Some days in the nature conservation area of Ngoc Son Ngo Luong
Want to find the cool and clean air … and silence … All what is now often lacking in Vietnamese cities. Let’s go for the great outdoors of the very new nature conservation area, Ngoc Son Ngo Luong. We will ride for 150km, announces Mr. Khan, our guide. So let’s go for a few hours, on a small and fairly busy road. Very quickly we find the rocky peaks, characteristic of northern Vietnam. Beautiful scenery made of karsts silhouettes that stand quietly in the mist.
Arrived at Ngoc Son Ngo Luong, we are greeted by our local guide, Ms. Khuyen, a young woman of the Muong ethnic group. This region is one of the oldest settlement of this ethnic group. The Muong (pronounced Meu-eung) are the largest of the 53 officially recognized minorities of Vietnam. With an estimated population of 1.2 million people, they live in the mountainous regions of the north. The Muong are closely related to Khinh Vietnamese. They are linguistically close to them, but culturally closer to Tays, another minority very present in the north of the country and that has settled as well in Laos and in the north of Thailand and Myanmar.
After our first traditional Muong meal, we leave for a 3 hours hike on a trail that winds up mountains and hillside.
Few people here, we meet a few motorbikes and some people returning from their fields. Towards the end of the day, we reach the village of Mu, where children refresh themselves in a mountain stream, having fun on small bamboo rafts, surely made by the fathers. A colony ducklings swims near them.
We continue our walk through the rice terraces, facing the karsts, to Khuong village. The limestone contained in the water down the mountain stream, created here full of small natural pools, ideal for a swim. We meet families who welcome us in this village for 2 nights. 3 families are chosen for our small group of 6 people and thus give more people an opportunity to receive at their home and participate in rural areas welcoming.
We might have a very deep sleep, the temperature is pleasant. The humidity of the forests around us gives a little more freshness even.
The next morning, we go to meet the villagers, already at their daily work in the rice terraces.
In this season, they grow corn. They will plant the rice again when the heavy rains are back, in July or August. We cross the plantations, villagers greet us from their traditional homes. Many families seem to like to live away from the main village, as if they wanted to enjoy nature and the idyllic landscape. Here they plant different fruits, vegetables, raise beautiful fish …
We arrive at Mu waterfall. The limestone created, here as well, beautiful natural pools. Youngster from villages around made the trip here to swim or contemplate the beauty of nature, with their love.
The picnic lunch, and the nap that followed, was a great moment of relaxation, in the shade of a big tree, contemplating the rice terraces, with a light wind to lower the temperature. Then, at the cool end of the day, we meet villagers working in their fields. They remove weeds, by spade or by hand. We pass the end of the day to help them and return to the village for a swim in the stream.
Once again, our hosts treated us well, this evening.
They gave us to taste their traditional alcohol, a rice wine in a jar, that we drank with bamboo straws. This jar is drunk by several people and gives the opportunity to a lot of drinking games.
The next morning, it’s already time to say goodbye to our hosts. We pass by the school to say hello to the teachers and children of the village. We shared small gifts, bought in the nearby town, that teachers can give as rewards to the most deserving kids.
We walk to Mon village, at the foot of the mountains, pass through other villages, other rice fields and farming areas. Green is still all around us. The fog gives a mysterious side to the karsts, as a gradient of shadow. After 2 hours of walking and a nice break in a coffee shop in one of the villages, we arrive in Mon where another family greets us.
The mother is really an excellent cook. She cooked for us dishes never tasted before. Some have a very original presentation as this rolled omelet with black mushrooms. In this open and airy house, we all finish with a good nap.
When we wake up, the Conservation Area Rangers are already here to bring us, on the back of their motorbikes, to the departure point of our little adventure.
Another great time, with all these landscapes, these typical houses, these faces, seen during two days in this place really out of the world, parading in front of us again.