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Cloud-hunting in northwestern Vietnam

Tuesday, November 21, 2017, 17:00 GMT+7

Even though the group was unable to see as many cloudy scenes as they had wanted to, Mother Nature did not disappoint them.

O Quy Ho Mountain Pass covered with clouds

O Quy Ho Mountain Pass, Sa Pa, in the far north of Vietnam, is considered one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.

Looking down at the longest mountain pass in Vietnam on a chilly dawn, the road below features twists and turns not unlike those seen in the movies.

The clouds slowly cover O Quy Ho Mountain peak. Photo: Thu Hue
The clouds slowly cover O Quy Ho Mountain peak. Photo: Thu Hue

Looking up, clouds surround the mountain peaks, and in less than five minutes the entire scene is enveloped by them, making it impossible to make out the roads, nearby mountains or trees.

Everything became patchy and unclear, however the clouds looked as if one could reach out and take a fist full of them and throw them in the air.

Sometimes they floated in one direction, other times they stood still as if they knew the backpackers were taking photos of them.

The trekkers just stood there soaking up the beautiful scenery until their eyes were satisfied.

Nam Mu branch resembles a picturesque painting of still water. Photo: Thu Hue
Nam Mu branch resembles a picturesque painting of still water. Photo: Thu Hue

However, O Quy Ho Pass was not their only destination, so they were forced to leave the beautiful scenery behind and get back on the road again.

Clouds at well-known Da River

The Da River flows through several provinces in the north of Vietnam: Lai Chau, Son La and Hoa Binh.

More than half of the river lies in Vietnam, while the other half is in China.

The Da River suddenly appears at the turn. Photo: Thu Hue
The Da River suddenly appears at the turn. Photo: Thu Hue

The river itself has been the subject of a lot of Vietnamese literature and poetry.

The backpackers passed by on Highway 279, which is adjacent to the Da River.

They enjoyed the smell of grass and trees while small tribal villages began appearing in front of them.

The weather was not in their favor, as it became wet under a grey sky.

Clouds reside on the mountains surrounding the well-known Da River. Photo: Thu Hue
Clouds reside on the mountains surrounding the well-known Da River. Photo: Thu Hue

They soon approached the Nam Mu River, one of the Da River’s basins.

Once again they were taken aback by the natural beauty of the area.

The group stood there speechless, looking at the river despite the rain and the cold.

As beautiful as Nam Mu was, it was not their greatest “reward" of the trip.

Houses on the way to Ta Xua Village. Photo: Thu Hue
Houses on the way to Ta Xua Village. Photo: Thu Hue

They soon reached Quynh Nhai District in Son La.

There were not many people on the road. Every now and then a truck, a motorcycle or a car passed by. Some stopped to enjoy the scenery, taking pictures before getting back on their way.

The clouds appeared to be sitting on top of the mountains, and when the backpackers asked a local girl nearby, she said that it was not something that she saw every day.

The Da River itself, deep blue in color, was as still as a mirror, with clouds hanging on to rocks, creating an image as beautiful as any poet or author has ever described.

One can find indigenous people selling homegrown vegetables on the way to Ta Xua Village. Photo: Thu Hue
One can find indigenous people selling homegrown vegetables on the way to Ta Xua Village. Photo: Thu Hue

In days gone by, the river was home to many local boats and ferries, with legendary boatmen the subject of countless literary pieces.

Today they are nowhere to be found, replaced by bridges stretching out across the river.

The tourists stood on the highest bridge in Vietnam – the Pa Uon Bridge – lost in the midst of breathtaking scenery.

Cloud hunting at Ta Xua Village

The backpackers went by Son La City in Son La Province to reach Ta Xua Village, known as ‘cloud paradise.’

The muddy road the backpackers drove through on their ‘cloud-hunting conquest.’ Photo: Thu Hue
The muddy road the backpackers drove through on their ‘cloud-hunting conquest.’ Photo: Thu Hue

The way to Ta Xua was steep and rocky because of the storm in October. However, when the group reached the Ta Xua village center there was not a cloud to be found.

The tourists – a group of backpackers who went all the way to Ta Xua just to see the ‘cloud paradise’ – were beyond disappointed.

“This is the fourth time I’ve been here but I still haven’t been able to see the clouds,” one of the backpackers noted.

‘Cloud-hunting’ backpackers have a saying describing whether or not one sees the clouds is decided by destiny.

Clouds at Cheu Village, located in Son La Province, northwest of Vietnam. Photo: Thu Hue
Clouds at Cheu Village, located in Son La Province, northwest of Vietnam. Photo: Thu Hue

There are many who have come numerous times but have still not been able to catch sight of a single cloud. Others have become witness to the ‘cloud paradise’ at their first attempt.

It was five in the afternoon when the group of backpackers set out on another ‘cloud seeking adventure.’

A more experienced backpacker led them all the way to Cheu Village in Son La to see the clouds surrounding the small village.

The mist, rain and mud all contributed to a slippery road.

Orange clouds at Hang Dong Village in Son La Province, northwest of Vietnam. Photo: Thu Hue
Orange clouds at Hang Dong Village in Son La Province, northwest of Vietnam. Photo: Thu Hue

Riding bikes, they all heard the sound of mud underneath their wheels, making them anxious.

Needless to say, they were concerned to see other drivers slipping and falling in front of them.

On reaching the village, they were once again disappointed to find out that the weather was not in their favor. Even though there were some clouds, there were not as many as the backpackers had hoped.

The experienced backpacker who had guided the travelers to the village tried to cheer them up: “You are still a lot luckier than other people. Many have come here and were not able to see a single cloud, and could only enjoy a flawlessly blue sky.”

Mountainous scenery appears when the backpackers stand on one of the mountains. Photo: Thu Hue
Mountainous scenery appears when the backpackers stand on one of the mountains. Photo: Thu Hue

The next day at dawn they set out to Hang Dong Village, also in Son La Province, to witness the ‘dawn of clouds.’

Hang Dong Village is 12 kilometers from Ta Xua Village, but because the road was muddy and wet, it became quite a long drive.

Half-way there the sun began to rise, and orange clouds behind the mountains looked like the spine of a dinosaur.

The travelers’ hearts were filled with the hope of being able to see the breathtaking scenery of clouds.

However, the moment they reached their long-awaited destination, the clouds were all gone.

The sunray spreads through Hang Dong Valley. Photo: Thu Hue
The sunray spreads through Hang Dong Valley. Photo: Thu Hue

Instead, nature made up for it by giving away stunning rays of sun, glowing through mountain creeks, and lighting up the whole valley.

It was a shame not to see the clouds they had hoped for, but the backpackers will definitely give it another try next year.

Cloud-hunting experience in Ta Xua Village The weather needs to contain all of the following factors: light showers, low temperatures at night and sunny highs during the day.  Be careful and considerate when driving up to Ta Xua, Hang Dong and Xim Vang Villages on rainy days because the roads are slippery. If one is not confident in their driving skills, ask for an experienced biker in the local area.

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