A close encounter with a starry sky

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Getting to the top of Muoi Mountain in the northern highlands is tough, but the rewards overcompensate the visitor

Muoi (salt) is a mountain in the Bach Moc Luong Tu Range, a natural division between Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces.

The range’s peak is located over 3,000 meters above the sea level, while Muoi’s top is some 2,800 meters high.

It has become a favorite destination among Vietnamese off-road travelers since 2012.

My friend and I recently responded to an urge to stand on a mountaintop and watch the world from above. And we might get lucky, we told ourselves. We could end up basking in some warm sunlight. This was a delicious prospect after several months of experiencing winter in Hanoi.

Muoi can be approached from both Lai Chau and Lao Cai, but we decided to start our trip in Muong Hum Commune, Lao Cai’s Bat Xat District. However, once we got there, we could find no one who could tell us the route to Bach Moc Luong Tu.

In the end, A Tua, a young man from Sang Ma Sao Commune, about six kilometers from Muong Hum, claimed that he did a lot hiking and knew how to get to the range’s peak.

He led us to go through a five-kilometer mountain pass to reach Ky Quan San Village, where we left our motorbikes at a local school.

Then we climbed to the house of another young man named A Se at the height of some 1,000 meters, and had lunch there before resuming the trip with the two local men as our tour guides.

We followed a path created by local hikers and entered a dense forest.

It was around midday but it was cold and there was almost no sunlight. As we climbed higher, it got colder and darker.

At the height of 2,000 meters snow and collapsed trees were everywhere.

Hungry and tired after struggling to keep walking in snow and over broken trees, we finally reached a wooden tent in the middle of a valley, next to a stream, and surrounded by snow-covered slopes.

We lit a fire and had dinner.

Through all the travelling I have done, I had never seen a sky that had so many stars so close. Although we’d had a tiring day, we sat up almost the whole night watching the magical sky. One more reason for keeping awake was that we had to take turns keeping the fire going.

Even though we tried to start as early as possible the next morning in the hope of seeing the sunrise from the mountaintop, the sun was making its way up when we were still walking in the forest.

But it still felt amazing to walk in the snow and under rare sunlight that shone through tree canopies.

When we got through the forest and climbed rock cliffs to reach the top, we were treated to a breathtaking view the beauty of which is difficult to describe.

We just watched silently as white clouds floated around mountain peaks as if they were islets in an ocean.

Getting there

THINGS TO KNOW

You should keep track of weather forecasts at Lao Cai and Lai Chau before the trip. If it is gloomy, do not worry, because when you reach the height of 2,000 meters, the sky will become clear.

As it is very cold on the mountain, you should prepare clothes, gloves, scarves, stockings, sleeping bags, heating pads, and heating mats to keep you warm.

You should wear rain boots to not get wet when crossing streams and walking in the snow.

Stay in wooden tents built by local hikers because they are located on flat areas away from wind and near water sources.

Because the roads that go to Muoi Mountain are not very good, you should be prepared to walk for a long time, or hire local people to ride you to the mountain’s foot on motorbikes.

It takes at least two days and one night to reach the top of Muoi Mountain.

From Hanoi, you can take a bus or a train to Lao Cai. The fare is around VND250,000 (US$11.7) a person. You can bring your motorbike with you for VND300,000 ($14) each.

The best time to set out from Hanoi is before 8 p.m., because it will be early in the morning when you reach Lao Cai.

From Lao Cai Town, there are two buses to Muong Hum Commune, about 52 kilometers away, every day. But, a motorbike will give you more freedom during the trip.

If you do not bring a bike with you, you can rent one at guesthouses or hotels in Muong Hum.

Ask local people for directions to the headquarters of People’s Committee in Sang Ma Sao Commune, which is some six kilometers away.

In Sang Ma Sao, you can leave your bike at the school of Ky Quan San Village, some five kilometers away.

Then, you can ask local people for the house of A Se (one of our guides), who will take you to the top. It takes 45 minutes to climb to his house where you can have lunch before climbing the mountain.

From A Se’s house, it takes five-six hours to reach the tent we stayed in at the height of 2,100 meters.

The next morning you should get up very early to catch the sunrise on mountain slopes.

If you start before 5:30 a.m., you will arrive at the top around 10 a.m.

Later, you return to the tent for a lunch break before climbing down the mountain.

r’s chilliness and fogginess.

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