Lung Van Village, also known as the roof of the Muong minority people, in Hoa Binh Province
"˜Clouded' is a way of life in Lung Van Village.
Located more than 1.2 kilometers above the sea level, the commune that somewhat incongruously nestles in a valley is also called the roof of the Muong minority people in the northern province of Hoa Binh.
Getting there is a cloudy affair as well.
From Muong Khen Town in downtown Hoa Binh, one has to get past 13 kilometers of zigzagging, sloping hills to reach Lung Van.
There's only one bus on this route in the afternoon, so most people choose to take a xe om (motorbike taxi).
Road No. 440 is a tough road, with many parts bordered by mountain cliffs. It gets so foggy at times that visibility is restricted to three or four meters in front. The bikes pass Dich Giao, Quyet Chien and Doc Mun communes as they take more than one hour to get to Lung Van.
Fresh green fields of chayote run along the road and lines of young corn stretch to the feet of mountains far away.
The road has been in service for three or four years. Earlier, people from Lung Van Village had to use horses and set out on a journey that took several days.
As you go a further up, a vast green plain spreads out under your feet. The clouds here are so thick you feel like you can hold them.
At this high altitude, it is distinctly cooler.
From Dich Giao, look along the sloping road, up a steep slope, and you catch your first glimpse of Lung Van, where people use thick blankets the whole year round as it's always freezing.
Hoa Binh Province is around 75 kilometers from Hanoi. Take National Highway 70, then turn to National Highway 6. Bus and public bus are both available.
Lung Van children smile as they climb up a slope in their valley
The name of the valley gives a very clear hint as to its looks. Lung, taken from thung lung means valley and Van means cloud.
Almost bypassed by tourism, this is a "wild" place that will make all nature lovers go gaga over it.
People first lived in Lung Van at least a thousand years ago, when it was named Muong Cham but not much is known about the history of the place that also seems shrouded in the mists of time.
Below the layer of mysterious clouds, the place is green all around. The mountains, the terraced paddy fields, the lanes they are all green. And the houses are tiny grey dots on the lush green carpet, scattered among trees and hung on the mountain sides. They show up and disappear as the clouds lift and lower their foggy curtains.
To discover the wilderness in the high valley, ask for the Po, Trau and Tien mountains that surround the valley. The place has several beautiful small caves which don't even have names.
On the face of it, the valley is poor, so poor that most people never get a satisfactory meal, sometimes they don't have rice to eat, but notwithstanding this plight, the residents call their home a fairy land that blesses them with extraordinary longevity.
Unofficial statistics estimate the village has a population of more than 2,000 people with 166 people aged over 80.
The oldest of them is Dinh Thi Heu. She's 113 this year and still of sharp mind. Heu fetches water by herself to cook wine and tends to her garden every day. Her sixth son, whom Heu is living with, is 71 years old.
At Lung Van, guests will be introduced to Thich, a local police officer, who makes sure they can go around freely during their stay. In the village the primary means of transport is the feet.
If they manage to get the go-ahead for a sleep-over at a local's house, visitors will be treated with corn wine and special dishes that Muong people only use to serve guests: chicken roasted with fermented bamboo shoots and pumpkin bud soup.
Usually, visitors are not just welcomed, but also asked to stay over.
The mists of time are lifting over Lung Van, which now has a school and a medical center.
But some of its traditions have been lost, like their attire of yesteryear that is only worn now by old women on festive occasions.
If you are lucky, or if you take the trouble to find out, you can get to meet Thien, 59, who has played music for 20 years and composed dozens of songs and hundreds of dances for the Muong people in the area.
He still sings about trau forests that give oil and fruits, the sound of the gong, of wooden bells, but now, there is a dreamy, nostalgic yearning for lost things in his voice.