A view of Mu Cang Chai from the trek

Trekking The Forest of Mu Cang Chai - Yen Bai - Part1

Having been to Mu Cang Chai quite a few times, on this trip I had thought I would have a relaxing holiday in this sleepy village a couple of days before venturing further into Vietnam's north-western mountains. It was autumn and the air was fresh and chilly in the early morning and late afternoon. it would be lovely strolling all day along the mountain trails amid peaceful and beautiful landscape…

 Tao Meo (Hmong Apples)
Tao Meo (Hmong Apples)

“Are you doing anything tomorrow?” asked A Chong coming back home from work.
“No, I'll have another easy day here,” replied I.
“I know a place you may like,” said A Chong.

The first gradient on our Mu Cang Chai Trek
The first gradient on our Mu Cang Chai Trek

And he climbed up the steps to the terrace that I was having tea. A Chong is the host of a homestay at Mu Cang Chai that I normally stop for a break on my adventures to the Far North of Vietnam. I love his home for it is right amid beautiful rice terraces and the view from the house is spectacular. The terrace in front of the house provides a sweeping view of the mountains and valleys.

There was a mountain view at some high point on the trek
There was a mountain view at some high point on the trek

 

 

A view of Mu Cang Chai from the trek
A view of Mu Cang Chai from the trek

A Chong told me that I should spend time exploring the forest in between Mu Cang Chai and Cao Pha Valley. There was a trail in the forest which had been used by villagers when they had cardamom farms there and it had been deserted for some years. The cardamom crops had yielded nothing to the farmers and they stopped going into the forest nowadays. A Chong said that I should have a wonderful view of the Cao Pha Valley reaching the other side of the forest. Wow, that sounded good. I told A Chong to get me someone who knew the route for my trekking the day after.

A view of Chong Chua Tu Mountain Peak from the trek
A view of Chong Chua Tu Mountain Peak from the trek

Later in the evening, A Chong introduced me to A Sua. A Sua was a Hmong man and he knew the forest well since his hunting days. I got a nice discussion with A Sua about the trekking route and about our plan for the day.

The next morning, A Sua came back deadly on time. We set out at 08:00 A.M and it was a clear day with bright sunshine. The temperature was pleasant. A Sua rode his motorbike and I sat in pillion for half an hour to the base of the mountain where our trek would start. The trail was barely big enough for Sua's two wheels. We passed a village and some plantations of Hmong apples (Tao Meo). Then, Sua parked his motorbike just on the outskirt of a thin forest. There were scattered apple farms here which were alternated by head-high wild bushes.

One of the many gradients before we entered the thick forest
One of the many gradients before we entered the thick forest

Our adventure on foot started on a small trail going up slightly. The air was fresh and the area was peaceful. There were birds' chirping and winds blowing hard but there was nobody else apart from us. People might be working elsewhere. At one point we were high enough that I could have a good view of the surroundings and at another point the views were blocked by high trees.

The path leading to the forest
The path leading to the forest

 

 

It was thin forest at first
It was thin forest at first

 

 

There were fallen trees and wild flowers on the trek
There were fallen trees and wild flowers on the trek

 

 

and began the hard trek
and began the hard trek

 

 

A Sua picking wild fruits
A Sua picking wild fruits which were juicy and sweet

 

 

The narrow path seemed to go on forever
The narrow and slippery path seemed to go on forever

After an hour trekking, we entered the dense forest. There were big and tall trees above and there were fallen trees on the trail. The path was easy to walk on at first, but the further we went in the forest, it turned more and more treacherously dangerous. We soon found ourselves walking on a very uneven footpath which did not allow a proper rest of the feet. Most of the time we could only rest our body on a leg at a time due to the small space which was barely enough for a foot. On the one side, it was a vertically steep mountainside and on the other it was a vertically steep and deep ravine… There were no tree roots and no vine trees firm enough for us to cling to. It was like we were betting in a gamble for each of our steps to move forward. Mistakes could be fatal and we had to be extremely careful in every of our steps.

The forest always looked wonderful
The forest always looked wonderful

 

 

A tree trunk used as a bridge on the trek
A tree trunk used as a bridge on the trek

 

 

And another bridge made out of a single tree trunk
And another bridge made out of a single tree trunk, some rotten

 

 

A Sua were carving into the tree trunk to make it less slippery
A Sua were carving into the tree trunk to make it less slippery

 

 

Slashing the bushes to move forward
Slashing the bushes to move forward

 

 

More slippery tree trunk
More slippery tree trunk

 

 

A rotten tree that moved when we climbed over
A rotten tree that moved when we climbed over