Y Ty engulfed in clouds.
After navigating the twists and turns leading from Sa Pa, I embarked on a journey to discover cloud-covered Y Ty.
Y Ty in Bat Xat District, about 70 km to the north of resort town Sa Pa, is rather isolated due to northwestern Vietnam’s high surrounding mountains. The commune, which is 2,000 meters above sea level, is home to H’mong, Dao, Giay and Ha Nhi ethnic minority groups.
Despite the well-built tarmac, it took me nine hours to travel the 70 km, due mostly to my desires to capture the breathtaking scenery en route. I left Sa Pa for Y Ty at 7 a.m. via provincial roads DT155 and DT158, passing through Xeo Village, Muong Hum region, and Muong Hum Market, before reaching my final destination.
I was received by A Ho, of H’mong ethnicity, owner of my homestay near the commune’s center. He gave me a crash-course on the surrounding area to prepare me for my following journey. After spending a pleasant night enjoying the dining specialties with a touch of ethnic corn alcohol, I fell asleep.
With the land famed for its beautiful cloud-covered peaks, I decided to get a few good pictures on my first morning, leaving before sunrise towards Ngai Thau Thuong and Ngai Thau Ha, two renowned and picturesque villages, 5 km from my homestay.
Exiting the lodge, I climbed on my dew-covered motorbike, burning the gas along mountainous passes. As I rode, waves of clouds washed up the mountainous cliffs, resembling a highway to heaven leading to Ngai Thau Thuong and Ngai Thau Ha. Hiding below the white horizon lay lush terraced rice fields, dotted with H’mong huts.
When I returned to the homestay, I met A Dua, a younger brother of my host, who would be my tour guide for the day. After a quick breakfast, A Dua accompanied me along the Vietnam-China border to Border Marker No.94 of Bat Xat District, the starting point of the Red River.
Ngai Tro Commune, Bat Xat District.
As we traveled, we passed through A Lu and Ngai Tro, two poverty-stricken communes situated at isolatingly high altitudes.
A Lu is a border commune with monocropped, infertile land. As I visited Y Ty in March, the fields were barren, but the arid ground was covered with blooming docynia trees, blanketing the villages with a white shade of natural beauty.
If you visit the communes in ripe rice season from late August to early September or harvest season September-October, you will come across many trekkers enjoying the beauty of golden terraced fields.
After having lunch in Nam Giang Village, A Dua took me further down Provincial Road DT158 along the bank of Lung Po Stream towards Lung Po Flag Pole.
Lung Po Flag Pole, Bat Xat District.
At 3 p.m, we traveled along the borderline admiring the local scenery, passing by many Giay ethnic communities.
Finally, after a hard day, we reached Border Marker No. 94, the final point of Lao Cai Province. The 118-meter high granite marker was built on December 8, 2004, on the Red River banks.
During my remaining days in the region, I visited as many corners of Y Ty as possible to discover its hidden beauty. While Sim San Village had mesmerizing spiral terraced fields, Lao Chai Village had neat square lodges built by the Ha Nhi people. I even reached the odd 1-meter bridge crossing the raging Lung Po at Border Marker No. 87.
But my host A Ho claimed I still left many stones unturned in my search for its beauty, advising me to prolong my stay.
I had to decline his kind offer, saving those discoveries for the second journey here, on which I set my heart.
A Giay ethnic woman stitching clothes, Lao Cai Province.
*Travelling: Motorbikes are the most recommended mode of travel from Sa Pa to Y Ty since it is challenging for cars to traverse Y Ty’s mountainous route.
*Lodging: There are many homestays in Y Ty. My favourite is A Ho Homestay (Tel.: 035 348 4877), with good services and reasonable prices (VND100,000 – $4.3). The owner also provides a private-lodging choice for VND1 million ($43).
*Food: Y Ty has many mountainous specialities, including chicken, pork; smoked sausage, ethnic corn alcohol, and ginger-based alcohol.
*Experiences: There are many tall peaks around Y Ty to please avid hikers, from Lao Than, Back Luong Tu to Ky Quan San.
*Time to visit: To have the best view of Y Ty’s cloud-covered region, it is recommended to travel from September to the following April during the dry season, with a possibility of snow. In early April, you would also be welcomed by blooming rhododendron trees, covering the region with a pink-violet shade. It is quite dangerous to travel to the mountainous area during the rainy season, though, in Y Ty, there are a few ethnic tours for you to enjoy. From late August to October, you could experience the blooming golden terraced rice fields.
The center of Y Ty, one of the best known places for clouds in Vietnam’s northern uplands.
Photos by Xu Kien