Conquering Pu Si Lung, the roof of frontier region of Vietnam
Situated at the height of over 3000m, Pu Si Lung is the highest peak of the frontier region between Vietnam and China. This wild, charming and mysterious mountain always attracts explorers, whether their journeys are taken in cold temperatures or sweltering heat.
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By: Ngo Huy Hoa
A detailed schedule is drawn up before the journey commences with a consultation of the appropriate organizations. We submit our order sheet at the headquarters of the frontier army in Lai Chau, and then to Pa Ve Su border post, the furthest region of Muong Te district, Lai Chau province for approval. Although the way to these posts is rather long and challenging, we are enthusiastically welcomed and supported.
Because the post helps us to prepare rice and chicken for our journey, each of us must carry more than 10kg of our baggage. After a long trip through high slopes by motorbike, we arrive in Sin Chai A village.
We are invited for a meal with Mr. Xy Khu Xa, the deputy head of Sin Chai A village, of mountainous chicken, pork, glutinous rice dumplings and square rice cake. Our schedule is very pressing but we are unable to refuse our host so enjoy the lavish meal. The meal is the new rice party (unsure of 'the new rice party'- is it the name of the meal?) of local ethnic people. Their new rice party is often organized during three days in November lunar month. However, it also depends on every family in the village. Mr. Kien, our guide, reveals that the pork that we are enjoying has been fed for three years, as opposed to only three months in the lowland. That’s why the pork here is so delicious with crispy skin. The lunch revitalizes us for the journey ahead. Mr. Xa also gives us some square rice cakes to enjoy along the way.
We travel to the forest’s edge and leave our motorbikes here to start climbing up. In the first leg, we climb across thick along grass hills, some of which are burned and cleared for farming. After that, we pass by hazardous rocky grounds. Our first challenge is a big stream, across which the bridge made of tree trunks was broken in the stormy season. We have to take off our shoes and walk across the stream. The rough and slippery rocky bed, along with very cold water, makes our feet freezing. According to Mr. Kien, the stream water is at its most shallow in this season; however, in the rainy season, the water level may reach our waist and flow with a very strong current . We have to walk, jump or lean on fallen tree trunks on the stream to cross it. However, Mr. Binh, a border guard, with a little mistake fell in the stream just before we reached our first destination.
After wild streams, we come to high along grass hills. In this season, these trees bloom with white blossoms that swing in the breeze which is a beautiful sight. Seeing colorful wild daisies make us feel the long road shortened. We go up and down slopes. On some paths, plants are so overgrown that we must walk step by step or clear the path with a knife. Plants with prickles or sharp along grass can tear our clothes or wound us at any time.
We arrive at our stopping station on the bank of a stream at dusk. Here, we can see a follow shack made of dry trees and roofed with leaves. The shack is believed to be constructed by some building workers a year ago. We start to clear the ground, make a tent, look for some firewood and make a fire cook our dinner. For a while, we gather around to have our dinner of stir-fried chicken, grilled chicken in silver paper and boiled vegetables. The border guards take out a bottle of wine and invite us to raise our glasses and drink after a tiring day.
During our meal, Mr. Tong Trung Kien shares that he was Thai but his adoptive parents are Vietnamese. He started working at the frontier post in 1955. He has been patrolling this border area more times than his age.(?? this is not right, needs changing- could just say how many year??) For Mr. Hoang Thanh Binh, a Ha Nhi ethnic guy, recently moved from Pac Ma, this is the first time he has climbed up the mountain. The cozy meal lasts late into the night with everyone telling their stories. We are then lulled to sleep by the campfire by the murmuring sound of the stream under the bright moonlight.
The following morning, we leave all of our baggage behind and only bring water and some food for our lunch. Just as we come across a fierce waterfall and a stone cave, we will not see any water source.(do you leave your bags by the waterfall- needs rewording, does not make sense??) The path is so sloping that we cannot catch up with the frontier guards. However, we experience the magnificence of the mountain from the mysterious clouds and fog and breathe the fresh air. Sometimes, we are amazed at white hills of wildflowers. And then, we pass by carpets of dry leaves and little flowers or go under the red sky of roses(?? are the roses growing above your head?-if so this is correct). Mr. Kien shows us an area of ground, where we can see some tobacco pipes, and says that opium traders often gather here. Traveling to this border area is not easy. Though the road is long and risky, we finally reach the landmark. We shout happily when we see the milestone on the firm concrete base. Although it is noon , the fog spreads around the place. We are all hungry and cold but very happy and proud. The frontier guards check the milestone, perform the sacred ceremony, which is saluting the milestone, and take photos with us. My GPS machine confirms the height of 2,866m, which is the highest milestone of our country. We are excited to take photos to capture this memorable moment . We make a fire and have lunch with rice balls, sesame and salt and tinned meat.
It is a long way from this place to Pu Si Lung peak, especially when we are all very tired and only a small amount of water is left. Because our path is also the border of Vietnam and China, we must catch up with frontier guards in order not to be lost to China. From this height, we have to go across thick bamboo forests as if we were in the “House of Flying Daggers” movie. Bamboos, which are cut to clear the path, accidentally create risky traps for tired travelers. After the bamboo forest, we come to a primeval forest with a diversified floristic composition. The forest is so wet that every tree creeps with moss. Despite the stunning view, our path is actually miserably hard. We climb up peak by peak as if our journey would never end. Unfortunately, the worst thing happens. We run out of the water!
We are tired and thirsty, along with the feeling that our journey would not end when we go down and up peak by peak. I always open my GPS machine to spot the height. Finally, we reach the highest peak. While we are trying to climb up to the last destination, Mr. Kien is waiting for us there. It is a rather thick forest with a wooden pole carved with Chinese words about a group of scientists, who discovered this peak in 2010. It is 4p.m and my GPS machine shows the height of 3,085m (higher than the known number: 3,076). We take our national flag and take photos in pride because we are amongst few Vietnamese conquering this roof of the border region. We are very proud because, on this peak, our ancestors had fought to protect our land for thousands of years.
It is darker. The cold weather and fog cause us go down quickly even though we travel in the darkness. Although we are all experienced climbers of many high mountains, this journey is truly a memorable and meaningful challenge.
See more about Vietnam travel guide at here.