From the top of Pha Luong in Son La Province my eyes roamed the mountainous Laos territory, a feast for the senses.
Pha Luong peak in Chieng Xuan Commune, Moc Chau District is dubbed the roof of the Moc Chau highlands, a popular tourist attraction. The destination is well-loved due to ease of access and scenic beauty.
One day in early February, I left Moc Chau's center for Pha Luong Village, 30 km away. The journey commenced along mostly flat concrete routes, made easier with the help of Google Maps.
That night, I lodged at the house of A Chong, my Pha Luong tour guide. He has five children, all small, dirt-covered and fragile, the outlook of poverty-stricken offspring.
My conjecture was confirmed at dinner, a meal, despite the host’s well-intentioned hospitality, that only included some boiled vegetables and small fish. The kids, on the other hand, had little else but plain rice and water.
A Chong and his kids gather for dinner. Photo by Xu Kien.
The whole of A Chong’s family had gone to bed at 8 p.m, leaving me alone to enjoy the brilliant night sky outside. The next morning, after breakfast, I dedicated a few moments to admiring the mountainous scenery, with the morning dew glistening off the leaves.
At 7 a.m., A Chong took me on a seven-kilometre journey to the border post, a journey that took my breath away, not with admiration but with fear. We traveled along an under-construction dirt road, with one side a tall mountainous cliff and the other an endless abyss. The horror soon got the better off me, as I started to imagine the rattling sound of the old motorbike. One mistake could take us to the bottom, I thought.
After one hour of traveling, we reached the border post, the first stop on my Pha Luong itinerary. As Pha Luong peak lies in the middle of the Vietnam – Laos border, all trekkers need to obtain a travel pass, available for VND20,000 ($0.86) from the border station, before proceeding with their journey.
A Chong first took me to a H’mong ethnic village at the foot of the mountain. Though the first few steps were rather steep, my shoes maintained their grip. I had a chance to meet many ethnic families, with children playing outside and mothers sewing clothes inside, blanketing the village in a peaceful atmosphere.
H’mong kids in Pha Luong Village. Photo by Xu Kien.
The following path was bare, with no covering jungle. From the back of terraced rice fields Pha Luong peak rose majestically, waiting to be conquered.
I slowly reached the natural jungle, with ageing vines and tree trunks everywhere. The route felt endless with repetitive foliage, though no flowers since it was around winter’s end.
Throughout the route, there were many food stalls operated by ethnic local hosts, selling sweets, boiled eggs and drinking water. We stopped at one for refreshments.
I slowly followed A Chong along the mountain route, which was not too challenging for an avid traveler like me. After only two hours, we passed through the forests, which ended at an 1,900-meter altitude.
Primeval forests in Pha Luong. Photo by Xu Kien.
I followed the bare mountain path as rough winds started blowing. Tightening my hat, I proceeded on my journey, experiencing slight shortness of breath. An additional half-hour was needed before I reached Pha Luong peak on the Vietnam-Laos border.
Suddenly, as I stood still, the air around me froze. Standing on the peak along the two nations’ border, I did not feel a hint of fatigue. Though, as I traveled on a windy day, there was not a layer of clouds covering the mountain, which should have been a rare treat for the eyes at another time of the year.
To celebrate, I asked A Chong to take a photo of me on the rock ledge. The strong gusts soon forced us to commence our descent.
In the late afternoon, after paying A Chong for his excellent services, I left Pha Luong with great hopes of a return journey.
Xu Kien at the rock ledge on Pha Luong peak. Photo by A Chong.
Traveling: Motorbikes are the only method of traveling from Moc Chau to Pha Luong border post, which could be hired from hostels in Moc Chau.
Tour guide: Though there are multiple options in terms of tour guides, I would recommend A Chong (tel: +84 962 086 499), a guide with over three years’ experience with great feedback on his friendliness. The guide costs VND500,000 ($21.56) for a group consisting of up to 10 people to trek Pha Luong peak. For a solo traveler, the price ranges from VND300,000 to VND500,000.
Lodge: Most travelers only trek Pha Luong peak in a single day, though you could also choose to lodge at tour guide A Chong’s place. You could also opt to spend a night at the border post for VND100,000 – 200,000.
Hiking tools: You should prepare a good pair of hiking shoes, trekking pole, gloves and warm coats. Camping tools are not needed, as it would be almost impossible to spend the night at the top due to strong winds.
Time to trek: The most recommended time to trek Pha Luong peak is from February to April each year, the most picturesque season. Between September and October is also very beautiful with leaves changing colors, though heavy rain would potentially impede your itinerary. At other times of the year, it would be hard for you to catch the beautiful sea of clouds.