Located in the northwest with an altitude of 1,200m - 1,500m above sea level, Hang Kia and Pa Co communes in Hoa Binh Province are covered by clouds almost year-round. This place is not only a great hideaway from the summer heat but also worth a visit in the autumn.
Hang Kia – Pa Co is an impressive spot for visitors in the autumn. Photo vietbao.vn
Leaving from the centre of Mai Chau District and after travelling about 30km over the mountain 1,200m high above sea level, we reached Pa Co Commune and after about 10km more, Hang Kia.
Looking down from above we saw the green colour of the mountains and forests, hiding a glimpse of the roofs of the ethnic Mong people in the foggy space. We were interested in the landscape from the small, winding road with steep, narrow bends to the tea hills, stone fences, yellow canola flowers in front of each porch.
Going deeper into the villages, sometimes we found Mong women embroidering and their children playing.
The piles of firewood piled in the middle of the yard and the thin smoke rising from the top of the kitchens helped us leave our worries behind to enjoy a sense of peace.
Besides the road to explore the villages, we went to destinations with pristine beauty such as tea hills and plum gardens in Ta Xong A, Ta Xo and Thung A Lang.
Along the road connecting the hamlets, the high points in the mountain are ideal places to see clouds.
There is Heaven Gate or on Sam Tha mountain you can see Pu Luong peak of neighbouring Thanh Hoa Province and Pha Luong peak of Son La Province.
Hang Kia – Pa Co has many small valleys interwoven between the Hang Kia – Pa Co nature reserve. The terrain is mainly steep hills and mountains with 'cat-ears' rocks.
Pa Co Commune's population accounts for 99 per cent of the Mong who maintain many traditional crafts such as weaving, indigo dyeing, wax painting, and iron forging.
Hang Kia – Pa Co now attracts more and more tourists. Photo vovdulich.vn
According to the Hoa Binh provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, brocade products of Pa Co have been shipped to many domestic and international markets.
Hang Kia – Pa Co used to be a busy place for the drug trade but now life here has returned to peace, with infrastructure like schools, medical stations and a telecommunication network, improving people's lives. Many households have started to develop a form of homestay tourism.
The peaceful beauty of Hang Kia Commune in Mai Chau District, Hoa Binh Province. Photo aprotravel.vn
In Hang Kia, we stayed at Y Mua homestay at the entrance to the village and enjoyed mountainous life.
Waking up early in the morning in the chilly weather, we felt the fresh air of the dawn and watched clouds floating at our feet. Without the hustle and bustle of the city, we wallowed in the wild natural landscape and the hospitality of the village.
Climbing to the Heaven Gate, a unique 'cloud hunting' spot located 1,100m above the sea, we saw the sea of white clouds floating.
In Hang Kia – Pa Co, we experienced mountain climbing, picking wild tea and forest vegetables, farming with villagers, gathering on the porch to embroider dresses, learning to draw wax and brocade weaving.
In the evening, we enjoyed the cuisine of the Mong, like maize wine, thang co (horse meat and offal stew), banh day (round rice cake), men men (steamed minced maize), chicken, pig and bamboo shoots mixed with mac khen, an indispensable spice in the mountainous cuisines.
After that, we relaxed and soaked our feet with medicinal herbs in the cool weather, and drank a glass of maize wine and watched the starry night sky.
Y Mua homestay is one of two homestays in Hang Kia, open 2012. The owner Y Mua said when there are many tourists, the homestay needs 15 people to work.
“For many years, the local government has always wondered how to increase the income of the local people in Hang Kia and Pa Co. Up to now, the development of eco-tourism and community tourism has been identified as a direction for the people of the two communes to develop their economy while preserving and promoting their unique cultural values,” said Dang Mai Son, chairman of Mai Chau District’s People’s Committee.
“Currently, tourists and domestic and international travel agencies have started to know Hang Kia - Pa Co, but in the two communes, there are only several households doing community tourism combining providing service travel. These activities are also fragmented,” said Son.
According to Son, recently, Mai Chau District has held many meetings with locals to encourage them to register for the development of homestay service, while the rest of the households are encouraged to farm clean produce to serve tourism.
Households running homestays are trained to improve their business management and tourism skills, and are supported by the tourism authority with facilities such as blankets, curtains, beds and wardrobes to serve tourists.