The harvest route: Mù Cang Chải
Every year, between September and October, the terraced rice fields of Mù Cang Chải, a rural district in northern Vietnam’s Yên Bái Province, put on a show of picturesque harvest colours. In the fresh, dew-brushed dawn, hundreds of stepped rice fields, carved into the contours of steep valleys, are illuminated by the autumn sun. The golden-green and toast-brown colours of the ripe rice are luminous. The curving terraces, although man-made, appear to be in complete harmony with the landscape, creating a hypnotic patterning across the hills and valleys. I call this spectacle the ‘Theatre of Rice’. Although well-known to most Vietnamese, Mù Cang Chải doesn’t get a mention in popular English-language guidebooks. A good way to see the ‘show’ is to drive the scenic section of Road 32 from Tú Lệ town to just west of Mù Cang Chải town. I call this the ‘Harvest Route’. It takes in 50km of picture-book scenery, including the lofty Khau Phạ Pass. There are hotels in both Tú Lệ and Mù Cang Chải towns. Below are my photos of the ‘Theatre of Rice’ and my map of the ‘Harvest Route’.
THE ‘HARVEST ROUTE’ IN PICTURES:
The dawn sun creeps over the valley walls, shedding light on the rice terraces.
First light of dawn
The early sun turns the rice a pale toast-brown.
Warm early light on the rice
Minority women make their way into the fields to begin a morning of work that often begins with a long walk.
Work begins in the fields
By now the morning sun fills the whole valley, revealing the extent of the rice terraces.
The sun-filled valley
Small huts dot the landscape offering shelter and storage space to farmers during the harvest.
Shelter & storage huts
Work begins in the fields. A minority woman stands atop a terrace, looking down to the river in the valley below.
A minority woman in the fields
Seen from the Khau Pha Pass, the terraces look like a ‘rice glacier’ slowly sliding down the hillside.
View from the Khau Pha pass
As it gets later, you’ll find you’re not the only spectator enjoying the ‘rice show’.
While others watch, work in the fields goes on, with only rudimentary machinery and buffaloes to help.
Hard work and no machinery
This is the real star of the show: rice. Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter.
Star of the show: rice
The sun is higher now. The dew has gone but a morning chill lingers. The colours get warmer, even if the air doesn’t.
Higher sun, warmer colours
Mid-way through their morning’s work it’s good to see these women enjoying a break.
Taking a break
Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle