Mu Cang Chai is a must-visit place especially when its rice crop is ripening. This northwest highland town is known for its picturesque landscapes, delicious food and hot mineral springs.
Mu Cang Chai is beautiful all year round, but it is stunning during the planting and harvesting seasons (winter-spring). The planting season is from the end of May to the beginning of June, when the rice fields are filled with water and look like a mirror reflecting the world.
From September to October is the harvest season, which attracts lots of photographers and tourists who come to admire the colorful scene. At the end of December is the season for wild peaches to bloom.
The weather in Mu Cang Chai is quite unusual, hot during the day and cold at night. To avoid sickness, visitors are advised to bring a lightweight jacket.
Khau Pha Pass
Khau Pha Pass is where annual paragliding activities take place and are dubbed "Flying over the yellow season". Visitors can get panoramic view sof Lim Mong valley while soaring over the terrace fields during the rice harvest season. It is an experience that thrill seekers should absolutely not miss.
Lim Mong - Lim Thai Valley
Lim Mong - Lim Thai Valley is where Thai villages are located just below Khau Pha Pass, one of the four great peaks of Vietnam.
Going through the suspension bridge are small paths sloping up the mountain. Visitors to Lim Mong in the harvest season in September-November will see themselves surrounded by golden rice fields on both sides of the road. They can drive through these fields, see the peaceful village and have a chat with the friendly locals before taking a break by the cool streams.
Terraced fields cover more than 2,200 hectares in Mu Cang Chai. Of them, 500 hectares are recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as a national heritage belonging to the three villages of La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and De Xu Phinh.
Tu Le Commune
Tu Le Commune in Yen Bai Province’s Van Chan District is situated three kilometers from Khau Pha Pass and is famous for its glutinous rice variety. When the rice harvest season begins, the Thai people in Tu Le are all busy and excited about preparing a new batch of cốm or green rice flakes. A kilogram of cốm costs VND120,000 ($ 5.12).
Travelers can stay in Tu Le for a night in motels or homestays in Mu Cang Chai (why do you mention 2 names? if you toss in a million names, no reader can get their head around your writing) for VND100,000 - 400,000 ($4.26 -17.05) per night. Visitors can visit the market in the evening to try Thai and other foods.
Mam Xoi Hill
Mam Xoi Hill has for long been a symbol of the rice ripening season in Mu Cang Chai. It is in La Pan Tan, eight kilometers from the town center. Because the road is difficult to traverse, visitors should get a motorcycle-taxi to safely reach their destination. There is also a buckwheat flower garden and an ethnic clothing rental service for tourists to take photos near the hill. There is an additional fee of VND5,000 (21 cents) per person if you visit the shack (??) and VND10,000 if you go to a rice field to take photos.
Mong Ngua Hill
Mong Ngua Hill in Sang Nhu village, two kilometers from Mu Cang Chai town, has picturesque semicircular terraced fields. It attracts a lot of photographers during the harvest season. Entry tickets to the terraced fields cost VND20,000 (84 cents) for adults and VND10,000 (42 cents) for children. The motorbike-taxi fare is VND 60,000-100,000 ($2.56-4.26) for a roundtrip.
Bamboo forest in Na Hang Tua village
There is a 60-year-old bamboo forest 20 kilometers from Mu Cang Chai town. This is where locals go to collect bamboo shoots, a specialty of the region. The steep road is muddy on rainy days. Travelers cannot drive to the due to the narrow and slick road, and have to either walk there or hire locals to drive them there on motorbikes.
The longest zipline in Vietnam is in the Aeris Hill adventure game area in Nuoc Nong village in Tu Le Commune. It stretches 1.2 kilometers between Van Chan and Mu Cang Chai districts, and enables visitors to view all of Tu Le valley and the surrounding mountains.
The Aeris Hill adventure game area is open all week except on Wednesdays from 8:30 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening. Entry tickets cost VND 200,000 ($8.53).
