Journey to the centre of the highway

Have you ever taken a trip along the Ho Chi Minh Highway?

On the road: A charming rural section of the Ho Chi Minh Highway linking Ha Noi with Vinh City in Nghe An Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Huy Hung

A group of four Korean travellers, led by Kim Yong-suk, took a road trip along the highway to discover more about the natural beauty, culture and historical sites of Viet Nam.

Kim said two years ago, his group travelled to Pac Bo in the northern province of Cao Bang, where the highway starts. They saw beautiful landscapes, including the cave where President Ho Chi Minh lived and worked until 1945 to lead Viet Nam to its great victory over foreign invaders.

He said this year his group started out in the central province of Nghe An and travelled through immense, romantic tea plantations in Thanh Chuong District.

“Oh, how great it was to see tea hill slopes meandering one after another and tea valleys twisting and turning between them, creating an immense green space like we’d never seen before,” said Kim.

Kim and his group visited the household of a local man, Ho Hung. He said there are more than 100 households like Hung’s in the area that earn a living from tea and tourism.

“Hung brought us to a large freshwater lake, saying local people could go fishing in the moonlight while travellers could stay on the banks to enjoy different sorts of fish,” said Kim, adding that although it was a hot summer day, the temperature at the tea plantation was cool and refreshing.

Hung said hundreds of travellers visited the tea valleys during summer and autumn because the area is so tranquil and romantic: an ideal retreat from city noise and dust.

After the Thanh Thuy tea valleys, Kim and his group visited Bai Lu, an ocean paradise.

Located in the northeast corner of Nghe An in Nghi Loc District, Bai Lu is so beautiful that it attracts thousands of visitors a year, said Kim’s tour guide Ho San.

Better off: Completion of the highway’s Kon Tum-Ha Tinh section has helped to improve the living standards of many communes along the famous tourist route. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Na

“The green water is so clean and fresh that we could see creatures swimming at the bottom, and the beach is surrounded by casuarina trees. It is the quietest beach in Nghe An,” said San.

Kim said his group was also impressed by the legend of the beach, which San recounted to them.

It is said that long long ago, there was a mountain (locally called Lu Mountain) standing near the beach. One day a young man visited the beach and heard a folk song sang by a beautiful local girl who lived near the mountain. The man was so impressed by the natural charm and beautiful voice of the girl that he tried desperately to find her. When they met, they immediately fell in love with each other and lived happily ever after, said San.

Kim and his group also visited Ne Temple, built for the worship of Son Than (the mountain deity) and Princess Bach Y or Thanh Mau, who played beautiful music to encourage people to dig a canal (referred to locally as Sat Canal) to defend against the Ming invaders.

Standing at the top of Lu Mountain, visitors can see a huge vista, including the tourism sites of Song Ngu, Dao Mat, Cam River and Cua Lo Beach, said San.

Nguyen Bang Toan, Nghi Loc District chairman, said the district has approved a project to build a five-star hotel halfway down the mountain including a casino, a helicopter port, a golf course and an entertainment complex.

Thousands of visitors come to Bai Lu every year to rest and enjoy the natural landscape, said Toan, adding that when the project is completed by 2015 Bai Lu might just be the most relaxing place in Viet Nam.

Saying goodbye to Bai Lu, Kim’s group decided to tour the highway by motorbike from Da Nang City.

The group drove from Hoi An to Dong Giang District in the central province of Quang Nam.

Ocean paradise: Bai Lu is so beautiful that it attracts thousands of visitors a year. According to local guides the water is clear enough to see creatures swimming at the bottom of the sea. — VNS File Photos

Arriving at the Bho Bhoong tourism site, Kim and his group got a glimpse into the daily life of the Co Tu ethnic group in Ta Vang Village. They grow maize and rice by making a small hole and putting a seed in it.

“Their cultivation methods are like those from prehistoric times. It was really cool to see,” said Kim, adding that his group spent time with locals weaving and playing gongs.

“The local people were very friendly. They invited us to their stilt houses to drink wine out of a jar pipe, a very popular habit among the highlanders, especially in Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region.”

Kim said this method of tourism is very convenient because travellers can go anywhere they want without planning their itinerary around the limited timetable of an official tour.

“During our two-day stay in Dong Giang, we met dozens of Western travellers. They all expressed interest in touring the Ho Chi Minh Highway by motorbike,” said Kim.

“We all were intrigued by the special cultural characteristics of the ethnic groups along the highway. They were very hospitable and also curious. They always smiled with us. We really relaxed and felt comfortable with the people and the nature here,” said Kim.

The group encountered no obstacles as they drove to Kon Tum to climb Ngoc Linh Mountain, home to miles of valuable ginseng plantations.

After nearly 10 hours, Kim’s group reached the peak, about 2,600m above sea level.

“The air was so fresh and cool that it’s difficult to describe. We all felt like we were in heaven because the clouds were under our feet,” said Kim, adding that what they were most surprised by the ginseng. “It was as if we were standing among the original ginseng plants in Korea.”

Old habits, drink hard: Highway travellers join Ba Na ethnic people in Kon Tum Province to drink wine using traditional jar pipes.

Tran Hoan, one of the managers of a ginseng plantation in Ngoc Linh, showed the guests mature ginseng planted by his family.

He said his three brothers encouraged the Xe Dang ethnic group not to damage the plantation and trained the locals to grow ginseng and protect the plants.

As a result, the residents’ living standards have improved, Hoan said.

Dao Xuan Quy, deputy secretary of Kon Tum Party Committee, quoted the Ministry of Health as saying Ngoc Linh ginseng’s quality could vie with Korean ginseng famous around the world.

Kim said he would bring more friends from South Korea next year for a third road trip along the highway to visit Mekong provinces such as Ca Mau.

The highway is about 3,183km. It runs through 28 cities and provinces from the northern province of Cao Bang’s Pac Bo historical site to Dat Mui in Ca Mau Province.

In the past, it was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was among the key strategic factors that led to Viet Nam’s victory in the American War.

Vital connection: Thanks to the highway, locals in the remote district of A Luoi in Thua Thien-Hue Province can drink draught beer transported from Ha Noi.

While the name of the trail has been known for several decades, few are able to comprehend the complete layout of the trail, which has gradually spread to cover not only the southern part of the demarcation line in Viet Nam but also sprawled along many parts of Laos and Cambodia on the western side of the Truong Son Range.

Many cities and provinces located along the highway such as Nghe An, Quang Binh and Tay Nguyen have learned how to take advantage of the highway to develop tourism.

The Directorate for Roads of Viet Nam (DRVN) leaders said that the Ho Chi Minh Highway has helped millions of ethnic groups in remote and isolated regions escape from a life of hunger and poverty.

The DRVN also cautioned, however, that increasing numbers of vehicles have worn down many sections of the highway, while several sections still lack access to electricity and mobile phone coverage.

“These problems should be solved by next year or within the next few years,” said the DRVN. — VNS

Native wares: Ethnic people inA Luoi District, Thua Thien-Hue Province sell their brocade to visitors along the highway. Over the years, locals have realised the potential of tourism. — VNA/VNS Photos Vu Cong Dien

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