Capticating rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai

Motorbike Tour to Mu Cang Chai

The rice festival had started in Mu Cang Chai and I still had quite a few things to complete at the office. Then it rained for a couple of days that my motorbike adventure to Mu Cang Chai was delayed further. Then came Wednesday that a typical autumn day returned to Hanoi and I felt ready to be on the road again.

Idyllic landscape at Gia Hoi, Van Chan, Yen Bai
Idyllic landscape at Gia Hoi, Van Chan, Yen Bai

I had got up quite early and had been relaxed by my morning coffee. The morning breezes were so pleasant that I felt sleepy again. It looked like it would be a nice day and I had better start today. My luggage had been packed up and ready for ages! Still it was just good to double-check everything before departure…

I left the city at half past eight in the morning when it was bright sunshine. The newly made road was just excellent and I felt great to be in fresh air again. It was a pleasant day that the temperatures in the morning were around 25-28 Degrees Celsius. The country air was so rejuvenating. The landscape on the way was beautiful but quite familiar to me and I did not stop for photography. I wanted to save my time for Mu Cang Chai really…

Rice fields at Nam Bung, Van Chan, Yen Bai
Rice fields at Nam Bung, Van Chan, Yen Bai

It got a bit warm when I stopped for lunch at Thu Cuc (Tan Son, Phu Tho) at mid day. The restaurant had only steamed rice and stewed fish left and I felt it was just good enough for a quick lunch. The owner looked at me curiously and asked if I was coming for the golden rice at Mu Cang Chai. He said there had been so many travelers last weekend. A young guy told me that I had better be prepared with enough petrol as there was no chance to get it on the mountain pass of Deo Khe (the Khe Mountain Pass between Phu Tho and Yen Bai)… they were really nice people.

Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley
Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley during the harvest season

After lunch I kept on with my adventure through Deo Khe which offered sublime views of the valleys and mountains in bright sunshine. It was tempting to stop every now and then for photos but I insisted on riding further. I didn't want to miss photography at the high pass at Mu Cang Chai at twilight. At Son Thinh (Van Chan) it sprinkled down a few drops of rain and it was cloudy and windy when I was at the Muong Lo Valley. I had my raincoat with me and not anything to worry about. I kept on riding past Lien Son Farm and it started raining hard at Son Luong Commune (Van Chan, Yen Bai). When I passed a high mountain road to Gia Hoi and it was just dry again. There had been no rain here!

Breathtaking valley of Tu Le - Cao Pha during the golden rice time
Breathtaking valley of Tu Le - Cao Pha during the golden rice time

Descending into the valley of Tu Le I found the village in a festive atmosphere. People were making Com (dry young sticky rice) which is green, soft and fragrant. Com Tu Le is a specialty that you could bring along on your trip and eat as snacks. Vietnamese people who travel past Tu Le would normally get a few packs as souvenirs for their beloved ones at home. Some of the fields at Tu Le had been harvested and some still had ripe rice which had withered yellow colors. It looked to me that they did not have a bumper crop this year.

Late afternoon at Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley
Late afternoon at Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley

I kept on riding past Tu Le onto Khau Pha Pass. I was looking for some great moments on the pass when lighting conditions were good for photography. I was not lucky this time as sunlight was too weak and local farmers were burning off the straws. The whole area was quite hazy and smoky. I got some photos as documentary ones only and kept on riding further to Mu Cang Chai. The terraced rice fields leading into the “Theater Of Rice of Vietnam” were quite impressive, but it was too dark to have nice photos. I just enjoyed my ride amid the peaceful scenery of the mountains when the day was drawing to a close and arrived at the homestay a bit after 6:00 P.M.

Khau Pha Pass at twilight
Khau Pha Pass at twilight

At Mu Cang Chai I normally stay at a Hmong family. They have a nice wooden house on stilts offering a sweeping view of the terraces and mountains in the front… The young owner just greeted me back and got me a hot tea. This time they reserved a private room for me. I left my luggage in the room and got out onto the terrace in front of the house for the tea while the host went back to the kitchen preparing dinner. There were other Vietnamese travelers staying here tonight.

My room at a homestay at Mu Cang Chai
My room at a homestay at Mu Cang Chai

Dinner was a feast with steamed black chicken, smoked water-buffalo meat (Thit Trau Gac Bep) and Hmong apple whiskey (Ruou Tao Meo). I could not drink much, but stayed up late for a chat with the hosts. The winds were a bit stronger later in the night and I felt chilly. It was time to go to bed then. The moon was so bright tonight, another of many beautiful moonlit nights that I was amid the mountains of the North West of Vietnam…

Landscape in front of the homestay in the early morning
Landscape in front of the homestay in the early morning

Morning came with chilly air. I opened the door and came to the front terrace. It was slightly hazy and pleasantly chilly. The air was fresh and it was still quiet. I went down to the kitchen and found the hosts were preparing breakfast for the guests. I asked for boiling water and made tea myself. It was lovely sipping hot tea enjoying the fresh morning like this. I wouldn't trade my precious morning moments while on holidays for anything in a hurry…

Kids going to school
Kids going to school

 

Bright sunshine at Mu Cang Chai
Bright sunshine at Mu Cang Chai

After a while other guests started getting up. And local people started working in the rice terraces in front of the house. The host brought me breakfast and quickly went back into the kitchen. Here they only had noodle soup with omelet and steamed sticky rice. The sun came out quickly and the sunshine was so bright. The air was pleasant and fresh still.

