Story: Ha Van
Photo: Thai A

From southern Dien Bien along the ranges of Su Xung Chao Chai and Pu Sam Sao, through the territory of Laos, the Ma River returns to the Muong Lat Border Gate to complete its journey in the land of Thanh.

Running through Quan Hoa along the left bank of the Ma River, the small trail is well hidden by layers of bamboo trees that shine in the sun.

As we travel along the dirt road on its left bank – Muong Lat, the Ma River is no longer a delicate green thread amid the peaks of Dien Bien-Muong Luan. The river is now wider and more fertile, thanks to the extra water it receives from the Nam Et in Xiengkhor, Laos, and from the high mountains of Pha Luong.

Bản làng yên bình trong thung lũng Pù Luông

After this stretch, the Ma River reaches the largest bamboo triangle in Vietnam, which covers more than 60,000 hectares, occupying part of Muong Lat and Quan Hoa, Thanh Hoa, and part of Mai Chau, Hoa Binh. Here, the river takes on a new appearance thanks to yellowish alluvium, prominent against the background of lush green hills thickly enveloped by endless bamboo forests on both sides. The small trail that runs along the left bank of the Ma through Quan Hoa is well hidden by layers of bamboo (of the genus Dendrocalamus barbatus). The bamboo glitters in the sun, and once in while, emits magical bursts of light. Meanwhile, on the river, groups of people on rafts are seen skillfully maneuvering downstream, one after another. Riding a motorbike along the river bank is difficult. Imagine how hard it would be to row a raft in that violent current. The Muong ethnic people in Quan Hoa who guide rafts describe each trip downstream to Hoi Xuan as betting their life against the rough waterfall and raging torrents.

Vách đá bờ sông, nơi thử thách tay chèo thuyền đưa khách

Down to the Co Luong T-junction linked to National Highway 15, at the section near Van Mai-Mai Chau, the Ma hits Pu Luong and turns 90 degrees to the right to completely divert its flow southward. Pu Luong means “large mountain” in the language of the Thai people in Ba Thuoc. The river follows the foot of the mountain, sometimes turning to the north and sometimes south, forming graceful curves in harmony with the flat and spacious rice fields in Canh Nang, Cam Thuy. Whether you stop by for a few hours or spend many days in a row here, there is always enough time to capture countless magnificent spectacles with your camera. Young upland women by the water wheel, stilt houses in a sea of rice paddies, and a bridge suspended over the flowing water are scenes never seen in the city.

Những bè luồng chậm rãi xuôi dòng

Toward the sea, leaving behind the rocky mountains and the forests, the Ma runs between small hills. For a million years it has diligently delivered alluvium to the fertile plain of Thanh Hoa, the third largest of its kind in Vietnam. Not until the junction of Giang in Thieu Khanh, Hoang Hoa does the Ma reunite with its main tributary, the Chu, more than twenty kilometers from the river’s mouth upstream. From here, the river is wider, expansive and full of life, crimson alluvium accreting on the river’s islets. At a farther point, amid the boundless rice fields between the districts of Thieu Hoa and Hoang Hoa, the Ma splits its stream northward via the Lach Truong Estuary. Another branch continues southward and merges into the East Sea at Lach Hoi, giving birth to one of the largest estuaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. Only then does the Ma complete its long journey through roaring waterfalls and rushing estuaries, leaving a bold stroke amid the majestic peaks of Su Xung Chao Chai and Pu Sam Sao, passing through the challenging upper reaches of Muong Lat, then embracing the mountain range of Pu Luong to draw elegant lines on the coastal plain. And here, the journey to explore the west-east road of Thanh Hoa on a motorbike officially ends, leaving travelers with unforgettable impressions.