Every travel- lover should dream of conquering O Quy Ho mountain pass, one of the most imposing and dangerous roads in northern Vietnam. The 50 km long O Quy Ho pass road links Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces as it circles around Hoang Lien Mountain. We start our assault on O Quy Ho from Binh Luu Commune, on the Lai Chau side, on an early winter’s day. It is a long, gravity-defying while, twisting road. On one side is a thick forest while on the other side is a superb view of the mountain. It is tortuous in its turns and undulates according to the pitch and heave of the mountain pass leaves even the hardiest of driver white-faced as unexpected corners come into view. A few seconds of carelessness will make you a personal appointment with the Grim Reaper. The weather varies dramatically on either side of the pass. In winter, if it is warm on the Tam Duong side, the Sapa side will be shrouded in the mist, with mountain and forest deep in cloud. In the summer, if the weather on the Sapa side is cool and crisp or even chilly and damp, in Tam Duong, a hot and dry wind will burn the landscape, leaving the waterfalls empty and the grass gold. In the afternoon, O Quy Ho always brings forth in once a feeling of peace. Whichever side you set out from. Binh Luu or Sapa, you play tag with the sun. At the peak of the pass, we decide to pause, have some coffee, and enjoy the view. We breathe in the pure, natural air of mountain and forest, Heaven is here!. The boundless sky blends with the mountains and vast green and golden fields. Murmuring winds smooth my hair with its fingers. I lie spread- eagled on the grassy verge, embracing the whole of nature. Wallowing in the bliss of nature’s bounty. I suddenly start when my fellow traveler Hang calls out: “Dung! Gold” “What” I am awoken from my reverie and I ask Hang again. Hang is very serious. I am suddenly wide-awake. Gold prospecting stories come to mind, but I never thought I would be in that situation myself. It is unbelievable “Are you crazy?” I ask without waiting Hang returns to the spring, and starts picking stones up from the water. ”What’s this if it isn’t gold?” I examine the stone carefully. Merging with soil and rock are small flakes of gold. An electric current runs along my spine. I am not sure if I have been blessed or cursed. People say that gold can bring as many problems as it can solve. They rest of our traveling companions join us and we continue examining the stones. I am convinced by the geological evidence: this is what gold diggers call gold- bearing stone. Despite their initial skepticism, my companions soon join in our scrabbling among the stones. My friend, who is a photographer, picks up one stone and looks at it carefully. His face turns pale. He is surprised and eagerly lays aside his cameras. Quang, the most suspicious member of my group is barely convinced, yet he too is collecting stones with his wife, but loudly announces “ they are for the children”, while carefully noting our locations on the map. Some H’mong people who are working on the mountain notice our commotion, and sidle up, curiously asking what we are up to. Quang’s wife fishes out a bottle of rice wine for them, but it is not enough to distract their questioning. We do not reveal our secret in case a gold-fuelled bloodlust possesses them and we are left dead on the road. I mumble an answer” The road is terrible, so we’re collecting stones in order to make our bikes heavier so they don’t shake so much.” At which point they move on, seemingly satisfied with our answer. Sapa is still far away, but we travel without rest. We arrive in town, two people short. An hour later, the photographers arrive on their bikes, soaking wet and glum-faced. It turns out that their backpacks were so heavy that out they fell backwards when crossing a stream. Their soaked cameras are now very expensive paper- weights. I sit gleefully and quickly take a peek into my backpack to admire my collection of gold, afraid that if people notice they will mock me. Yet I should not be embarrassed: the others are admiring theirs and some are even washing and buffing their own collections. Despite our exhaustion, we straggle into Hanoi and immediately head for a gold shop for evaluations. We pace nervously outside and an hour later we look at the analysis. My eyes widen in surprise. I can not believe what I see. The test confirms that our precious stones contain nothing more valuable but mica, and our golden hoard is worthless. My dreams of becoming a multi-millionaire vanish, yet the memory of O Quy Ho Pass at least remains as a thing of value.
A member of Vietnam Travel Promotion Group (VTP Group)
Head Office: Room 509, 15T2 Building, 20 Tam Trinh Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi,
Telephone: +84.4.62768855 Fax: +84.4.62768866