Tram Tau Hot Springs
Tram Tau about 100 kilometers from Mu Cang Chai is a great destination if you want to explore Yen Bai in the paddy ripening season. There is a mineral hot spring here that comes from a natural underground source. The place also offers homestays, but travelers who want to stay overnight must make reservations in advance. There is a free spring where locals can bathe, such as in Coi and Hoc villages, not far from the hot mineral bath area.
Stilt houses and homestays are the most popular accommodation in Mu Cang Chai apart from budget hotels. Visitors can easily find stilt houses around famous tourist attractions such as Ban Thai, La Pan Tan terraced fields and Tu Le. The stilt houses have dormitories that can accommodate 10 to 30 people.
Hotels are mainly concentrated in Mu Cang Chai town. These budget hotels have basic amenities such as beds, bathrooms, televisions, and refrigerators.
Some new places in the "Ecolodge" style (eco-resort) are Hello MCC and MCC Eco lodge in La Pan Tan. If you are looking for more upscale hotels, you can choose to stay closer to Tu Le and Nghia Lo.
In places like Hello Mu Cang Chai, Vu Linh
Family, Ngoc Thuy Homestay Mu Cang Chai, rooms cost VND100,000 - 700,000
($4.26 - 29.85) per night.
In Mu Cang Chai, visitors should try local specialties such as sticky rice, wild bee pupae, stir-fried bitter bamboo shoots, grilled black pork, grilled fish (pa pinh top), salmon, Khau Pha Pass sturgeon, and cai meo or mustard greens.
If you are searching for a unique gift to take back home, Tu Le’s green rice flakes are a great option. Visitors can watch locals make them right on the spot. A kilogram of green rice flakes costs around VND90,000 ($3.84).
It is around 300 kilometers from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai. The road is pretty difficult to traverse due to the steep slopes along the way.
Mu Cang Chai, Van Chan, Tram Tau, and Nghia Lo town are the four western districts of Yen Bai, located on the western flank of the Hoang Lien Son–Pung Luong mountain range. The only road to get here is Highway 32.
Traveling by passenger bus: In Hanoi, one can find passenger buses at the My Dinh bus station. The majority of buses that travel to Mu Cang Chai pass through the town of Nghia Lo though some also travel along the Noi Bai–Lao Cai highway.
Traveling by private vehicle: It is advised that travelers take the following route while traveling along Highway 32: My Dinh-Nhon - Son Tay - Trung Ha Ba Vi bridge (or Dong Quang bridge from Son Tay turn left towards K9 (rewrite) - Thanh Thuy - Thanh Son Phu Tho - Tan Son Thu Cuc - Ba Khe - Van Chan - Nghia Lo town - Tu Le - Khau Pha Pass - Nga Ba Kim - Mu Cang Chai town.
You should leave at 5:00 in the morning to reach in time for lunch.
Day 1: Hanoi - Tram Tau Hot Springs
It takes five hours to travel the 220 kilometers from Hanoi to Tram Tau district, and so people driving motorbikes and cars should leave early in order to arrive at the destination beofre noon. The route is from Hanoi to Trung Ha Bridge, Thanh Son town, Thu Cuc commune, Van Chan District, Nghia Lo town, and Tram Tau District. Tourists can also take a bus from Hanoi to Nghia Lo town, and then a taxi to continue to Tram Tau District.
Day 2: Khau Pha Pass - Lim Mong village, Lim Thai village - Tu Le Commune - Mu Cang Chai town
The distance from Tram Tau District to Khau Pha Pass is almost 90 kilometers, and the trip takes around 2.5 hours.
Day 3: Mam Xoi Hill - Mong Ngua Hill - Hanoi
There are lovely terraced fields along the 60-kilometer road from Tu Le to the heart of Mu Cang Chai town. La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and Sang Nhu are some of the most renowned rice fields here.
The trip costs around VND3 million (US$127.88) per person.
Story by Khanh Tran