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Conquer the dead road to Ta Xi Lang

Ta Xi Lang village
I was very excited when our group will make a trip to Ta Xi Lang in Yen Bai, I have been expecting this trip for a long time as it is reckoned as the "route of death" with steep paths, rugged and difficult slopes. The curiosity or the nostalgia of the jungle for a long time made me nervous looking for the day we set our feet on this place.

On a hot Friday of Hanoi summer, we started off from Cau Giay with 5 motorbikes, total 9 members. Waiting for people to prepare luggage, under the heat of summer and muggy atmosphere at the dusty Xuan Thuy roadside I was anxious for the beginning so that i can enjoy the fresh air of the highland atmosphere.

We started off at 6pm from Hanoi National University along highway 32 to Son Tay township to Trung Ha bridge and over to Thanh Thuy - Tan Son - Thu Cuc districts...The crowded line of vehicles in Hanoi became sparse and the streets of Hanoi disappeared behind us. It was really a daring dicision to do the trip in the evening and may be dangerous however in the hot weather it would be very hard and tiring for group members.

But there is an unfortunate happening with my group in this trip. At midnight, when we arrived at the Ba Khe pass, 148km from Hanoi, one driver in my group Tran Duc was so sleepy and had an accident on the road, the curves on the pass have defeated a seasoned rider, he lost control and crashed into the railing on the road, his legs were injured and unable to stand up, the fellow girl sitting behind him was slightly bruised. Fortunatety the accident was not too serious but we must temporarily stop the trip and took him to hospital in Son Tay, we were a bit disappointed as the accient happened when we were near Van Chan district, everyone was tired, and worried for his health. Watching him suffered when doctors put antiseptic and bandaged his wounds we all felt pity. We spent the night at "Hospital hotel" without bed or mats, just lying on the lounge chair of the hospital and slept until 4 am the head member called everyone up to decide whether to keep going or not.

It was really difficult to decide to continue the trip or not, it would be very frustrated to return to the start line when the target is very close, only 5 people decided to continue including me. We jumped on our motorbikes at 5am, we arrived at Van Chan as the sun was rising. The sun here was not severe like in Hanoi. We filled all the "horses" and began the trip to Ta Xi Lang with determination to conquer "the road of death".

It was unknown due to the terrain or by accident that the routes in the northwest always offer the most chalenge, there is always a common thing is the solitary and remoteness of the villages in the middle of the jungle, is the immense precious timber forest such as Po Mu, is the land of drug trafficking and smuggling...West Yen Bai is not an exception with such villages as Ta Nhi, Che Tao, Lim Mong and Mu Cao nicknamed as 4 big places of death in Yen Bai.

The road to Ta Xi Lang is indeed a challenge for motorcycle riders, including the most experienced drivers. It's steep, steep and rugged rocks, big pebbles coupled with deep abysses, below are dry streams full of the orphaned rocks. The green mountains looming in the mist, the clouds and the villages of H'mong people scattered in the distance on the hills.

The slopes here can only be described in one sentence "terribly high". The bikes were crawling at top gear, sometimes the road is blocked by big rocks and the riders at the back had to get off and pushed the bike. We had a tough time over the first slope to find out a higher the slope ahead, and even harder to go over.

And we passed such 4 or slopes in the nervous mood, anxiety mixed with excitement, surprise. If you were in Hanoi at midday your skin would be burnt however the weather here is very strange, blue sky, clouds glided through the high mountains, and brilliant sunshine on the valley side. Of course, the task of the driver is driving, and for his companion at the back was to take photos, lots of beautiful photos.

Journey to Ta Xi Lang is just like rumors! Upward slopes full of large rocks, bumpy and rugged, at some places we had to hold our breath walking by the cracks on the road with the deep abyss beside. However difficulty did not make us frustrated but even more united, helped each other everywhere possible

Climbing to Ta Cao village is a new challenge for us, the slopes were higher with bigger rocks, sometimes there were only dirt road segments, as slippery as there had just been a rain. Water flowing from the cliffs to the road, I was almost "fell" off at a piece like this.

