Northwestern Vietnam – Mu Cang Chai Terraced Rice Fields

We had spent several weeks in Laos and Cambodia since leaving our motorcycles safely parked in a garage in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam and we were more than ready to return to continue our Vietnam motorcycle trip. So we flew back to Dien Bien Phu from Siem Reap International Airport by way of Hanoi. We found our bikes safe, just as we’d felt them. It was good to be back on the road in Vietnam. We had looked forward to the beautiful landscapes and scenery that awaited us in the northwest corner of Vietnam and our first overnight stop was to be the world famous rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai.

The Northwest region of Vietnam is steeped in tradition and history which provides a captivating blend of spectacular landscapes populated by indigenous hill tribes. This remote region has experienced little change over the last several centuries. The area gave us the chance to not only experience rural Vietnam behind the scenes but also offered us the rare opportunity to meet and talk to numerous different ethnic minorities who graciously welcomed us into their unspoiled world. This experience coupled with the stunning landscapes proved to be one of our most exciting and worth while adventures of our entire trip.

Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai has been named one of the 19 “most picturesque peaks” on earth by U.S. Travel Site Inside. The Mu Cang Chai District is located in Yen Bai Province about 300 km northwest of Hanoi. It sits 1000 meters above sea level displaying a vast display of the most beautiful rice terrace fields to be found anywhere in Vietnam or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Called a “hidden gem” the terraces can be a shade of green so deep that you will feel as though you’ve actually stepped into a painting. Depending on the month of your visit the colors will vary between an emerald green to a golden yellow to a light brown. It’s like a constantly changing picture when green rice of June and July grows into the yellow ripening rice of September and October.

The local hamlet of Trong Tong (Trong Tong Hamlet in La Pan Tan), provides visitors with a spectacular panoramic view of over 3500 hectares of terraced fields stretching out as far as the eye can see. The rice is planted once a year during the early days of the year and is ready for harvest between mid-September and mid-October. As planned, our visit occurred during early October which was the perfect time for us to experience the beauty of the harvest in all it’s glory as we enjoyed the best weather of the year.

The narrow terraces are laid out and planted in a staircase fashion about a meter separating each terrace. These techniques for farming have been handed down from generation to generation and are the way of life observed by the farmers to this day. The fields are irrigated in May and June when the first summer rains begin to fall. The farmers use an ingenious system of bamboo pipes to conduct the water from the local streams above down through the terraces as a means of flooding the thirsty fields. The limpid water glistens in the afternoon sun creating a beautiful scene that amazes even the most seasoned traveler. This most picturesque scene was recognized by the National Heritage of Vietnam in 2007. The vast yellow colored fields of August and September are known for their photographic beauty and therefore most visited during this time of the year.

The terraced landscapes are representative of the cultures harmonious interaction with the surrounding countryside. With precise ingenuity these indigenous people have, over the centuries, changed the mountains harsh reality of steep slopes and jagged mountains into a tapestry of productive terraced farm lands woven into this challenging landscape.

The rice paddies are home to a mix of ethnic minority groups including Thai and Dao with the most populous H’mong tribe, making up 95% of the population. Observing the indigenous tribes is almost as interesting as soaking in the spectacular views. These groups exhibit diverse cultural values and exhibiting its own beliefs, social practices and farming lifestyle, which they have developed over many generations.

Their style of living today is in sharp contrast and far removed from the so called modern lifestyle of the typical city dwellers in places like Hanoi or HCMC. Besides farming, their simple lives revolve around their hillside houses, tending to their animals, making handcrafted goods, worshipping their ancestors and going to the local market where all the local social and economic activities take place.

The local Khau Pha Mountain Pass has become internationally recognized as an amazing area for world class hang gliding. It has become an extremely popular with gliders both from Vietnam and gliders from all over the world. Famous for its perfect wind conditions and the amazing scenery. It is praised by gliders the world over for being one of the world’s most desirable gliding destinations.

In September a paragliding festival is held at the pass. Members of gliding clubs join in the festivities for partying and use this opportunity for the taking of the most beautiful photos imaginable.

We once again decided to spend a couple of nights in a home stay with a local family. The opportunity to observe these simple people at close hand was a very rewarding experience—and the food was really good as well.

After two special days we were off again to explore the mountains of northwest Vietnam.

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