To help his son Quang Anh quit his gaming addiction, Hoai Nam took the 6-year-old boy on a journey through the mountains of northeastern Vietnam.
It ended up being a life-changing experience for both of them. Anh and his father have now successfully climbed four of Vietnam’s 15 tallest peaks.
“These trips create change, not just for my son, but also for me,” said Nam, a 36-year-old engineer at a South Korean cooperation.
In late 2021, when a friend introduced Nam to a mountain-climbing group, he became enthralled with the natural beauty of the terraced rice fields in the highlands.
He then began researching and planning a trekking journey for his wife and son to join him on.
“But Quang Anh’s only six, how can he climb mountains?” Nam’s wife asked.
Nam was confident in his boy’s abilities because he was already a good long-distance bicycle rider. When he showed Anh photographs of the places he wanted to go – mountains covered by layers of clouds stacked on top of each other and the boy became interested in the beautiful, heaven-like scenes.
“Dad, are clouds edible?” Anh asked his father when they looked at the photos.
“Sure, if you can touch it,” Nam answered. After hearing his father’s answer, Anh knew then and there that he wanted to accompany his father on a journey to where the clouds were
Quang Anh and his parents on the top of Lao Than Mountain, northern Lao Cai province, in late 2021. Photo by Hoai Nam
In late November 2021, the family began their adventure by climbing the Lao Than mountain (2,862 m) in Lao Cai Province with a professional guide and two other families. Quang Anh was the youngest member of the group.
The way to the Lao Than summit is simple enough for beginners. The slope is not too steep, the distance is short and the terrain doesn’t require much climbing.
The group started at 8 a.m. and traveled through a forest with mossy ancient trees. Nam said the weather was nice with mild sunshine and cool air.
“Because it was his first time climbing a mountain, Quang Anh was so excited that he took the lead the whole way,” Nam said.
In the afternoon, the group found a place to stop and rest for the night. The next morning, they climbed another hour to reach the summit.
This last stretch of the journey was the most difficult. The path got very steep and the hikers had to use their climbing skills.
Quang Anh got tired and short of breath quickly. Nam instructed him to stay calm and even taught the boy how to practice belly breathing and increase his endurance.
“I thought my son would give up, but his performance exceeded expectations,” Nam said.
Along some sections of the trail that were steep, Quang Anh learned how to lower his body’s center of gravity and he even crawled on certain parts of the path. The wind was intensely strong but he still tried to push himself forward without help from his father.
After over an hour, the group reached the peak just as the morning sun began to emerge. Leaving all his fatigue behind, Quang Anh ran around and shouted: “The view is amazing from up here!”
The way down was even more difficult because it began to rain. Anh bruised his toes a bit but he didn’t complain. All he saw was that he wanted “to climb more mountains.”
Quang Anh at the peak of Ta Chi Nhu in northern Yen Bai province. Photo by Hoai Nam
After the trip to Lao Than, Quang Anh came back home a changed boy.
He became more polite and started treating his parents with more respect. He began performing all his personal hygiene tasks – including bathing – independently without reminders or help from his parents. He even began cooking his own noodles and helping his mother wash the dishes, which was something he had never done before
Nam said he thought his son had been inspired by some of the older children on the Lao Than trip who did everything on their own.
Most impressive to Nam was the boy’s relationship with his phone changed.
“Now when’s he on the phone, instead of playing games, he researches famous mountains at home and abroad and learns more about the natural world,” Nam said.
And the father and son are now enjoying one of the best phases of their relationship. Anh exercises with his father everyday by cycling and playing badminton to train and stay healthy for the next trekking trip.
Their second trip in early 2022 was to Ta Chi Nhu Mountain in Yen Bai Province. This is one of the five most difficult treks in northwest Vietnam.
This time, Nam didn’t choose the common path but took the forest road so his son could see the unhindered beauty of nature. The father was deeply touched to see his son rush to his aid when he slipped on a steep and slippery bend in the trail.
“I was really moved. I wasn’t close to my son before, so I didn’t know that he was so caring,” Nam said.
Nam also remembers how his son overcame difficulties.
The long and challenging path to the peak exhausted Anh several times to the point he had to take breaks to rest before carrying on.
“You can go slowly but you must keep going. As long as you don’t give up, you will definitely reach your destination,” Nam encouraged his son.
After the motivating words from his father, Quang Anh resumed the journey without complaining or asking to go back.
Quang Anh conquers the Nhiu Co San peak in northern Lao Cai province in late 2022. Photo by Hoai Nam
For their third and fourth trips, the father-son duo conquered the peaks of Lung Cung in Yen Bai and Nhiu Co San in Lao Cai before and after the 2023 Lunar New Year holiday.
On these trips, Nam and Anh stopped in highland villages and learned about hill tribe cultures as well as the difficulties of living in such a remote area. Anh was impressed with how the villagers shared the few belongings they had. Now he shares more as a result. And he’s also more appreciative of the material things he has, including his school supplies. He knows how lucky he is.
“He used to lose a pen or an eraser every few days, but that doesn’t happen anymore,” Nam said.
Anh also now feels that the world is a big place, so he needs a lot of health and knowledge to explore it all.
“I exercise every day, I do everything on my own and study foreign languages so that I can go to many other places in the future,” Anh said, adding that his dream is to become a tour guide and take visitors to discover the beauty of Vietnam and other places.
For now, Anh and his father are planning more trips. Their goal is to eventually summit all of Vietnam’s 15 tallest mountains. According to Anh, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching the peak of a mountain:
“I feel like a winner,” he said.
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