Experience seasonal rebirth as spring descends on Moc Chau valley

The advance of spring across Mu Nau Valley of northwestern highlands Moc Chau Town has unlocked vibrant apricot and plum blossoms.

Apricot blossoms in Mu Nau Valley in Son La Province, northern Vietnam.

Apricot blossoms in Mu Nau Valley of Son La Province, northern Vietnam.

Mu Nau Valley lies in sub-zone 13 of Moc Chau Town in Son La Province. Two kilometers south of Moc Chau center, the valley spans 200 hectares and comprises a 40-year-old apricot forest, a 25-year-old plum forest, and an old-growth forest.

The route from the town to the valley is short but steep and requires excellent driving skills, often scaring first-timers.

Leaving Moc Chau around 5 p.m, I was accompanied by Duy, owner of Pho Nui Tinh Yeu Homestay, to Mu Nau. He picked me up at the intersection near town and advised me to mentally prepare myself for the ride, an effort that would prove futile as soon as we hit the road.

The higher we got, the more Duy revved his engine, with the slope becoming increasingly uncooperative. I was not in the least comforted by the fact I was on the back of a local's bike. At one point, I was shaking with my eyes closed shut out of fear the vehicle would flip over. As we ascended the hill, I gripped onto Duy, holding on for dear life.

After five minutes of wrestling with the road, we finally reached our destination. Drenched, I quickly used my arm to wipe the sweat off my forehead. This would be the first and last time I would ever take that "death" road, I thought to myself.

From the tippy top of Mu Nau, sun rays gently lit wild flowers, weeds, and evergreen grassy plots. The entire town of Moc Chau nestled snugly at the bottom. Pretty, poetic, and romantic beyond words. It was afternoon and breezy, with a hazy mist floating far off. Indeed, at the end of a rocky road was a real-life paradise.

Enraptured by the amazing beauty of the landscape, I stood contemplating it as the sun gradually set behind the mountains.

It was now 6 p.m. and the sun had completely disappeared. As dusk fell, lights brightened Moc Chau. Lining the main streets of town, yellow lights sparkled in the dark night like stars in the sky. Night had arrived in Moc Chau!

Under the night sky, Duy drove me to Pho Nui Tinh Yeu Homestay in Mu Nau Valley. Tucked in the heart of Mu Nau Valley, Duy’s homestay is the sole one in the valley.

Pho Nui Tinh Yeu Homestay in Moc Chau.

Pho Nui Tinh Yeu Homestay in Moc Chau, Son La Province.

To many people in Moc Chau, Duy goes by "crazy guy". The nickname originates from his love of the hometown; it was so strong it ended his thriving career at a leading Hanoi construction firm, drawing him back here as a proud homestay owner.

During the initial construction period, he encountered many obstacles since the area lacked electricity and basic materials. Duy personally transported every rock, steel bar, and sack of cement for the homestay on his bike. After countless arduous days, a charming and inviting homestay was erected.

That evening, Duy’s family welcomed me with a scrumptious feast of mountain specialties like jungle fowl and wild boar. After the delicious dinner, Duy started a campfire and together with his wife told me nostalgic anecdotes of their tough beginning as the crackling flames danced to the spring breeze. In a heartwarming spirit, I slipped into a deep sleep in the middle of Mu Nau Valley.

Unlike my previous visits to Moc Chau during which fog obscured the way, the following morning was vibrantly blue with fluffy clouds floating about. My first morning in Mu Nau was a tender one. While stretching, I caught the first sunrays of the day.

I then relished in a hearty breakfast that Duy’s wife had prepared ahead. After the meal, I put on a deep red H'mong dress and began another exciting day of adventure in Mu Nau Valley.

I climbed on the back of Duy's bike to follow him through the gorgeous landscape of Mu Nau. From the homestay, I passed by pristine white bok choy flower gardens, strawberry fields, as well as old-growth forests. We eventually stopped at an apricot garden.

One simply cannot talk about Mu Nau without mentioning its three specialties: apricots, plums, and old-growth forest. For a novice, it is incredibly difficult to distinguish between an apricot and plum blossom. Their beauty is unquestionable, however.

Mu Nau apricot flowers grow by themselves. They have five round and smooth petals of one to three centimeters in diameter and are characterized by their snowy white shade. The trunk of a plum flower tree is typically taller than an apricot tree, its height varying from four to 15 meters. The petals of a plum blossom are also white but bunched up.

From the hilltop, I saw endless rows of spotless white apricot flower trees blending in the beautiful landscape of humble-sized H'mong abodes.

Moc Chau is mostly known for the poetic beauty of its enchantress, Na Ka plum valley. However, in the last two years, another hidden gem was discovered – Mu Nau plum valley. Fairy-like plum gardens stretch all over the hillsides of the valley, brightening up the Moc Chau plateau.

More than visually pleased by the rows of pristine white apricot flower trees, I climbed back on the back of Duy’s bike to visit the plum garden. Shortly after, I found myself lost in a paradise of plum flower trees and time seemed to slow down.

From the back of Duy’s trusty motorbike, I contemplated the snow white plum blossoms that fluttered throughout the garden aisles, almost resembling snow. I quickly climbed down, rushed to the trees, caressed the soft petals, and attentively watched as they flaked off branches and flooded the way.

Far off, the visual of local H'mong grazing their horses on a pasture completed the dreamy landscape.

The author, Xu Kien, amid plum blossoms.

The author, Xu Kien, amid plum blossoms.

*Before traveling to Mu Nau

Transport

Motorbikes are the only means by which to reach Mu Nau from Moc Chau Town. From the Moc Chau intersection, you can rent a motorbike taxi to Mu Nau. You could also attempt to walk to Mu Nau. However, please note it is highly recommended not to drive up to Mu Nau if you are a beginner due to the dangerous route. My suggestion is contacting Duy to book a ride at 097 492 66 96.

Accommodation

Homestay Pho Nui Tinh Yeu Moc Chau is currently the sole option in Mu Nau. It offers a selection of dorm rooms as well as private rooms in a contemporary style.

Food

Mountain specialties like wild fowl, boar, and vegetables are must-tries when in Moc Chau. It is worth noting all produce are locally grown and free of pesticides.

Time

The most ideal time to visit Mu Nau Valley is from mid-December until early March during which apricot and plum flowers are in full bloom. March is fruiting season and April, harvest season. For the rest of the year, Mu Nau dons a green garb.

Other activities

In addition to visiting apricot and plum flower gardens, Duy also organizes trekking tours to Thai and H'mong ethnic villages, departing from the homestay. The opportunity to interact with ethnic culture is truly an enriching experience one should not miss when traveling in the northwest.


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