by Lan Dung
|Switsh: White Thai women wash their hair in a stream on the road to Hieu hamlet.
During my adventures across the country, I had been amazed by the twisting roads in the north and impressed by the driving skills of local residents on their Honda Win motorbikes.
Something inside asked me to get on a motorbike and challenge myself on these dirt roads. However, only when my friend asked me to take part in an off-road trip to Pu Luong Nature Reserve in the northern province of Thanh Hoa did my dream come true.
Located in the northwest of the province, Pu Luong is an ideal place for trekkers to train to improve their physical strength and drivers to test their driving skills.
People who love to go on off-road trips like to experience difficulties on dirt roads in rainy weather to get a feeling that they can overcome challenges in their lives. While we were still at home, we got very excited about the journey after looking at photos of drivers carrying motorbikes and walking through a deep stream, and being followed by passengers carrying luggage.
|Hidden paradise: Beautiful scenery on the road to Kho Muong hamlet in Ba Thuoc District's Thanh Son Commune in northern Thanh Hoa Province.
We expected to have the same experience but it did not rain for the two days we stayed there. However, it does not mean that we did not face any difficulties on this trip.
After having a night of sound sleep in Hoa Binh Province's Mai Chau District, 12 members of our group headed for Kho Muong hamlet in Ba Thuoc District's Thanh Son Commune on road 15C. The road was not paved with concrete and was covered with gravel and small rocks. That damaged the inner tube of a motorbike's tyre and prevented us from speeding up. Pillion passengers had to get off and walk ahead, while the drivers struggled a lot to ride their motorcycles properly. Heavy rain earlier had caused landslides, leaving only a 1.2m-wide path clear. All riders reduced their speed and, one by one, drove through the path, paying careful attention to the road.
It took us nearly three hours to reach Kho Muong hamlet where we were welcomed warmly by Thai ethnic people in their traditional clothes. After ordering lunch at one house built on stilts, we trekked 1.5km to Kho Muong cave and enjoyed the fresh atmosphere of the countryside.
|Tough going: Bikers try to go navigate a 1.2m-wide path partly blocked by a landslide. — VNS File Photos
The cave, which is known to be one of the most gorgeous ones in the nature reserve, has blocks of 250-million-year-old limestone and is home to at least four different kinds of bats, such as insect-eating bats and fruit bats. We could not see the bats because the light from our mobile phones was not enough to help us proceed further.
After saying goodbye to the beautiful land, we faced a new challenge on the road to Hieu hamlet. The first few kilometres did not bring any trouble for us but the slope leading to the hamlet's waterfall did. When we arrived, another group of people was there, trying to help each other. The bikers were revving up and their pillion passengers were pushing the bikes from behind. Although it started to rain lightly when our turn came, we could still complete the hard task. Some members took pleasure in relaxing in the water and others took photos of the waterfall.
On the way to Nua hamlet, we saw pumps transporting water to the paddy fields and Thai women taking bath in the stream. Seeing the sunset and cloud-covered mountains, we felt very satisfied for what we had accomplished.
We stayed in Nua hamlet for one night before continuing our journey. As scheduled, we intended to trek to Kit hamlet, located in the core area of the nature reserve. Unfortunately, one of our bikes had a breakdown the next morning. We had brought only simple tools for repairing punctures. So we had to take it to a repair shop in a nearby town and did not have time to discover any more areas.
Right after the bike was repaired, we were on the road back to Ha Noi. Tran Thi Phuong Thao, who had joined the off-road trip to Pu Luong for the first time, said that she was a bit disappointed that the weather was good as she could not have the same experience in rainy weather with her friends.
"I am very fond of off-roads trips because of the wild beauty of the landscapes. Dangerous roads always make us frightened but when we go through them, we get a feeling that there is no difficulty that we cannot overcome," she said.
"I think that in all trips, pillion passengers have to follow basic regulations and cooperate with the bikers. They also need to learn signs to show the way for the motorbikes behind."
Meanwhile, leader Tran Hung, who has taken part in other off-road trips, advised that bikers should maintain their vehicles before every journey and should equip themselves with protective equipment for legs and hands as well as high quality helmets.
"I love everything in Pu Luong because the landscape is so beautiful and its people are very friendly and willing to help anytime. I will go back there one day because there are still many places to discover," he smiled. — VNS