LAI CHAU, THE HIGH MOUNTAINS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES
For travelers eager to get off the beaten track and curious about the centuries-old traditions of ethnic minorities, there is no doubt that Lai Chau is a destination that has something to satisfy them. Not to spoil anything, this very mountainous province offers breathtaking scenery and is home to the highest peaks in Vietnam.
Lai Chau, province of high mountains
The province of Lai Chau is very mountainous and offers a superb steep relief that you will have the opportunity to appreciate when you cross this province to go to the famous Sapa health resort. Lai Chau province is home to some of the highest peaks in Vietnam including the two most important ones: Fansipan and Phu Si Lung. With its 3143 meters, Fansipan is the highest peak in Vietnam but is also the roof of Indochina. You can reach its summit during a demanding hike of several days from Sapa or you can go there by cable car, always departing from Sapa. Phu Si Lung is the second highest peak in the country at 3,076 metres. A very sporty hike allows you to reach its summit.
The hydroelectric power station of Lai Chau
The hydropower plant, located at the confluence of the Nâm Na and Dà rivers, was entirely designed by Vietnamese engineers and is to date the third largest hydroelectric power plant in Southeast Asia. To build this extraordinary facility, which produces 25 billion kWh per year, or the entire electricity consumption of Vietnam, was a titanic task. The city of Lai Chau, renamed Muong Lay, has disappeared under the lake created by the largest hydroelectric dam in Vietnam. The name of Lai Chau has been given back to the new provincial capital, formerly called Tam Duong, which is home to a nice ethnic market.
Lai Chau, land of many ethnic minorities
The mountainous province of Lai Chau is home to a large number of ethnic minorities including Hmong, Thai, Dao, Lu, Giay, Công and others. These mountainous ethnic groups possess an invaluable cultural treasure that contributes to enriching and diversifying the national culture. Hiking remains the best way to visit the villages of ethnic minorities and to observe their daily life which revolves around the work in the fields and rice cultivation. There is still the market of Tam Duong where you can meet this ethnic variegation. Every Thursday and Sunday morning, many ethnic minorities of the region converge at the market to trade, to buy but also to meet and discuss. A really colourful market where women proudly display their most beautiful silver costumes and jewelry.
Lai Chau in the time of French Indochina
As early as the 17th century, Lai Chau was part of the Thai Country, a federation of Thai lordships which became a protectorate of France on June 9, 1885. In exchange for repelling the Black Flags, hordes of Chinese plunderers, Auguste Pavie agreed to allow the Deo family to retain its privileges and rights over the northern provinces including Lai Chau which was home to the Deo family's Yamen from 1908 to 1954 on the banks of the Black River. The French colonial authorities encouraged the Deo family to supply them with opium which financed an important part of the colonial work and later the Indochina war. In the middle of the 20th century, Lai Chau was one of the most important poppy producing provinces.
Best season: We recommend that you visit Lai Chau from April to the end of November, but be careful of the summer rains between July and September.