This Vietnamese national park is a spice lover’s dream

Hoang Lien has become a trekker’s mecca and is home to forests of black cardamom, an essential ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes.

A stranger with an air rifle appeared out of nowhere in the mountain valley where Lang and I were standing. This should be interesting, I thought.

“Hi. We’re lost,” said Lang, who wore a handwoven traditional blouse over her spandex trousers and rubber boots. “Have you seen my relatives? Seven men and two women?”

To get here, we’d spent a day riding motorbikes over a bumpy mountain pass, fording knee-high rivers, winding our way up switchbacks, and even sidestepping a poisonous snake. Now we were close to our destination—a black cardamom forest on a nearby peak—but couldn’t find the approach trail among the shrubs and wildflowers. Lang’s husband, Duong, had just wandered off to look for it.

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