Through bad road, we saw about 3-4 stilt houses on the roadside. All were closed, there were only some boys playing on the street. We got off, approached them carrying candies from Hanoi, asking them and then took pictures with the children. From the time we came to Ta Xi Lang it was the first chance we had to talk with humans, enough to see here how remote it is.

We asked them again if there was road up there they said the end of the road is a dead end. Still determined to go forward we jumped on the bikes and did not expect the road was evern worse. Along the way, we met a few people going herd, greeted them and was asked "what are you going there for? only buffaloes can go this way" The whole group was laughing because of the honesty of the boy riding on the buffalo and continued to go forward. The short ride is going to finish, we got off and walked, we met some Hmong girls carrying firewood on their back and doing the sewing at the same time.

By the end of the road is actually a dead end, but not only the buffalo and we were not the only riders, from tiny paths plunged into the forest we saw two Win motorbikes carrying wood driving out. Ta Xi Lang has been known as the point of Po Mu timber and was victim of timber logging however this was the firstf time I saw Po Mu tree although it was just 2 pieces on the bike of the traffickers

After resting a while at the road end, our leader decided to get out to the centre of Ta Xi Lang village, it was up to thousands of meters from our position downwards, from high we saw a valley like a giant basin, In the basin are terraced fields, green forests, a few small houses on stilts looming, we saw Van Chan district and centre of Ta Xi Lang village fits in the basin.

We saw a few houses built in good condition, we approached and found it was the school and the office of people's committee, we had a brief look and for the driver to have a rest, it was weekend and there were no student, nobody was at the office of the people's committee, nobody was seen about, just deserted as the remoteness of the area.

We came out in the late afternoon, everybody was tired and hungry, we decided to come and ask at a family in the village for cooking, the host is a young woman with her son about 7-8 years old, after some negotiation with her we got her approval.

People in these areas are very accommodating and hospitable. If in the city a stranger is rarely allowed to come to home like this. We had to be very grateful to the kind host otherwise we would have to drink water with uncooked instant noodle. However we went, accepted hardships, difficulty and risks

We knew before that there was no restaurant nor market and had prepared the instant noodle, the lady helped us cook our food however there is no water tank or wells at all, we had to bring the cans to fetch water 1 km away, how difficult the life of people here.

Saying goodbye to Ta Xi Lang, goodbye the stilt houses, valleys and waterfalls we returned to Van Chan district and planed to have more trips. We want to find how big and beautiful our country is and also learn to love our fellow people, those who live in difficulty in remore places.

Ta Xi Lang is a commune in Tram Tau district, Yen Baiu province, borders Ban Mu commune in the north and Phu Yen, Bac Yen districts of Son La province in the west, on the south side is Van Chan district. All people here are H'mong people, they make a living by growing rice and cut firewood in addition to the illegal transportation of Po Mu wood. From Van Chan to Ta Xi Lang is about 19km and it take 2 hours to reach the commune centre.

Featuring a rugged terrain on nearly 2000m altitude, dissected by deep gorges, high mountains and steep cliffs...The road to Ta Xi Lang is extremely difficult. Previously only dirt road, now widened to 4-5m, but landslides often cause the path congested, many sections only fit one motorbike wheel, the slope of this road it is hard to imagine: 15-20%.

Just about 10 years ago, Ta Xi Lang was famous as the centre of Po Mu wood in west Yen Bai, today the Po Mu fofest has been almost wiped out and only scattered up on top of the mountains. On the slopes are now covered with pine trees.

Life of Hmong people in Ta Xi Lang is very hard, food shortage in 1-2 months between harvests still occurs. Due to steep slope cultivation is difficult, literacy is low and most children in Ta Xi Lang don't go to school, despite having a school at he centre of the commune however it is not easy to encourage people to go to school. Among 16 communes in Tram Tau district Ta Xi Lang and Mu villages are of special difficulties.

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