Pac Bo in Cao Bang - Where time stands still

Nga Do
The historic Pac Bo cave in the middle of the forest is also the home of Tay ethnic village. The Tay people are abundant in Cao Bang Province.

We headed to Pac Bo, Cao Bang, a romantic mountain getaway, with the feeling that we were touching history while listening to the breath of the Pac Bo stream ... 

Pac Bo in Cao Bang - Where time stands still
Photo by [Tycho]
Fair winter sun shined on swinging reed flowers along the road to Pac Bo, creating a fresh and gentle air to the impressive mountainous region. From Cao bang our motorbike slowly conquered 60km of mountain road, heading to Pac Bo, the place uncle Ho Chi Minh once secretly lived and worked as the nation?s top communist leader. He stayed here for nearly one month - which is not so long - but the stories of his struggle for independence in the forest "every morning by the spring - coming back to a stone cave at night" have been deeply embedded in the minds of the Vietnamese.

The historic Pac Bo cave in the middle of the forest is also the home of Tay ethnic village. The Tay people are abundant in Cao Bang Province, and they still hold fast to many of their traditional customs and activities. The village road was brown-yellow: the color of earth. Villagers mix this kind of earth with carefully chopped straw to build their houses. Under the honey-like sunlight, the whole village seemed familiar and welcoming. Children were playing on the road while feeding their buffalos, chickens and ducks. The ducks were unfolding their wings in the sun, polishing their feathers. The local breed of ducks here have shiny blue heads, yellow beaks and strong legs.

Michael, our Australian companion, saw a sign on which was written "We sell wild honey here", which led us to step in and inquire. The owner of the house was out, but his neighbor, an old Tay woman who spoke little Vietnamese, enthusiastically pulled us into her house to show us her family picture album. We sew photos of her family members standing with great generals like Nong Duc Manh and other high ranking leaders of the Communist party. Despite the language barrier, we guessed that her house used to be part of the revolutionary base.

Walking into the village, we visited another house and were invited to drink home-made liquor. This time the owner of the house, a generous woman with pink cheeks, recounted the village's love for Uncle Ho and the Revolution. Their hospitality was sincere and moving, unaffected and heartfelt.

Following the curved road, we proceeded to the Pac Bo historic site. In the Tay language, Pac Bo means? the Source". We headed upriver along "Lenin Stream", which is about 10 meters wide, and of a striking transparent pale-blue. On its smooth surface, there sometimes appear big stones emerging still from the surface, while the water runs over these hurdles, creating small waterfalls. Along two banks of Lenin stream we saw pistil stratiotes, looking like big green bee nests and also standing still in the stream.

The road runs in a thin U-shape where the bottom becomes Coc Bo Cave. A lot of falling leaves cover this stone road. It is in fact difficult to see the blue sky above since the canopy of leaves is so thick. The trees growing along the stream naturally grow into mysterious forms that never cease to charm. The road then slopes, leading hikers to Coc Bo, where the walls of the cave are cool and humid. When standing at the entrance looking down, one can still read "February 8, 1941", the day Uncle Ho first came here. From outside, the cave looks small and easy to bypass. In fact, to our amazement the marks separating the border of China and Vietnam are only steps away. It seems that Uncle Ho lived on the border, not just near it!

We then stopped by the stone table, known as the place where Uncle Ho used to sit thinking and sipping tea during those historic days. Looking down the stream we could see the clear water flow: its surface smooth, a deep pale-blue, while the flow below is furious. Where stone blocks try cutting it, the water runs over and reveals a hidden enduring power through its shining white froth. It seems undefeatable! This hidden sinewy flow reminded us of many things. In one way it seemed to represent the enduring will of Ho Chi Minh: a will fed not only by the whole nation but also by nature itself, as the source here has never gone.

We silently stepped back to find a small Tay child with big, naive eyes. He told us he was waiting for his bulls to eat grass and that they were somewhere around here. That was his daily work after school. His slim body and clear, direct speaking manner drove us to think of the image of Kim Dong, the little brave communicator who helped Uncle Ho in the old days.

Here is where time stands still - a primitive, quiet but not lonely place. Sounds of wind and water bounce back the heart beats of history. Here is Pac Bo, where the mountains grow near bushes, where wild trees twist their trunks along the stream, where water runs strong beneath us ... Time truly does stand still here.

Getting there:
From Hanoi, follow Route 3 to Cao bang (Hanoi - Cao Bang 272km). Pac Bo is 55 km from Hanoi and is situated in Truong ha village, Ha Quang district, Cao bang province. Travelers should start from Cao Bang early in the morning. Through only 55km, a visit to Pac Bo may take a full day since it is mountain road.

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