The 1,541-meter-high Phia Po peak is enticing trekkers as a lesser-known adventure destination boasting an absolute pristine beauty.
Phia Po Mountain, or Cha Mountain, is part of the Mau Son mountain complex in Lang Son Province, northern Vietnam. It is 30 kilometers from Lang Son Town and 200 kilometers from Hanoi. Tourists from Hanoi often take a two-day-one-night trip to the summit, called the "roof" of Lang Son. They start by car or motorbike to the foot of the mountain, then hire a guide and porters to carry gear such as tents and food to the top.
The journey to Phia Po peak is divided into two stages. The first is trekking 3.5 kilometers from the foot of the mountain to a campsite, where tourists can rest and spend the night. The next day sees the ascent to the peak. The total distance is about 14 kilometers. The trail to the mountain peak is not too long but steep and is newly opened. People with good fitness can finish the trip in a day, while those who want to enjoy the trek with more rest are recommended to follow the full two-day-tour.
On the first day of the trip, it takes visitors three hours to travel from Hanoi to Loc Binh District, Lang Son. They can have lunch there before going to the foot of Phia Po Mountain and starting their trek journey in the afternoon. At first, travelers will pass through dense forests on narrow paths skirting the roots of enormous trees and boulders. The following terrain is gentle hills, covered with low grass. In fall, the hill grass turns a bright yellow. In spring and winter, the mountains are always misty. Currently, in April, the Phia Po mountain valleys are covered with white clouds, making the view even more mystic.
The journey from the foot of the mountain to the camping site takes about two to 2.5 hours. It may take longer for those who are not physically strong or for photography buffs. Tourists will stay here the night. At night, the temperature fluctuates from 19 to 22 degrees Celsius, with little or no significant rain. Visitors should bring an extra set of clothes and socks in case they get wet.
On the second day, the journey involves about three to 3.5 kilometers of walking through a steeper and denser forest. In the rainy season, mosquitoes and leeches are rampant, so visitors need to wear headscarves, long-sleeved clothing, and carry insect repellent.
Even on the weekend, visitors would encounter very few other trekkers. The biodiversity of the landscape, not to mention the ever changing cloud patterns, makes every step a surprise.
Trekking Phia Po peak in April, visitors can also catch some wild forest flowers blooming along the way such as pink Azalea, bell-shaped peach, orchids and many others.
The last stretch to reach the top of Phia Po resembles the back of a giant dinosaur, covered by shrubs, tall grass, and trees. During rainy days, visitors can enjoy a sea of clouds from here.
Next to the mountain is a forest of ancient Azalea trees with their roots and trunks under moss and lichen. On the second day, tourists ascend to the top in the morning, then return to the campsite for lunch, recover their tents and descend the mountain in the afternoon to return to Hanoi in the evening. A two-day-one-night camping and trekking tour costs VND1.5 million ($65) per person. The fee includes both tour guide and porters. If tourists bring their own food and tents, the cost drops to VND500,000 per person a day, including tour guide and porters. Currently, Dinh Van Hong, 32, with more than three years' experience as a tour guide, is the only person organizing Phia Po trekking tours.