with a loving meal, warmed me up inside-out. I excused myself for an early rest, as my body could not stay upright any longer.

I woke the next morning feeling excellent. The mountainous morning brimmed with rays of sunlight, rebooting my frayed spirits. After breakfast, I hit the famous Ta Xua mountain-top path, commonly dubbed "dinosaur-back" by backpackers across Vietnam. 

Sea of clouds feeds northern mountainous fervor - 1

The "dinosaur-back" surrounded by clouds. Photo by Xu Kien.

Ta Xua "dinosaur-back" spans the top of a mountain 10 km from my hostel, and receives few visitors. 

Standing at the acme, my emotions peaked, half amazed by its majesty, half petrified by its dangers. I parked my motorbike on the side of the road, following recommendations from the Vietnamese backpacking community to not drive along the path. Despite my temptation, I decided against challenging the 2,000 meter drop. I started to trek another 1.4 kilometres to the top, passing through a sea of clouds to paradise.

At the peak, I looked up at the tall mountains stabbing the sky, waves of ethnic Mong paddy fields sprawled out below. Further down twisting and turning dirt roads cut through the topography.

Closing my eyes, I took a gulp of air, knowing I had conquered Ta Xua’s "sea of clouds".

Mong paddy fields line the mountain ridge.

Mong ethnic people's paddy fields line the mountain ridge. Photo by Xu Kien.

I left at 11 am, heading to Wind Peak, the second-most famous destination in Ta Xua, via Xim Vang Commune. It would take me another 5 kilometres, which drew little sweat.

On top of Wind Peak stood a lonely docynia indica tree, next to which I cast my eyes across the horizon to take in stratus clouds and ethnic homesteads.

After a night of rest, I made my way towards Be Village to admire the 300-year-old tea trees that have lent fame to the splendid Shan Tuyet tea. Clouds joined to submerge both sides of my path.

At 7 am, with the sun barely up, I was escorted to the village by two ethnic Mong guides, who allowed me to harvest my own tea crop.

The mesmerising road to Be Village.

The mesmerising road to Be Village, Lao Cai Province. Photo by Xu Kien.

At noon, I returned to my hostel to prepare for departure. Despite wanting to stay, I knew I had to go.

One day, I would return to Ta Xua, one day.

*A few noteworthy details to make your Ta Xua visit a piece of cake.

Traveling

Coaches are wonderful for those wary of long-distance travel. From Hanoi, you can take the Hai Giang coach from My Dinh Bus Station (VND135,000 or $5.8) to Bac Yen township. From Bac Yen, you can rent a motorbike for the drive to Ta Xua. A common bike rental shop in Bac Yen is Thanh My.

Motorbikes are recommended to fully experience the beautiful roads leading to Ta Xua. Please be careful while driving though.

Traveling time

You should visit Ta Xua between December and March, when it is more likely to experience beautiful layers of clouds and blooming flowers.

Clothing

Please bring sufficient warm clothes, as it remains constantly cold in Ta Xua. Gumboots or similar footwear are recommended, with mud coating most roads.

Camping 

Camping at the "dinosaur-back" is also an option, but again be wary of the cold.

Regarding destinations with the best cloud views, I would recommend Ta Xua’s "dinosaur-back" and the roads leading to Be Village. Clouds occasionally appear near the hostels as well.

Food

Food here is mostly cooked by the ethnic Mong with their distinct style. I found it very tasty, at a reasonable price.

Lodging

Lodging is scarcely troublesome, with a great abundance of hostels and homestays.

Health

People with chronic heart or respiratory issues please prepare water and medicine before traveling here.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.

 
 
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