Story: Hương Giang
Photos: Tran Thien, Holo, Pho Tran

Lose yourself in the fresh air, stunning views, and pristine scenery of Bach Ma Mountain

Over 30 years ago, the late poet Nguyen Trong Tao wrote the following words on the night he had to leave Hue: “A stunning sorrow of blue rivers and green mountains…* Looking at the Huong River from the peak of Kim Phung Mountain, he left his soul in Hue.

I understood some of this poet’s sorrow as my own soul ran aground amidst a landscape of blue rivers, green mountains, and drifting clouds atop Bach Ma Mountain.

Vong Hai Gazebo was built by the French on the tallest peak of Bach Ma at 1,450 m above sea level

Returning to old roads and white clouds

The rainy season in Hue begins in September and lasts until April. This is not an ideal time to hike in Bach Ma National Park because rain can fall at any time. Even if the morning is clear and softly sunny, dark clouds can suddenly descend on the mountains and damp fog spin its webs all over the winding roads to obstruct travel.

We decided to try our luck and scale Bach Ma early. Unlike the scorching air in the city, Bach Ma enjoys cool weather year-round. Our car had its air-conditioning turned off and all its windows rolled down to catch the breezes from the forest and even the sea. This pure air results from Bach Ma’s special location. As part of the Truong Son range, the mountains of Bach Ma run west-east and slope toward the sea. When white clouds descend to embrace its slopes, seen from below, Bach Ma Mountain resembles a white horse facing the sea with its legs stretched out. This partly explains the mountain’s name: Bach Ma (White Horse).

Upon our arrival, the clouds had not yet dove down to the foot of the mountain. Here,  meandering paths opened up to a view of the lush and green valley, surrounded by rolling mountains resembling a dinosaur’s spines. Travelers will only see descending clouds after passing through the gate of the National Park.

Looking out from the peak of Bach Ma Mountain

Peeking out along the cloud-wreathed roads are old French villas built in the 1930s when Bach Ma first served as a holiday retreat. The relics of this old wellness resort remain. Some old villas have been restored as restaurants and some as accommodation for visitors.

Ngu Ho and Do Quyen Fall

Ngu Ho (Five Lakes) is the collective name for five small lakes set at five different altitudes. Long ago, getting to Ngu Ho required navigating a dangerous dirt trail and slippery stone cliffs. Now, steps with braided safety ropes have been built along the route, helping hikers to scale the terrain and wade across streams. Although the route to Ngu Ho was only a few kilometers long, we were exhausted by the hike. Luckily, we were well rewarded by the pristine fairytale beauty of the streams and lakes.

The 300m-high Do Quyen Waterfall resembles flowing hair

The trail that ends at Ngu Ho is the start of a new trekking route to Do Quyen Waterfall. This waterfall is named for the rhododendron trees that bloom vibrant red on its banks every spring. The path to Do Quyen Waterfall was much easier compared to the one to Ngu Ho, involving only flat roads and adorable rustic bridges. However, that only took us to the top of the waterfall. To marvel at the waterfall’s full 300m-height, which resembles a slim stream of flowing locks, you need to descend more than 700 steps. While climbing down is easy, climbing back up is an ordeal. Our companion, Thien, a videographer specializing in National Park adventures, recalled how he’d once climbed down Do Quyen Waterfall at 1 pm and only made it back up to the top at 7 pm. This is because the steps are quite tall, so climbing up takes more effort. Anyone wishing to see the entire Do Quyen Waterfall should climb down in the early morning and return at noon, or pitch a tent at the bottom and ascend the following day.

Hunting for clouds at Vong Hai Tower

The road to Vong Hai Watchtower is much further and at a higher altitude than Ngu Ho and Do Quyen Waterfall. We followed the concrete road toward Vong Hai Gazebo to reach this tower, built by the French on the tallest peak of Bach Ma at 1,450 m above sea level.

My young companions from Hue told me that on dry and beautiful days they often drive up here to watch the sunset. Leaving the city at about 3:50 pm allows enough time to arrive for sunset. Don’t forget to bring some special Hue salted coffee.

Many famous sites are visible from Vong Hai Gazebo

From Vong Hai Tower, you can gaze out at Hai Van Pass, Tuy Van Mountain, Cau Hai Marsh, Tu Hien Estuary, Chan May Bay, Truoi Lake and Truc Lam Bach Ma Monastery, and even Hue City on clear days.

When we arrived, Vong Hai Tower was peeking out from pure white clouds in a pristine blue sky, in keeping with the untouched mountains and forests of Bach Ma. We took in lungfuls of pure air, fearful that we wouldn’t find anything like it once we were back in the city.

I sunk into the picture that nature generously painted in shades of green. Now, I understand why the late artist Dinh Cuong used such a deep, peculiar shade of green in his paintings. Among the deeply poetic scenery,  like many artists, I felt a heavy, stupefying sorrow that I would have to leave Hue just as I’d fallen in love with it.

(*) Excerpt from “Stranded” by Nguyen Trong Tao, on overlooking green Hue from Kim Phung Peak