Xim Vang – Magical Mountains
Xim Vang is a spectacular commune in the mountains of Son La Province. In this lesser-known part of Vietnam, towering mountains at over 1000m in altitude are furrowed with rice terraces. The views and photography that comes with a visiting this 82 square kilometre area are simply amazing.
The area is home to the Mong ethnic minority who like to inhabit mountaintops. It is a very poor part of the country and you won’t find hotels or restaurants but you will come across genuine friendly local people, going about their simple daily lives. People mostly live in small bamboo and wooden huts – they don’t have a lot and still wear their colourful traditional clothing. You can see them walking buffalos, working fields, chopping wood, and gathering food as life once was long before modern times.
By car it is only accessible by 1 semi-paved road in and out; this has perhaps kept it off the tourist radar. If you are on a motorbike tour, however, there are different options with some challenging off-road riding to be had. You really need to know where you are going though; a guided motorcycle tour is the best way to travel there. The steep mountains abound in cascading waterfalls, thrilling cliffside roads, and are an out-and-out adventure.
What people do in Xim Vang
Rice farming is the major occupation of local residents. Some people commute on foot across many kilometres of steep mountains to reach their family plot each day. It is back-breaking work for not a lot of income. Grazing cattle such as buffaloes and goats is also common.
Xim Vang also produces cat apples which are locally known as táo mèo. The majority of these trees are wild in the area although nowadays more are being planted as they provide a comparably higher income than rice. The Mong people gather the apples for them to be shipped off to places like Hanoi or Son La city where they are in high demand. Cat apples are also used in one of the most popular rice wines in Vietnam – ruou tao meo.
Another crop here is medlar which is another kind of wild apple- it is sort of a cross between a pear and a Hawthorne. It is increasingly being propagated in both Xim Vang and the neighbouring Tram Tau region due to the fruits high value. Medlar is used for both eating and medicine. Depending on its stage of ripeness medlar can be either sour or sweet and it is usually eaten with chilli and salt. Its medicinal qualities are said to include – strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and alleviating abdominal pains. It is most commonly administered in the form of tea.
When to visit Xim Vang
Different times of year bring unique experiences in Xim Vang. In March the apple trees are in bloom with white flowers and the rice terraces are full of water. Rain and heavy fog are also common at this time although the weather on each given day is hard to predict. In October the cat apples are ripe and their scent fills the air. Around mid-November the rice fields become a vibrant yellow just before harvest time, this is the most popular time for photography in the area.
What to see nearby Xim Vang
There are a few things to see nearby the Xim Vang commune. The next door commune of Hang Chú which is equally remote produces its own distinguished rice wine- particularly in Pa Cu Sang village. As far back as 2014 some 24 households were devoted to its production in this village and it has proven to be a great income for the locals. A special variety of rice is grown in highland paddies just for this beverage. It is a heavily forested and pristine area so all the ingredients including the water are of the highest purity- it is said to not give drinkers a hangover.
Hang Chu also boasts of some large ancient stone blocks that are carved with pictures and patterns. The carvings represent nature and life and they are also places of worship for local people. Located in a 50 hectare valley, it is now a National Heritage Site and is currently being studied by academics.
Closer to Bac Yen in Ta Xua, the Dragon Back Ridge has become a popular destination for younger local tourists for photos in and above the clouds. To the North lies Tram Tau a mountain region of Mong and Black Thai minorities. Tram Tau has its own amazing mountain landscapes as well as some natural hot springs.