THE FABULOUS RICE TERRACES OF MU CANG CHAI
The mountainous area of Mu Cang Chai is home to some of Vietnam's most magnificent rice terraced landscapes. A territory of fascinating beauty, inhabited by the Thai and Hmong people, which lies at the end of the famous "photographer's road" which alone justifies a trip to the north of Vietnam.
Gorgeous rice terraces
With its amphitheaters of rice terraces carving out the mountains, Mu Cang Chai offers some of the most spectacular panoramas in northern Vietnam. The rice terraces, tiered on the mountain slopes, are the result of the sweat and blood of the peasants. We cannot help, when discovering these grandiose landscapes built up little by little over hundreds of years, but bow our heads with respect, thinking of the demanding labour involved in such a type of agriculture. The Hmong people who inhabit this region, have developed a complex system of canals bringing water from the wooded peaks to the terraces. They have also developed a system of integrated agriculture that combines animal husbandry (buffaloes, cattle, ducks, fish and eels) with the production of the main product: rice. This particularly sustainable land management system demonstrates an extraordinary harmony between the people and their environment, both visually and ecologically. It is based on ancient social and spiritual structures.
Discovering the rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai is an opportunity to go on magnificent hikes, from a simple stroll to a hike lasting several hours or even several days with nights at an inhabitant's home.
When are the best times to see the rice terraces?
The rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai are in themselves a magnificent spectacle that delight visitors every time, but be careful: depending on the time of the year you come, the rice terraces may not have the same appearance.
- From mid-October to May, the rice fields are at rest. There is no rice, the terraces are muddy but still draw beautiful curves on the mountains.
- From May to June, the rice fields are ploughed by the farmers and their buffaloes, then they are flooded by the first rains of the summer monsoon. The rice fields then become giant mirrors in which the sky reflects. Once flooded, the farmers, bent in two, can then transplant the rice. A superb picture appearing in mirrors on the hanging plots.
- From July to the end of August, it is time for the rice to ripen. The rice begins to turn to a soft green covering all the sculpted slopes of the valleys. At this time of year, the rice is copiously watered by the summer storms.
- From mid-September to the beginning of October, the rice is a bright yellow, golden colour, ready to be harvested. The rice terraces are bustling with activity for the harvest. The colour variations, in this season, offer a fascinating spectacle.
The spectacular photographers' route
The road between Nghia Lo and Mu Cang Chai is called the "Photographers' Road" because of the series of spectacular landscapes along the 100 kilometres separating the two cities.
Nghia Lo is the gateway to this fabulous road. The city is located in a vast rice valley, one of the largest rice granaries in northwest Vietnam after Dien Bien Phu. The area of Nghia Lo is mainly inhabited by the Thai who have been excellent rice farmers for centuries. From Nghia Lo, a beautiful mountain road will lead you to the village of Tu Le, surrounded by numerous rice terraces and three high mountains: Khau Pha, Khau Than and Khau Song. From October 16 to 23, 1952 in this area, the 6th Colonial Airborne Battalion of Commander Bigeard opposed to General Giap's divisions 308 and 312. If you come to Tu Le in October, you will have the opportunity to taste "côm", young rice, sticky, crushed, roasted and rid of its husk, eaten with both hands in a banana leaf.
From Tu Le you can then head towards Mu Cang Chai by a breathtaking mountain road. The ascent to Khau Pha Pass offers spectacular views of terraced rice fields tumbling down the mountains. With a length of 30 kilometres and an altitude of 1500 meters, the Khau Pha pass is one of the four major passes of Vietnam. Then, head to the mountain town of Mu Cang Chai, with many stops along the way to enjoy extraordinary views of the rice terraces recognized as a national natural heritage.
Meeting with ethnic minorities
If the beginning of the photographers' route, from Nghia Lo to Tu Le, is mainly inhabited by the Thai ethnic group, the Mu Cang Chai area is mainly inhabited by the Hmong ethnic group. The Hmong distinguish themselves from the Thais by their more colourful costumes, especially by their shimmering scarves covering their heads. Some Hmong and Thai families can welcome you to spend the night at their houses, which is a beautiful way to discover these complex yet fascinating cultures.