Conquering two wild and beautiful places in Dien Bien
Dien Bien attracts backpackers thanks to its beautiful and winding, but dangerous and challenging roads. If you are a travel addict, do not ignore these two places in Dien Bien.
Pha Din Pass - one of the four great passes of the Northwest
Pha Din pass is located on National Highway 6 between Phong Lai commune (Thuan Chau district, Son La province) and Toa Tinh commune (Tuan Giao district, Dien Bien province). In the original Thai language, "Pha Din” is pronounced differently as compared to the Vietnamese. The people of Dien Bien explain that "Pha" means “heaven'', while "Din" means “earth”. Combining the two words, “Pha Din” means “the place where the earth meets heaven”. Along with O Quy Ho (Lao Cai), Khau Pha (Yen Bai) and Ma Pi Leng (Ha Giang), Pha Din is known as one of the "four great passes" in the Northwest of Vietnam.
Pha Din is one of the "four great passes" of the Northwest. Photo: mytour
The locals often tell the story of dividing the pass between the two communes in Son La and Lai Chau province (currently Dien Bien) by the Pha Din hill-climbing horse race. The people and horses of the two communes started at the same time from both sides of the pass. As the health of the two men and the two horses were the same, the distance they traveled was quite similar. Nonetheless, the horse of Lai Chau was a bit faster than that of Son La team, so the length of Pha Din pass in Lai Chau province is a bit longer than Son La’s.
Pha Din Pass has 8 sharp turns. Photo: mytour
With an altitude of about 1,000m above sea level with mountainous terrain, Phan Din Pass is a special highlight among the “natural masterpieces” of the Northwest. The terrain of Pha Din Pass is very dangerous with a high cliff on one side and a deep abyss on the other side, together with steep slopes and 8 sharp turns. This is also the "specialty" of the pass that attracts domestic and foreign backpackers coming here to conquer it. You need to have a strong mentality and good driving skills to be able to climb the pass.
Natural scenery from the middle of the pass. Photo: mytour
Climbing the pass by motorbike, you will be able to conquer winding roads while admiring the valleys full of wild sunflowers, apricot or plum blossoms. From the middle of Pha Din pass, you can touch the clouds and see villages at the foot of the mountain.
From the peak of Pha Din pass, you can feel the majesty of the Northwest mountains. Photo: dulich24.
Setting foot on the peak of Pha Din pass, you can feel the majestic beauty of the Northwest with undulating mountain ranges. From a distance, you can see the Muong Quai valley with the green colour of hills and mountains. Early in the morning, at the top of Pha Din, it is a bit chilly with cool breezes and fresh air. At noon, the sky is clear blue. The scenery under the sun is like “wearing a new shirt” as the whole space is greener and full of life.
After a long journey to conquer the pass, you can visit the "Pha Din Pass" tourist area which was constructed by Pha Din Tourism Cooperative. With an area of about 50 hectares and a valley full of flowers, the destination is very suitable for excursions, photography, rest and dining.
Some notes when traveling to Pha Din Pass - Dien Bien
The length of Pha Din Pass: About 32km, located on National Highway 6. The starting point is 66km west from Son La town, the ending point is about 84km from Dien Bien city.
The way to Pha Din Pass: From Hanoi, follow the direction of Highway 6 - Moc Chau plateau - Yen Chau - Mai Son - Thuan Chau - Pha Din pass.
The appropriate time to conquer Pha Din Pass: There is a big difference between seasons. In summer, it is cool and pleasant, while in winter, the temperature is low with typical characteristics of high mountain areas. You should conquer Pha Din Pass - Dien Bien in March, August, September, and December as these are the seasons of plum, wild sunflowers, rice and rapeseed.
Preparations for traveling to Pha Din Pass - Dien Bien: You need to prepare some items such as personal protective equipment, bandages, sturdy shoes, and appropriate vehicles in good conditions. You should also self-prepare some food and water to eat along the way. At the same time, do not forget to book hotels or motels in advance.
