Travel to Mu Cang Chai among terraced rice fields

October 2014 

Trip report from less known and less visited parts of Vietnam, among some of the most beautiful terraced rice fields of all Asia. This region of Vietnam is very important for the entire country, thanks to the production of rice made possible through terraces letting to grow this crop also along steep mountain sides. The scenery is particularly stunning between late September and early October, when the rice is ripening and farmers are busy in harvesting. The region of Mu Cang Chai is visited by fewer tourists than Sapa (the city referred as the "capital" of terraced rice fields in Vietnam) and therefore the experience is more authentic, thanks also to the spontaneity of the locals.

Fields of rice
The region of Mu Cang Chai in northern Vietnam is considered one of the most important granaries of the country and is home to some of the most beautiful terraced rice fields of all Asia, creating a unique landscape that is especially beautiful when rice is ripening (end of September / early October). This place is little known to the mass tourism, which is still generally limited to Sapa (about one day of travel by car), so you can enjoy the spectacular scenery in full peace and the maximum spontaneity from the local people.
Field of rice Field of rice
Rice in Vietnam
Fields of rice in Vietnam Ripen rice
The average altitude of Mu Cang Chai is about 1000 meters above sea level, so the ripening of rice and its harvest happens about 3 weeks later than Sapa city, which is much higher. These photos of the rice fields were taken between late September and early October, when the harvest of rice is in progress and when you can see both brown and yellow terraces.
Rice harvest
After the rice harvest, crop residues are burned and the ashes left in place. At this time of the year, when rice ripening and harvest is in progress, the terraces are not flooded. If you would like to see flooded rice terrace fields, without still any vegetation, the best time to go is around March (at least in this region of Vietnam).
Rice fields photos. The terraced rice fields of Mu Cang Chai cover the whole sides of mountains and during ripening of rice, everything turns to yellow.
Harvesting rice Cutting rice
Transporting rice
Farmers engaged in the harvest of rice and transport to the designated area for threshing.
Ripe rice
Riping rice Ripening rice
Pictures of rice fields already harvested and with harvest in progress.
Rice plants cut
A rice field with the harvest in progress. The cut plants are temporarily left on the ground in large bundles, waiting for someone to transport them to the place designed for threshing.
Rice terraces in Asia
Photos of terraced rice fields in Vietnam, built along the sides of the mountains.
Rice terraces seen from the front, from the opposite side of a mountain. Building terraces is a technique used in agriculture to take advantage of steep sides of the mountains, to grow efficiently plants that would grow well only on level ground. The terraces are widespread in China, Southeast Asia and the Andes in South America.
Terraced rice fields
Terraced rice field Terraced rice
Rice terraces Rice in Vietnam
Cutlivating rice in Vietnam rice cultivation in Vietnam
Ripen rice Rice ready to be harvested
More photos of terraced rice fields from Vietnam, offering beautiful landscapes during the ripening of rice, when everything turns yellow. Unlike other regions of Vietnam, due to the altitude and the climate, rice is grown only once per year (versus other regions where multiple harvests per year are possible).
Cultivating rice in mountains Mu Cang Chai
Rice terraces covering entire hills, often including the flattened top.
threshing rice
On the left photo, some farmers at work carrying rice plants toward the area designated for threshing (pictured right).
Mu Cang Chai Vietnam Landslide
Mountain terraces

Pictures of rice terraces under beautiful lights and shadows. In the top-right photo, a big landslide has destroyed many terraces, but saved a shed a few meters away. In the bottom-left photo, columns of smoke rise from the points where crop's residues are burned.
Terraces of rice Rice grown in terraces
Vietnam in September

More photos of rice terraces, with ripen rice ready for harvest. Within a few days (or even just hours), the golden yellow color of the rice will be replaced by the brown of the empty fields.
Harvesting rice Harvesting rice by hands
Harvesting rice over terraces.

Other rice terraces, some of which are unusually flooded for this season. How to bring the water on the terraces at the top of a mountain? Obviously it's not possible to pump the water from the streams below, but rather the water is carried from rivers and lakes at higher altitudes, though bamboo pipes.
Vietnam child
In Mu Cang Chai, at least at 2014, there are no facilities suited to accommodate a large number of tourists, so I spent the night with a family after a fantastic dinner... a perfect setting for a trip to a so remote area.

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English translation by Lorena Anzani.