It is harvest season, and the terraced rice fields are at their most beautiful.
The terraced fields are ripening, creating amazing scenery throughout the highlands of Vietnam. If you are a person who enjoys lovely landscapes, you should check out these places for a green and gold treat.
Sapa, situated 300 kilometers away from Hanoi, attracts tourists throughout the year. But the two months of autumn is when Sapa, a town in the northern province of Lao Cai, becomes truly beautiful. During the harvest season, from the mountains down into the valleys is a stunning yellow and green carpet.
The best place in Sapa is Muong Hoa Valley with villages like Ta Van, Ta Phin, Cat Cat, and Sin Chai being your main focus since the terraced fields look the best here.
Grilled salmon on tinfoil in Sapa.
Sapa is famous for salmon, sturgeon and mountain vegetables. The sturgeon and salmon are farmed in small lakes in mountain villages.
There are also street food vendors who serve bamboo tube rice with barbecued chicken and other snacks.
Lodging in Sapa is pretty cheap. A night in town will cost you only around VND300,000 ($13). You can get even cheaper prices in homestays and mountain villages, with a night’s stay costing VND100,000 ($4.2).
Sapa is cold at night and early morning. So carry a light jacket or a windbreaker. Also remember to carry a face mask to protect your nose and throat from the cold. When walking around the terraced fields, it’s best to wear a pair of boots to avoid getting dirty because sometimes it can get really muddy.
Autumn is the best time to visit Pu Luong, a nature reserve in Thanh Hoa Province 170 kilometers away from Hanoi. The weather at Pu Luong is cool throughout the year, even in summer. In autumn Pu Luong, where it is harvest season, is magnificent with its golden rice fields creating a carpet extending from village to village.
This nature reserve also has a 1,700-meter mountain with the same name. Pu Luong Mountain is among trekkers’ favorite spots. Normally it takes six to eight hours to reach the top if the weather is good. From there you can get a panoramic view of the grand and marvelous valley.
Pho Don Market is well worth a visit in Pu Luong. It only opens on Thursday and Sunday every week. You can buy souvenirs like brocade textile and try local treats like sweet/savory doughnut, fruits and mountain vegetables.
Mountain villages like Hieu, Don and Kho Muong are also places you should check out for terraced fields.
Co Lung grilled duck
A variety of delicacies can be found in Pu Luong such as grilled fish, stir-fried chicken, roasted pork marinated with Indian pepper, and bamboo shoot soup. But the most special dish in Pu Luong is grilled Co Lung duck. The meat is tender and fragrant since it’s grilled on charcoal. A whole roasted duck costs about VND450,000 ($19.4) and is good for three or four people.
A homestay in Pu Luong
There is currently only one resort in Pu Luong named Pu Luong Retreat and it is usually full. But there are many hostels and homestays there. Some notable places are Pu Luong Hostel, Tho Ha Homestay, Pu Luong Rice Road, and Pu Luong Tree House and their prices range from VND150,000 to 250,000 ($6.5 to 10.8) per night.
A good pair of walking shoes is recommended in Pu Luong. Also remember to take a bottle of insect repellent because there can be a lot of mosquitoes at night.
There are 2,200 hectares of terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai, including 500 ha in the three communes of La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and De Xu Phinh, which have been recognized as national landscapes by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The terraced fields here are recognized as one of the unique landscapes of Vietnam. Mu Cang Chai has become a popular destination in early October every year when the rice harvest starts.
Terrace parade of course is the way to go here. You can check out the terraced fields in valleys like Tu Le, La Pan Tan or Khau Pha , one of the four imposing mountain passes in the northwest of Vietnam. Although Mu Cang Chai is poor and relatively underdeveloped, it has a very rich natural environment.
Tu Le ground green rice flakes.
There are many delicacies in Mu Cang Chai, especially roasted black pig, salmon salad, Tu Le sticky rice, and bee chrysalis.
Mu Cang Chai is usually very crowded during the harvest season, and so you should book in advance if you want to go in October. The price for a night here is about VND300,000 ($13) at motels and VND100,000 ($4.3) if you choose a homestay.
Avoid driving on rainy days because the mountain road here is steep and can be really slippery.
Ha Giang Province, a neighbor of Lao Cai, is famous for its stunning mountain scenery and its border commune of Hoang Su Phi has probably the best terrace rice fields in Vietnam. The terraced fields of Hoang Su Phi were recognized as a national relic in 2012. There are around 3,000 hectares of terraces here.
You will never get tired of looking at these wonderful terraced beauties. The best terraces here are in villages like San Sa Ho, Ban Phung and Ho Thau.
Grilled mouse meat in Hoang Su Phi
You can try mouse meat in Hoang Su Phi in the form of dishes like roasted and low-heat grilled. Some say the meat tastes like chicken. Mice are an essential food for the La Chi ethnic people in Ha Giang. They also serve fried fish caught in the terraced rice fields.
There aren’t many places to stay in Hoang Su Phi because tourism has not developed much here. But you can find some homestays in the villages or motels in Vinh Quang Town for VND250,000 to 550,000 ($10.8 to 23.7) a night.
The weather in Hoang Su Phi is starting to get cold at night and in the early morning, so be sure to take a jacket with you. And be careful when you drive on the road from Ha Giang city to Hoang Su Phi because it’s narrow, winding and filled with trucks.
Y Ty is a commune in Lao Cai Province around 400 kilometers away from Hanoi. When autumn arrives, Y Ty is adorned with golden terraced rice fields and smells of grass. It is a relatively unknown place despite its wonderful landscapes.
To see terraces, you can visit A Lu and Den Thang rice fields. To catch a view of clouds, you can try trekking on the Nhi Cu San mountain range. Other attractions include the intersection of Lung Po Stream and the Red River and the Den Sang cardamom forest.
If you want to know more about the cultures of the ethnic people here, make sure to check out Lao Chai 1 and Lao Chai 2 villages, where the Ha Nhi people live.
A market day in Y Ty
The delicacies in Y Ty are pretty similar to other places in the northern highlands with roasted pig, chicken, mountain vegetables - but they are only cooked on festive occasions or market days. You can get regular food such as noodles and rice on normal days.
There are no hotels or resorts in Y Ty yet. But you can check out some homestays here and they cost only around VND70,000 ($3) though they have amenities like electricity, water and wifi. If the homestays are full up, you can even spend the night at the border station in Y Ty.
A pair of trekking shoes will be ideal for Y Ty since the roads here are quite muddy and slippery. And remember to carry some food since there aren’t many restaurants here.
Story by Tuan Hoang, Kieu Duong, Khanh Tran
Photos by Thao Linh, Huy Thang, Hoang Anh