A Pa Chai landmark - the rendezvous of backpackers in the Northwest
On the way to the westernmost point of Vietnam, the A Pa Chai landmark is a destination that attracts many tourists, especially backpackers. A Pa Chai is the junction of the borders of Vietnam, Laos and China, which is located in Sin Thau commune, Muong Nhe district, Dien Bien province. That is why there is a saying, "when a rooster crows, all three countries can hear it".
On the way to conquer the A Pa Chai landmark. Photo: celeb.vn
To reach the peak of A Pa Chai, the backpackers will have to “overcome” winding roads, steep slopes and jagged dirt roads. Previously, to reach the landmark, you had to spend 4-5 hours walking and climbing. In recent years, when the route of the Border Patrol was completed, visitors have been able to move to the foot of the mountain (near the Zero milestone) by motorbike. From the foot of the mountain, you can leave your vehicles in the car park and start walking up the slopes. If you are in good health, it will take just over an hour to reach the landmark.
A Pa Chai Border Post. Photo: dulich24
The distance from the foot of the mountain to the Zero milestone is about 3km with sloping terrain and primeval forests, so it is quite muddy and wet, especially in the rainy season. When you climb the mountain, the altitude will change from 1,000m to 1,800m. Due to the steep slope which can possibly lead to difficulties, you need to have good health for this stage. As "compensation" for your efforts, you will be able to see a vast mountainous space when reaching the top of A Pa Chai. From here, you should spread your arms and close your eyes to feel the sounds of the wind. At sunset, A Pa Chai “floats” in the sea of white clouds. For backpackers, this is a “fairy scene” that makes the wild land poetic and fanciful. In spring, the plum and wild sunflowers blossoms make the scenery here “brighten up” among the green of the mountains.
Climbing the mountain to conquer the A Pa Chai landmark. Photo: dulich24
The slippery dirt road up the mountain. Photo: liontrip.vn
Successfully conquered the A Pa Chai milestone. Photo: vovworld
In addition to conquering the A Pa Chai landmark, you can visit the A Pa Chai market, also known as the Border-crossing Market. The market is located in the area adjacent to Muong Nhe district (Dien Bien - Vietnam) and Giang Thanh district (Yunnan - China), near the Milestone No.3 between Vietnam - China border. The people going to the market are mainly from ethnic minorities in Muong Nhe and Muong Te (Lai Chau). The market offers a wide range of household products, clothes, shoes, medicine or local specialties. There is a stall selling handicrafts imbued with the ethnic culture of the Mong ethnic group, attracting many tourists. Some items which can be listed are clothes, towels, hand-embroidered hats, conical hats and baskets. The market is open on the 3rd, 13th and 23rd of every month.
A Pa Chai market. Photo: motogo
Some notes traveling to A Pa Chai Landmark - Dien Bien
The best time to go to Apa Chai - Dien Bien:
The ideal time to conquer A Pa Chai is the dry season from November to April. As the weather is dry, the dirt roads will not be slippery. At the same time, there are no landslides, thus it is very convenient for you to ride motorbikes. It is important to note that there is the traditional ceremony of the Ha Nhi people at this time.
The transportation to A Pa Chai - Dien Bien:
- By coach: From Hanoi, you can take a coach from My Dinh or Giap Bat stations to Dien Bien. It is noted that you can take your motorbike with you in the coach. The average ticket price is VND 350,000.
- Motorbike: You can travel along Highway 6 through Hoa Binh - Moc Chau - Yen Chau - Lai Chau - Thuan Chau - Tuan Giao - National Highway 279 - Dien Bien Phu - Muong Cha - Muong Nhe - A Pa Chai.
Things you need to prepare when traveling A Pa Chai - Dien Bien
In addition to items such as raincoats or medicines, you should bring safety equipment such as Knee Pads and Ankle Supports, electrolyte water to avoid dehydration, protective gloves and snacks. Do not forget to bring your identity documents. Previously, you were requested to get a permit from the Border Guard Command of Dien Bien province to come to A Pa Chai. Currently, you only need to bring identity documents such as an identity card, passport or driving license.
For foreigners who are temporarily residing in the locality, they must have a permit issued by the provincial-level police of the place of temporary residence when entering the border area. For foreigners working at government departments, they must have permits issued by the Ministry of Public Security.