Climbing to the top of Lao Than, my frail body trembled in the slightest breeze, trying to cling to every little bush that managed to get a foothold on this bare peak.
The mountain is the highest peak in Y Ty commune, Lao Cai province, widely known among the Vietnamese hiking community for its beautiful cloud-level scenery.
Lao Than, also known as Hau Pong San in Phin Ho village, remains off the beaten path, although in recent years Y Ty commune has become better known as a tourist destination in the northwestern region.
The trek to Lao Than is comparatively easier than many of the surrounding peaks. Although the experience is not as exciting, it is compensated by the beautiful scenery along the route.
At 7am in the morning in March, I woke up in the A Ho homestay of the H’mong ethnic group in central Y Ty. When I looked outside, the whole place was still covered by morning clouds due to the high altitude. A companion and I quickly refreshed ourselves with a breakfast of noodles and started our hike.
From the center of Y Ty commune, we hiked another 5 km along the road heading to Sa Pa to the foot of Lao Than Mountain. After the first two kilometers, we came to a junction signaling the border area, near Y Ty Lodge. Here, we turned left.
From the junction, we continued along the red dirt road into the mountains. We travel along rows of flowering docynia indica trees until we reach Phin Ho school. We park the bike at the home of a nearby ethnic local and begin our Lao Than challenge.
Our first steps took us through rows of ancient trees, signaling the untouched nature of our route. First we walked up a winding, though not too steep, slope, with various flowers in bloom on either side. I could recognize some of them, like the pink blossoms of the azalea, or the white and golden pegs of the cobbler.
Next, we came across a small sign, a useful gesture by the locals to help guide trekking tourists, which indicated a distance of 7 km from Lao Than peak.
The natural forest gradually opened up before my eyes, with twisted vines and trees obscured by time. We continued through the repetitive scenery for another hour and a half, before stretches of flat road and bare mountains appeared.
The bare mountains surprised me. Deforestation had invaded the entire area, with logs strewn everywhere and the smell of burning hay traveling on the mountain breeze. As we moved on, the winds from the Chinese border were getting stronger and stronger, weakening any walker.
We took a lunch break near a large mountain, enjoying the meal our hostel host had kindly prepared, which included rice balls, a few boiled eggs and minced meat. Normally, hikers staying at A Ho Homestay also hire a porter, though I opted not to as my companion is an avid hiker with plenty of previous experience.
After the hurried lunch, we continued along the unnervingly windy trail, which took a rocky turn. The trail was occupied by scattered boulders, which slowed us down a lot. We made a stop at a beautiful rock cave, partly to catch our breath and partly to enjoy the unbeatable scenery.
Although entering the cave is a difficult task, with many rocky ledges impeding it, the picturesque scenes inside were worth the effort, with waves of clouds flooding the early morning gathered at the bottom of the cave.
After spending a good while in the cave, we continued our journey upwards. The higher we climbed, the thinner the air became, which weakened my strength a lot. At an altitude of 2,600 meters, I finally saw a small hut, the only established resting point on the entire route where tourists could spend the night.
The outside of the hut was decorated with many messages of encouragement left by locals, hoping to help hikers find the determination to finish the journey. However, the hut, set up by the host of A Ho Homestay, although it can accommodate up to 70 guests, was only open on weekends.
As my companion and I had agreed in advance to finish the trip in one day, we only made a brief stop here to take photos. Next to the cabin was a log that many hikers had used to create beautiful photos to commemorate their hike. I, of course, didn’t miss the opportunity.
From the hut, it only took us another 300 meters to the top. The path here was covered only with fern bushes, without any tall trees. Standing here, I turned my eyes to the horizon, seeing the high mountains on the other side, with light rays of sunlight highlighting the ripples of clouds below.
After three hours of hard walking, I had at last conquered the Lao Than peak.
Transportation: From Sa Pa, you can travel to Y Ty commune by car. This road is quite narrow and can only accommodate small vehicles. After arriving at Y Ty commune, you can rent a motorbike to reach the foot of Lao Than Mountain. This route is quite steep, with bad terrain, quite tough for inexperienced travelers. After arriving at the foot of Lao Than, you can park the motorbike at a local’s house to start trekking.
Accommodation:Lao Than is not the most demanding trek, so not many tourists visit this destination. Currently, only A Ho Homestay (tel: 0125 575 1172) offers overnight accommodation.
Porter: Although some experienced hikers can conquer the peak by themselves, it is recommended to hire a porter at A Ho Homestay to avoid unfavorable accidents.
Travel Time: It is recommended to avoid trekking in the rainy season between May and August, a time when the entire route becomes slippery and more dangerous. Apart from that, if you travel from September to October, you can see the terraced rice fields in bloom. The flower season occurs from February to April. This is also the time when clouds tend to consolidate into visible waves, creating a feast for the eyes.
Preparation: Since the trekking route is quite deserted, please prepare food, water and warm clothes if you decide to hike the Lao Than route. It is likely that you will not meet anyone along the route, as there is no trading post. In addition, the weather is cold all year round, so it is essential to keep warm.
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