Friday, 5 July 2019

Hiking to the Mist-Veiled Peak of Mount Pha Daeng | Nong Khiaw, Laos



At the foot of Mount Pha Daeng, a sign reads “Unexploded Bombs, Still in this Area. Dangerous!” remains a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Vietnam War. Collectively unmindful of the warning, we reckoned every bomb ordnance buried along the trail stretching to a radius of a few kilometers, were all swept clean already. Laos—by the way—is a vastly different nation now compared to what I first read in history books.




The clandestine carpet bombing extended by the US Air Force to Laos during the Vietnam War disrupted the lives of the locals in the countryside. As our young guide who speaks better than average English, was telling us facts about the mountain, I imagined young men like him were among those who died during the war: young, bright and delirious of wonderful nature. Amidst all environment issues and concerns hounding us right now, he probably knows it’s still a good world we are living in today.


Word. I muttered to myself. He won’t be here guiding travelers to a mountain top, if the Mekong region stayed the same. I will never be here as well, If I don’t have the liberty to travel. The word “freedom” comes to mind as he described to our group the scenery that awaits us at the top of Mount Pha Daeng. “Sea of clouds everywhere you look. We lucky because we are early. Foggy at the top”.

You can’t get any freer than that, I thought. But to enjoy the great outdoors—at its rawest conditions—comes with a huge responsibility though: to remain a steadfast responsible traveler supporting all sustainability efforts.

A Chill Hike to the Forest

Since the town of Nong Khiaw is already located in an elevated terrain, the way to the peak of Pha Daeng is only a thousand five hundred feet away. An achievable hour-and-a-half hike on a steady pace gets you to the top. Since I jumpstarted to the lead pack of our group, I reached the viewpoint at around the same time while the sweeper pack arrived in exactly two hours.


I’ve been to several mountains in the Philippines offering stunning sea of clouds sceneries, but as each one is unique, the panoramic view that greeted me at the peak of Mount Pha Daeng astonished me.

Standing on a big slab of boulder—which has since became a favorite Instagram spot—I was instantly arrested by the moving fog slowly giving glimpses of the valley and the Ou River below.


With my fellow travel bloggers still on the trail up, I took the opportunity to have my portrait taken standing on that rock. With the hazy forested mountainside of Nong Khiaw behind me, I took one leap for joy—a moment captured in one takeby one of our guides using my camera.

Mist-Veiled Valley

As soon as the peak became crawling with our group consisting of several travel bloggers, Destination Mekong staff, local guides and Luang Prabang tourism officers, I found myself a quiet spot just to let the place sink deeper into my consciousness.


While the sun starts showering gleaming rays over the lush tops of the surrounding limestone mountains, the thick fog enveloping the magical landscape earlier, has started to clear as if waved by an invisible hand.


Slowly, I caught sight of the town in the valley below, the long snaking line of Ou River exposed itself. Chocolate brown when seen from the Nong Khiaw bridge, but from the top of Pha Daeng, it looks every bit of glittering gold. We all had a ham and egg Bánh mì for breakfast and stayed at the viewpoint for another hour. At around past 8 am, all the mist has vanished thus signaling for us to have one last look at the valley below and start our descent.


On the hike down, I once again raced to the front of the pack arriving at the jump-off first. I told one of our guides that I won’t take the van back to town as I would just set out on foot.


Strolling back, I passed by the rest of the town seeing little kids waving from their windows, mother’s carrying baskets in their heads and fathers toiling to various tasks in front of their houses. These are all familiar sighting in most sleepy towns in Asia, but despite my accustomed sight of it all, I can’t deny that it’s life ordinary at its best indeed.