After a steady climb of about 3 hours we came to rest looking down on a charming Dao village and I was struck by the order and diligence apparent in their horticulture. Neat little plots grew corn, salad crops, cabbages, and herbs. Pigs and chickens and all their babies wandered around at liberty. Children, also at liberty, suddenly careered past us, flying dangerously down a hill on push bikes far too big for them, shrieking with laughter, whilst others gathered around us, either assuredly posing or scampering away coyly when we tried to photograph them.
The green gem between mountains and forests of Ba Be
All along the walk, Mr Linh stopped to chat with the locals, a joke with an old man, enquiring after the health of a grandmother and playing with the children. Later we came to the Flower Hmong village of. and watched the charming scene of a group of village ladies in their spectacularly colourful ethnic dress, excitedly gathered around a pots and pans salesman, his motor bike festooned with the bright aluminium vessels.
Enquiring the way of a toothless farmer, we altered direction and were soon heading up a steep incline. A man in another hut directed us further and we launched into thick jungle of Ba Be, over steep and slippery rocks. For the first time the smile had slipped from Linh's face. We really didn't know where we were, had no map, phone signal, or GPS. The way was difficult because although there was sometimes a tiny track there were little areas where trees had been felled so we had to clamber over the trunks hoping to pick up the track the other side. We battled our way up and over the thickly wooded hill and after passing a couple of deserted huts, we found one inhabited by an ancient crone and her daughter who looked at us as if we had landed from Mars. Linh managed to make them understand where we were heading, (all the groups have their own languages, and the elderly do not always speak Vietnamese), and it was apparent by his over brave countenance that we had come the wrong way. Fortunately the younger of the two, easily 50, offered to show us the way, backtracking Into the dense jungle and back up the slippery rocky mountain but in a slightly different direction. Dressed In her ethnic swinging pleated black skirt, black fabric bound legs and plastic slippers, hacking her way through with a machete she had unsheathed from the wooden holder on the back of her belt, she plodded surefooted up the hill. When we reached the peak, she pointed through the trees to the valley below, with signs of civilisation and left us to find our way down.
Hiking with Linh in forest
A cool boy ready for a photo
Relieved, and after a little dance of triumph, we started descending but it was by no means straightforward and we were often following just buffalo tracks through the lush vegetation, There was still time to enjoy the unparalleled experience of being alone in primary jungle, the immense trees towering above, the lianas threatening to entangle us, the ferns, giving way to impressive stands of bamboo. The sounds of the crickets came and went so sometimes it was near deafening and sometimes silent. Slipping and sliding down the dank muddy path, suddenly the marimba tone of the iPhone sang its way into the jungle and Mr Linh snapped into action taking another booking, for all the world as if he was sitting at his desk in his office. Eventually, heading for the village sounds of buffalo bells and the clucking of chickens we found our way to the valley floor and out to the road, where thanks to another phone call, Mr Linh's brother soon arrived in the car to transport us the 15 K home.
The views all along this walk were absolutely gorgeous, and the variety, from the rice fields and neat horticulture, to the karst mountains and the thick primary jungle really add up to a first class
Overview behind Jungle of Ba Be
hike. Now we have done this first trial, Mr Linh knows exactly the way and any serious fit hikers would find it a highly memorable day.
This is the kind of walking I was looking for in Mondalkiri and Ratanakiri in Northern Cambodia which I just could not find as so much of the land has been deforested there. It was the most stunning and exhilarating hike I have done in many months of travelling, and I feel privileged to have been allowed to accompany Linh in this exciting exploration of such a remote and beautiful region.
- Highly recommend: HIDDEN TRAILS OF BA BE NATIONAL PARK 3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS