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Exploring four biggest passes in Vietnam’s north-west


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North-western mountainous region of Vietnam with rugged, dangerous topography, big mountain blocks and ranges leads to the long, bumpy and challenging passes.

Below is four biggest passes in the north western of Vietnam:

1.      Pha Din pass

Pha Din pass is known as Pha Din slope, has 32km long in highway 6, a part of Phong Lai commune, Thuan Chau district, Son La province, and a part of Toa Tinh commune, Tuan Giao district, Dien Bien province.

The origin of name ‘Pha Din’ began from Thai language. Pha means ‘heaven’ and Din means ‘earth’, the total meaning is the connection between the heaven and earth.

In old legend, the locals of Lai Chau (Dien Bien now) and Son La wanted to draw the border between 2 places. They had a horse race to the top of Pha Din slope. However, two warriors and two horses had the same strength and will; the distance between them was not much far. But at last, Lai Chau’s horse was faster so the part of pass belonging to Lai Chau is longer than Son La’s one.

The highest point of pass is 1648m above sea level and the dangerous topography with one side of cliff and another side of abyss. Climbing and descending the pass with full of twists and turns, the path is like the zigzag line with 8 dangerous bends, curve radius is less than 15m. Besides, some parts are only enough for a small car.

At the middle of pass, there are a lot of clouds covering but the foot of pass is scattered villages. Standing at the pass belonging Dien Bien, tourists can see Muong Quai valley. However, when climbing to top of pass, travelers hardly see any villages but they will have interesting experiences with blue sky, clouds and majestic mountains.

2.      O Quy Ho pass

Known as Hoang Lien Son pass or Cloud pass, located on highway 4D across Hoang Lien Son range, the pass connects Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces. Besides, the top of pass is border line between two provinces.

In the local legend, there was a bird with tragic singing symbolizing for unhappy love of a couple. From that time, the bird’s singing was taken to name for this pass with the height of 2000m.

O Quy Ho pass is the longest pass in mountainous northern region, about 50km long. Because of its height, danger and length, the pass is regarded as a north-western pass king.  The top of pass makes travelers feel that it’s near the sky so it has another name called Heaven Gate. In cold weather, snow is covered around the entire pass.

In the past, it was very dangerous and had many related horror stories which made the local scared when passing here. But now, it is upgraded, becomes a modern and safe road for locals, travelers and adventurers. Most tourists go to Lao Cai from Hanoi by train and take a bus or rent a motorbike to pass O Quy Ho. They want to enjoy majestic natural beauty here.

3.      Khau Pha pass

Khau Pha is the most dangerous and longest pass in highway 32 with over 30km long and at the height of about 1500m above sea level. Located near the border between Van Chan and Mu Cang Chai districts in Yen Bai province, Khau Pha pass goes through numerous famous destination such as, La Pan Tan, Mu Cang Chai, Tu Le, Nam Co, etc.

            Because the pass is covered by cloud and the pass’s top is seem to emerge over cloud sea, Khau Pha in Thai language means Sky’s Horn or Heaven Gate. Its twists and turns through old, wild forests and paddy field terraces of ethnic minorities like H’Mong and Thai. The locals consider Khau Pha as a sacred place so when they meet sad things or crop failures, they come here to pray their wishes to God.

Khau Pha is the most beautiful in ripe rice crop from September to October. This is the best time for adventurers to both explore pass’s danger and the wonderful beauty here. The old forests in Khau Pha are still habitats for rare animals and plants. Therefore, Khau Pha is an interesting destination for not only adventurers but also biologists.

4.      Ma Pi Leng pass

Located in Ha Giang province with 20km long and 2000m high, Ma Pi Leng belongs to Dong Van highland, in the road named Happy, connecting Ha Giang city and Meo Vac town.

            This 200km road has been built by thousands of the volunteers in 16 ethnic minorities of 8 north provinces for 6 years (1959-1965) with over 2 millions working days.

            Ma Pi Leng is named following Quan Hoa language meaning ‘horse’s nose’ literally. But figuratively, it means the most rugged mountain peak. The pass connecting Dong Van and Meo Vac is regarded as a miracle which locals consider it as Great Wall of Vietnam and Pyramid of Meo people. In the pass’s top as well as the highest point of Happy road, there is a sightseeing stop for tourists and a stone tablet recording the history of pass.

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