Lu Thi Gon (first from left) and mountaineers at the top of Lao Than Mount.
NDO – Working as porters for visitors, local young people in the north western region have developed a close bond with the forests and mountains and exert every effort to preserve these precious resources.
Earning a living from the mountains
Lu Thi Gon, a young Dao ethnic woman in Pho village, Ho Thau commune, Tam Duong district in Lai Chau province, got married when she was 17. The young couple live at the foot of the 3,049-metre Pu Ta Leng mountain, one of the highest peaks in Vietnam.
Since trekking has become a popular trend in recent years, many Pho villagers earn their living by working as porters for backpackers who want to conquer Pu Ta Leng Peak.
When Gon’s son turned two in 2018, the family’s economic situation became so difficult that she had to leave the boy and follow her husband and other men in the village to join the porter team. Since then, Gon does around six to seven trips working as a porter every month receiving from VND300,000 to VND500,000 each day.
Gon is highly appreciated among customers thanks to her enthusiasm and good cooking skills. Last year, she bought her first smartphone, allowing her to learn how to capture beautiful and memorable moments for visitors on their way to Pu Ta Leng.
Now, Gon knows every mountain she has set foot on down to the last detail, including the time to admire clouds, azaleas blooming in season, and the foliage season as well as the best places to have amazing “check-in” photos.
Gon and her husband have actively joined social networks and forums to make new friends, and gather experience to better serve their customers.
Meanwhile, Trang A Khu, a 25-year-old H’Mong man, is one of the professional and certificated porters in Sang Ma Sao village, Bat Xat district, Lao Cai province. He was granted a certificate for fulfilling a training course on community-based skills by the district’s vocational training centre in 2018.
Last year, Trang A Khu joined Phan Thanh Nhien, one of three Vietnamese climbers who have conquered Mt Everest in 2008, to establish a record of conquering six out of 15 highest peaks in Vietnam, including Fansipan, Ngu Chi Son, Ky Quan San, Lao Than, Nhiu Co San, and Pu Ta Leng, in a total time of three days and six hours.
Trang A Khu recalled that it was getting dark when the duo reached the last stop on the top of Lao Than mount. Although he was so exhausted and badly wanted to stay overnight on the mountain, Nhien convinced him to persevere.
The duo concluded their adventure late at night with swollen feet. But after all the pain and suffering, Trang A Khu was overwhelmed with happiness and pride as it was the first time he had taken part in a journey of such great intensity.
Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints
A tour guide and mountaineers collecting trash after their visit (Photo: NDO/ Hai Van)
Although numerous communication campaigns have been held to raise public awareness of environmental protection, there is still much human waste and trash left in mountains and forests.
Tan Chin Khe, a Red Dao ethnic porter in Na Doong village, Ban Lang commune, Phong Tho district, Lai Chau province is always the last to leave, collecting the trash and waste of the mountain climbers.
Like other porters in the northwest region, whose life depends on the forest, Khe is fully aware of the importance of the forests and mountains as well as environmental protection. Collecting trash at the end of the trip has always been a habit and regular practice among the porters.
They all keep in mind the slogan that “Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints” during every trip accompanying the mountaineers.
According to Giang A Sa, head of the forest protection team in Y Linh Ho 1 hamlet, Hoang Lien commune, Sa Pa district, Lao Cai province, the hamlet hosts an annual meeting to encourage people to have a higher sense of responsibility and awareness of protecting the forest and preventing forest fires in the dry season.
In early August last year, a training course for sport climbing instructors and lifeguards was held for the first time in Lang Son province by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Vietnam Sports Administration.
As an invited lecturer to the event, Phan Thanh Nhien noted the fact that a majority of active tour guides and porters in Vietnam have not yet received official training to help them handle any health issue or emergency of mountaineers during a trip.
As trekking will soon become a prominent tourism trend, it is necessary for tour guides and porters to equip themselves with the life skills, first aid attributes and general knowledge on climbing nutrition, he stressed.
In December last year, Lu Thi Gon visited Hanoi for the first time, during which she had the chance to make her biggest dream come true: paying homage to President Ho Chi Minh at his mausoleum.
During the two-day stay, she also visited the One Pillar Pagoda, Turtle Tower, and Sword Lake.
“My parents and villagers used to live in poverty, but now our livelihoods have been much improved thanks to the forests,” Gon said, pledging that she will join her villagers to do her best to protect the forests and mountains.