Mystic Mountain trek reveals mysteries of Ho Chi Minh Trail

The second day of my stay at Mystic Mountain Coffee and Homestay in Pakxong district, Champassak province, involved a fascinating three-hour trek along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Elevated Pakxong is often cold in the morning so we begin our journey after lunch walking into the balmy afternoon.
We make our way over an old bamboo and wooden bridge to cross a small river to a village where we see local crops and coffee growing.

Visitors are shown bomb remnants.

The village has many old jeeps that have been operating since the Indochina War, along with some old tractors carrying farmers home after a long day of picking coffee berries. All the locals enthusiastically say “Hello” or “Sabaidee” and greet us with a smile even after a hard day’s work.
We come across a beautiful field of yellow flowers. They’re a mixture of naturally occurring ‘sun forest flowers’ and some dok halo (‘loudspeaker flowers’) which makes the Pakxong air smell good.
I’m interested in the area’s history and the Indochina War but don’t know much about it. The ‘secret war’ still seems mysterious and not that many folk are acquainted with all the facts. But this trip brings to light some fascinating history when we walk along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and find unexploded ordnance (UXO) and bomb craters as tragic legacies of the war.
Mr Khamsone Souvannakhily, the founder and owner of Mystic Mountain Homestay, told us that during wartime the Americans used Pakxe Airport as a transport base so the Vietnamese used the high ground where we were walking to shoot at US aircraft.
Consequently, the American forces bombed this location heavily, resulting in the deaths of many people and the destruction of houses, forcing villagers to flee and live in caves.
Around us are many old coffee trees that have been planted since the war.
Deep in the woods we meet a young family who lives in a hut on their coffee farm during harvest time. They have two small boys aged about one and three.
The older one helps his father sort the green and red coffee ‘cherries’ while the other boy is carried by his mother close to the warm fire and the cooking hearth.
They’re very friendly and we have a nice talk with them, sharing some pomelo we got while trekking in the rainforest.
Unfortunately, we must say goodbye to the friendly family and be on our way as darkness closes in. But we have no problems in the dark as we are equipped with lamps.
We keep going deeper into the woods. The eerie darkness is unnerving at first but this feeling immediately disappears as some small lights moving through the trees catch our attention.
They’re fireflies. I can’t remember the last time I saw fireflies but certainly not since moving to Vientiane.
We finally arrive at a lookout where our trip should end to watch the sunset but we’re too late because we’ve stopped at so many interesting places along the way.
But we’re not disappointed because it has been such a fascinating day and there will be plenty more sunsets to see in life.
When we turn off our lamps we clearly see the night lights of villages in the distance and enjoy the sounds and smells produced by the forest as insects sing.
Mystic Mountain Coffee and Homestay’s trek allows visitors to gain a better understanding of local people’s culture, the history of the secret war, and the ecological importance of the forest.
It was a great activity on my second day as I looked forward to an adventurous jungle jeep tour the next day.

 

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update December 25, 2018)

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