Their tops lost in clouds, an apparently endless array of mountains and caves await exploration at the Xuan Son National Park (Photo courtesy of phuot.com)
All we had was two days away from the city and we were spoilt for choice.
It was somewhat difficult to comprehend that this lushness, this quiet, this incredible scenery; whole forests growing out of limestone rocks, any number of caves that have been discovered and others waiting discovery – all this was available little more than 100 kilometers away from Hanoi.
Yes, we were spoilt for choice at the Xuan Son National Park in Phu Tho Province. Do we go trekking, spelunking or have a homestay experience with the ethnic minority families? Even within these activities there were “sub-choices.”
– Xuan Son National Park can be reached by motorbike or car from Hanoi, following National Road No. 32.
– It is better to set off on a clear day because the roads there can get very muddy on rainy days.
– There are many itineraries for visitors to explore the national park. The best options are half-day trekking and overnight home-stays with the ethnic minority residents. ^ Prepare enough food and necessities before travelling as supplies are limited at the park.
We opted for a trip to the Du Village and a day’s trek up the Ten Mountain. The other mountains and caves would have to wait until next time.
Just to give you an idea about the settings we found ourselves in on a clear Saturday morning with a breeze caressing our faces and fresh, clean air filling our lungs, the Xuan Son National Park stretches over an area of more than 15,000 hectares.
It is the only national park with a primeval forest growing on limestone. It also boasts a diverse floral and fauna system, with over 700 flora species and nearly 400 different fauna species.
Our trusted steeds, the Honda Futures that the half a dozen of us were travelling on, took us uneventfully to the Du Village in a couple of hours. On the way hundreds of hectares of tea plantations undulated in front of us, reminding that tea was one the provincial specialties.
At the Du Village there was no question of driving the bikes through the narrow, rough roads.
So we left our motorbikes at the first house and walked.
Du Village is inhabited by Dao ethnic people, and the houses are built in their traditional architectural style. It was around 2:30 p.m. and the village was rather quiet. An old man told us that everyone had gone into the forest to collect firewood or vegetables. We chatted to him for some time, and learnt that the village, along with many others in the park, only came into existence a few decades ago when the government told the Dao people to relocate from their mountain homes to the valley
The entrance to one cave in Xuan Son National Park surrounded by thick greenery
As we walked around the village we came across a big wooden house. Here a middle-aged couple ushered us in and began preparing a dinner of chicken, bamboo sprouts, some wild vegetable taken from the forest and rice wine.
It got dark quickly and there was a biting chill in the air. We gathered around the fire in their kitchen, which was also the living room. The couple told us that the Dao always welcomed guests in the kitchen, which would always have a fire lit.
We set out early morning the next day for the eight-hour trek up Ten Mountain. Our hosts, hospitable as ever, gave us a big package containing sticky rice and chicken.
Ten Mountain is one of the three highest peaks in Xuan Son, about 1,000 meters above sea level. It’s not a stroll in the park, so it is better to go well prepared. We made sure we were well stocked with warm clothes, a first aid kit, food, plenty of water and leech repellant.
As there was no path in the forest, we had to mark our way so we could remember how to get back. The path is steep and rough, and we hacked our way through thick undergrowth. It was tiring, and just as we thought we could not take one more step, the trees parted and a breathtaking panorama stretched out in front.
Beneath us, the sun glanced off miles of forest-covered peaks. We had reached the top and we felt fantastic.
It didn’t take so long to get down from the mountain, and we arrived back at Du Village at 3:30 p.m. As we said goodbye to our hosts and left for Hanoi, we were loath to leave behind the leafy green paradise. There was a consoling thought, though. There was plenty more to do here, and there would always be a next time.
by Phong Lan