Mu Cang Chai in the North Vietnam Province of Yen Bai is famous for its rice terraces, the popular means of growing crops in mountainous regions where general soil erosion and run-off during the rainy season threatens the fertility of the fields. High season is at harvest time, autumn and very early winter. Festivals are one of the many highlights of a Vietnam holiday, and if you are thinking about the best time to visit Vietnam, the chance to enjoy one of the local festivals, in this case thanks for the harvest, is a powerful reason to select that time of the year if your Vietnam tour package includes time in the mountainous north.To get full value of your time in Vietnam, you should look to experience all the country has to offer; that includes the cities, history and culture, the stunning coastline as well as the beautiful mountainous interior north of Hanoi.
The rice will have been sown around May when the rains start. The soil softens and makes it easy for the villagers to plant their crop. The terraces shimmer in the sun until the green shoots emerge. As they grow the terraces are essentially green until the rice is ready to harvest.At harvest time, the terraces look golden; a stunning photograph opportunity for all the tourists that are slowly learning about Mu Cang Chai.
The Hmong ethnic group makes up 90% of the population and life is little different now than it has been for generations. You may well be able to stay in the area by booking a homestay and a Vietnam travel agent will be able to make all the arrangements. The roads have improved into the north though inevitably once you reach the mountainous regions, you will be travelling more slowly. The scenery is spectacular so why would you want to hurry anyway?
The rice fields seem endless, mountain after mountain. In all there are 2,200 hectares across three communities and in 2007, they were recognised for their national heritage value. Where the mountains are at their steepest, each terrace may only be 1 metre wide and they are rarely wider than 1.5 metres.
Creating such terraces is not new. They have been built on several continents and in the case of Mu Cang Chai, the Yen Bai Museum has evidence on stone blocks that the Hmong built these terraces in the 16th-17th Centuries. Sticky rice has been part of the Hmong daily diet throughout its history and if you visit, you may well find a dish in front of you with coloured sticky rice; natural dyes from local plants are used to provide the colourful plate of food.
Vietnam’s rice terraces may not be the most accessible places in the country but the effort of getting to them is certainly worth it if you have the time. The unique setting and the ethic tribes provide a great experience even for the most seasoned of travellers.