Stairs to heaven in Northwestern Vietnam
I arrive in the northwest at harvest time in early autumn. For those who love travelling and adventures, this mighty and legendary route is always a strong draw. Northwest of Vietnam is famous for its pristine beauty. Most travel-lovers wish to witness terraced fields in its harvest season because at that time, thousands of yellow stairs will push your feelings to the heaven.
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Text and photos: Coc Tu
From Hanoi, passing through zigzag paths to Nghia Lo and Yen Bai, I’m on the way to discover the yellow route. My first destination is Tu Le, which viewed from the high hill, is an immense yellow valley with a curved dike surrouned by millions of yell rice trees swinging in the wind. This paints a wonderful picture. On a small bridge crossing a small stream, girls of Thai, H’Mong and Dao ethnic minorities in colorful dresses are excitingly preparing for the harvest. Unlike lowlanders who often wear neat, simple and dark clothes, Mong and Dao’s ethnic people consider the harvest as a big festival and put on attractive and colorful costumes.
A strong wind causes clouds to extend around the valley. The sun spreads its sparkling beams to flower clothes and bright silver jewelry. The scenery is so miraculous that the traveler must give an exclamation of “Magnificent!”. The sound touches the cliff, then resounds making a girl start. She takes a glance at the strange guest and lowers her head with a bashful smile. The car has departed, but the traveler still looks back with affection.
If Tu Le is regarded as a stunning heaven gate, Mu Cang Chai is the paradise of the heaven. To travel to Mu Cang Chai, you must come through Khau Pha mountain pass, one of the most imposing mountain passes in Vietnam. The pass is located at the height of 1,200m above sea level and surrounded by dew all year round. There are four seasons in a day at Khau Pha. When touching Khau Pha heavens gate, a marvelous view appears. An ocean of white clouds rolling and mixing in the green color of the mountain. The yellow morning sun penetrates the clouds and shines over small villages in the deep valley. Mountain ranges on two sides are linked with the cloud ocean, then run to the heaven. The traveler is filled with emotion without saying a word.
In the picturesque scenery, the wind blowing a cloud uncovers a part of the hidden landscape that amazes. Thousands of terraced fields heap to each other as stairs run from the deep abyss, through the clouds, then to the sky. On each stair, beautiful girls are harvesting rice. Fresh flowers of nature are pinned on their hair. Graceful and brisk hands bundle the rice and put it in small baskets. The people here seem to be harmonized with the sky with their hearts sunk in the soul of mountains and forests and imbrued with elegant and charming beauty.
In Mu Cang Chai, the most beautiful terraced fields are found in Che Cu Nha, La Pan Tan and De Xu Phinh communes. A yellow color carpets the whole region manifesting the physical strength of local people. Water sources from high mountains are carefully poured to the fields, from the top stairs to the bottom stairs at the abyss. In the crop season, H’Mong and Dao ethnic people must harvest from the highest fields to the lowest ones, then carry rice back to the villages, dry, pluck off and then husked. As an award for their hard-working days, nature always bestows these mountainous villages with bountiful harvests. Dropping by a small roadside restaurant, in the foggy and windy landscape, it is a memorable experience to taste Tu Le’s steamed glutinous rice with pork.
For hundreds of years, under the skillful hands of local people, terraced fields in Tu Le, Mu Cang Chai and Yen Bai not only bring about a well-off life for local people but they are also a cultural and historical symbol of our civilization. They have contributed to turn wild mountainous areas into yellow terraced fields spreading to the heaven.
+ The best time for exploring the harvest season: From the middle of September to the middle of October.
+ Routes: Hanoi – Son Tay – Thanh Son – Thu Cuc – Nghia Lo – Xa Tro (Tram Tau) – Tu Le – Khau Pha mountain pass – Mu Cang Chai – Che Cu Nha – La Pan Tan – De Xu Phinh.
+ Transportation: You can rent a motorbike for backpackers in Hanoi. Contact at Mr. Hoang 0922 586 122.
+ Accommodation: Muong Lo hotel (Nghia Lo): 029. 3 872 888 | Pho Nui guesthouse (Tu Le): 029. 3897115 | Son Ca guesthouse (Mu Cang Chai): 029. 3878 185. Price: from 150,000VND – 250,000VND. You had better book in advance before your journey.
See more abount Vietnam travel guide at here.