We had a very slight feeling of trepidation because we didn’t know exactly what to expect, as this track was new ground even for them. That said, they are experts of the area, and know what they are doing, and it just added to the feeling of excitement and adventure.
Starting very early in the day, we headed to the village of Nam Cuong at the foot of the hill we would climb to start the trek, to take a look at a traditional Vietnamese market that sets up there three times per month. Being there early in the morning allowed us to see the market in full swing, as the locals like to get there first thing when the best choice is on show and the best deals can be struck. Mr Loc was also buying food for the homestay, so we were able to see him in action picking out the best things and getting good prices for everything.
Nam Cuong Market
We then sat down to enjoy a breakfast of pho lon (pork noodle soup), with fresh flat rice noodles cooked at the side of the market and served in large steaming bowls with plenty of tasty pork and fresh coriander. To our surprise, even at this time in the morning (around 8am by the time we sat down for food), some rice wine appeared and we knocked back a couple of shots with the meal. Ideal preparation for a 17km hike!
Noodle Soup & rice wine
After breakfast we set out on the first leg of our journey - a long climb on a muddy track rising up through the lush mountain vegetation, and passing by tiny settlements and farms. The motorbiking skills of the Vietnamese people never cease to amaze me, and there was a lot of this on show here. We had some very steep sections and slippery mud to negotiate, and all of this was expertly dealt with by the guides. There were also regular instances where the track became too difficult to pass with two people on a bike, so over the course of the 17km we covered that day, I would estimate that Lucia and I walked 6 or 7 kilometers. Hard work in the hot sun of the day as we were conscious of the need to keep the pace up so as not to hold up our guides too much, but it was also a good chance to take in some of the majestic views at a slower pace than on the motorbikes.
We stopped for lunch at the top of one particularly steep climb (most of which we had to walk as it was quite rocky!) It was a welcome break with a spectacular view, and a chance to hear from Mr Loc - via Mr Quang’s translation - about his time with the army, most of which he spent in the northern region of Vietnam close to the border with China, and involvement in the brief war with China in the late 1970s, living in the jungle with basic food in tough conditions - a fascinating story.
Lunch time with gorgeous views and interesting stories
Along the way we saw many local Vietnamese people from the various ethnic groups in the region. They put our breathless trekking to shame as we passed by them, making their way up steep slopes back from the market we had visited that morning carrying home supplies over tens of kilometers. They wear beautiful traditional clothing and headdresses with lots of vibrant colour.
H’mong ethnic minority ladies on their way home from the market
ping down in to a small village in the middle of the afternoon, we decided to put one of Quang’s more interesting skills to the test - he is an expert balloon artist, and we wanted to treat the local children to a show, and give them some balloons. It started with just two or three children who joined us with their mothers as we arrived on the path through the village, but as Quang got going and his balloons started to take shape, more and more children came running from the fields and houses to see what was going on. Within ten minutes, there was a scrum of wide eyed children crowding around him, and his hands went in to overdrive so that he could give each and every child a balloon - we think by the time he was finished thirty or forty children had a memento of our strange visit. (Quang estimates that he can create up to sixty balloons per hour, so we knew he was up to the challenge!)
Pressing on from this joyous little interlude, we rose up again in to the hills, passing more tiny settlements and several of the animals that wander around the trails. Of those, I think my favourites are the water buffalo. They have a unique and slightly unnerving fixed stare as you walk past them, making you unsure whether they are simply wary of you or considering charging at you. They also have a habit of surprising you from the undergrowth, as despite their size, they can get themselves in to some interesting positions amongst the foliage to the sides of the trail in search of some tasty leaves to munch.
Water buffalo peer from the undergrowth.
We completed the final descent towards the road that would take us back to Ba Be, pleased to have a nice easy last stretch. Tired but very happy from what we had seen, we took the opportunity to cool down by having a quick paddle in the stream before heading back on sealed roads at a much more steady pace, stopping on the way for a refreshing beer and some green tea in a roadside cafe. Watch Mr Linh’s Adventures
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Cooling off after a long day in the sun