 

A bird eye's view of Mu Cang Chai
A bird eye's view of Mu Cang Chai

While I was finishing breakfast, the kids bade farewell to me and left for school. Even in the mountains here, kids stay in school all day and only see their parents in the evening. It is different in the old days that we only went to school half a day. But I know that there are families who can not afford to have their kids to go to school or that in some far-flung regions they do not have enough schools and teachers for everyone. Life is always tough somewhere…

 

Small mountain trail from thrilling adventures
Small mountain trail from thrilling adventures

 

Landslide after a rain
Landslide after a rain

I had finished my breakfast and thought I had better make a move. My plan was to travel by motorbike and trek on some trails to visit villages and to take photos of the people and landscape of Mu Cang Chai. It was a beautiful day and I should have enough time here for everything. Else, I'd come back anyway and there was no need for me to hurry at all.

Nice golden rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai
Nice golden rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai

The trail uphill allowed me to get panoramic photos of Mu Cang Chai. It was bright sunshine and fresh air. Then came a road block. They were repairing the trail that I could not travel through. I knew there was another trail lower and smaller and turned around to head to that one. The trail didn't provide great views of the mountains and rice terraces, but it saved me quite a distance. I traveled for half an hour and found recent rains had swept away part of the trail. A bulldozer was working to make the path passable again.

A stunning view of Mu Cang Chai
A stunning view of Mu Cang Chai from a high point

It is extremely costly to maintain roads in the mountains. After the rainy season, then roads are gone and they have to start all over again. I have traveled in the far-north of Vietnam for many years and still can't believe that things change that dramatically after the rains. While I was perplexed as to what to do next then a boy from the bulldozer came over and asked me to turn around. It was not possible to proceed further. Wow, my whole morning had been only for traveling back and forth on the bad trails! But there was no choice then.

When I was about near the roadblock again some local men stopped me on the road and told me that they could bring my motorbike on the terraces uphill and back again onto the trail on the other side of the roadblock, so that I could travel further on this same trail without having to go all the way back down to the big sealed road. Well, that was a nice offer and I agreed immediately.

A panoramic picture of Mu Cang Chai
A panoramic picture of Mu Cang Chai

It took them half an hour to bring the motorbike back to the trail and I continue my journey after paying the charge. It was in late morning and the clouds kept moving slowly so that a part of Mu Cang Chai was in clouds' shade and the other part in bright sunshine. There were no winds and it was warm sometimes. I shot photos of the mountains and rice terraces from high above which were just stunning. It was just that sometimes I had to leave my motorbike to get to a vantage point on foot and it was warm as I didn't have a sun hat on.

Rice terraces high in the sky at Mu Cang Chai
Rice terraces high in the sky at Mu Cang Chai

It was mid day when I got down to the sealed road. The sun was very strong. There was a restaurant by the roadside that I thought it was perfect to have lunch and a break. And all of a sudden the sky turned dark and a rain came pouring down. The owner of the restaurant was A Hmong lady who told me she had only fried fish and steamed rice left. That was just perfect for me. The food was good and I finished it quickly. It was still raining and I asked for a beer to prolong my break. It rained hard and it looked like it wouldn't stop soon. But the rain did stop when I finished my beer and a nice joke with the owner.

Scenic rice terraces close to the roadScenic rice terraces close to the road

The sun came out again and it was much stronger than before. The beer started having effects upon me that I felt so sleepy. That was a bad decision of me today! I felt to tired getting down and climbing up a mountain gorge for photography. I had also given up the thinking to get more petrol and travel up the mountain again. I'd have a relaxing time this afternoon riding my motorbike and shot whatever came into view.

Unbelievable rice terracesUnbelievable rice terraces

My whole afternoon turned out to be a pleasant experience. It soon became windy and I quickly felt good again. The road was good and the air was fresh. I rode slowly and stopped every often to take photos of the captivating landscape. With the objects close to me, the photos looked just real and impressive. Every turn of the road provided me with a totally different vista. The fluid lines of the terraces looked so amazing and so natural that it is hard to believe that they are man-made!

Rice terraces by the roadsideRice terraces by the roadside

Good time passed quickly and another day was drawing to a close. Sunlight was too weak for photography and I rode leisurely back to the homestay. There were stretches of dense forest left nowadays, a few years ago the forest had covered the whole area. What a pity! Arriving back at the homestay at 5:30 P.M I had nice time again sipping hot tea on the lovely terrace. The scenery of the mountain and village was so peaceful at the end of the day…

Hillsides carved into amazing rice terracesHillsides carved into amazing rice terraces

Dinner came a bit late as the hosts had a few more guests to serve. The new comers were friendly and their talk brought a more cozy vibe to the house. I made dinner quick and went upstairs to review the photos I took in the day. The chilly air and warmness of the blankets made me feel really sleepy and I was more than willing to give up everything for a good sleep. It would be a long day tomorrow for me. I would leave Mu Cang Chai and would take on a new trip, a motorbike adventure to Ha Giang. My time here had been wonderful and successful. I had enjoyed the landscape and the people, and I got beautiful photos of the golden rice terraces...