Golden rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai
Golden rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai – Yen Bai

Mu Cang Chai is little known to foreign visitors to Vietnam, but for Vietnamese photographers and young travelers that is where they go for photography of stunning golden rice terraces in late September and early October. You come here during this time, everywhere you turn you'll be dazzled by the softly curved lines of the golden rice terraces on low hills just by the roadsides, deep down by the riversides, on the brinks of the ravines, on the vast mountain slopes towering up and stretching all the way to the horizon…

 Khau Pha - Tu Le Valley during a harvest season
Khau Pha - Tu Le Valley during a harvest season

Mu Cang Chai in local Hmong language means the dry forest, the barren land...something like that. For a few hundred years, generations of Hmong have been doing the same job: carving into the mountainsides to create rice fields, one stacked upon another. On the edge of each level, the soil is raised as embankment to hold water inside. When it rains the water overflows from one terrace to another and another… If you come to Mu Cang Chai in May-June, then you'll see the mountainsides shimmer. The terraces are filled up with water and they are like mirrors reflecting light. Your photos of Mu Cang Chai during this time will also be just amazing.

Golden rice at Tu Le - Khau Pha Valley
Golden rice at Tu Le - Khau Pha Valley

So, the landscape of Mu Cang Chai changes according to seasons. If you come for photography, then it's recommended that you travel to Mu Cang Chai anytime from early May through the first week of October. During this time, you'll have either photos of flooded terraces, green terraced rice fields or golden rice terraces.

Sublime golden rice valley at Tu Le - Khau Pha
Sublime golden rice valley at Tu Le - Khau Pha

Terrain of Mu Cang Chai

A Hmong young mother and her babyMu Cang Chai has the averaged altitude of 1,000m above sea level and has a cool climate all year round. The terrain of Mu Cang Chai is dissected dramatically by mountains, ravines, rivers, mountain gorges and narrow valleys. There are stretches of forests on the mountains which surround Mu Cang Chai. The mountains in the middle of Mu Cang Chai are decorated with amazing rice terraces which are the draw cards of local tourism. Deforestation in Mu Cang Chai is definitely a serious problem now.

Mu Cang Chai’s weather & climate, the best time to visit Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai has a tropical monsoon climate. The winter from November through March is dry and cold with snow sometimes. Spring from late March to early May is dry with pleasant temperatures. It may be foggy in the winter and spring in Mu Cang Chai. Summer from mid May to August is with torrential rains and with higher temperatures which are mostly from 20oC to below 30oC. Autumn from August through October is with pleasant temperatures (20-25oC) and with rains and floods sometimes.Mu Cang Chai rice terraces

It is hard to say what is the best time to visit Mu Cang Chai as the landscape with rice is from May to early October. The dry season is not the rice time and the landscape is less charming. Photographers definitely should come to Mu Cang Chai during the rice transplanting season and when the rice ripens and ready for being harvested which are late May – early June and September to early October.

Tours in Mu Cang Chai

And how long you should stay for a photo trip in Mu Cang Chai depends quite a lot on what you look for and what you expect. Paradissa organizes 3-day photography tours to Mu Cang Chai which could be extended per request. Our photographers know the spots where you have the best angles for your photography. And they know when to be where; you know photography is a game of lights anyway. Understanding the weather patterns and the directions of lights at sunrise and sunset, you'll more likely have amazing photos of Mu Cang Chai.

A view from above of the Khau Pha River during golden rice season
A view from above of the Khau Pha River during golden rice season

Besides the rice terraces, there are Hmong communities nestled on mountain slopes that you may like to visit and learn about their culture. Paradissa organizes trekking tours all year round from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai for 3-4 days that you trek 5-6 hours per day and you'll stay at a local Hmong family at night. The treks around Mu Cang Chai are not very hard in physical requirements and they offer panoramic pictures of the wild landscape; these tours are adventures that are likely to suit many travelers.

Khau Pha Pass, Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai, Vietnam
The Khau Pha Pass, Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai, Vietnam

If you take an adventure with us during the rice season, you'll have beautiful photos. At other times, you'll be amid wonderful mountainscape anyway. And encounters with local people are memorable experiences. Except for the period during the golden riceMu Cang Chai Mountains season, Mu Cang Chai is a very peaceful place that you do not normally see other tourists around. Your adventure to Mu Cang Chai during this time is a very relaxing experience.

Currently there are no luxury travel services at Mu Cang Chai yet. Do expect to get dirty on a photography tour to this amazing area for now as you’ll have to hike on muddy, slippery and tiny footpaths to obtain unbelievable photographs of the rice terraces. If anything that you find we should include into this guide, please feel free to contact our travel team.

Rice-planting season at Mu Cang Chai
Rice-planting season at Mu Cang Chai

Accommodations in Mu Cang Chai

With the increase of flow of tourists to Mu Cang Chai during the golden rice season, luxury hotels and tourist facilities are being built in the area. These luxurious properties are not completed yet. At the moment, there are only simple guesthouses and homestays available in Mu Cang Chai. Paradissa will keep updating our travel guide for this amazing land then.

Beating the rice grains loose from the stalks
Beating the rice grains loose from the stalks

How to get to Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai is 200km from Yen Bai, 300km from Hanoi, 100km from Sapa and 100km from Nghia Lo. The road to the area is fairly good. Mu Cang Chai is well worth a trip by itself, or you can combine the trip to Mu Cang Chai with other attractions in the North West of Vietnam.

How to get around Mu Cang Chai

People come to Mu Cang Chai to visit the rice terraces, to adore the sublime mountains and to visit Hmong villages. The most common way to get around the area is on foot, either you trek on the mountain paths or hike along short trails around the villages.