Mu Cang Chai district is located deep in the valleys filled with the Red River, featuring a series of colorful mountain villages, surrounded by towering terraced fields. These grasslands cover rugged mountains with an emerald green carpet that looks like it reaches the heavens. On your trip to Northern Vietnam, Mu Cang Chai is an off the beaten track destination that promises to bring you the most unique and fulfilling experience ever!

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Mu Cang Chai 101: All You Need to Know Before Traveling

Breath-taking view of Mu Cang Chai at sunrise

Mu Cang Chai – Geographical Location, Ethnic Groups, Festivals & Heritages

The location

Mu Cang Chai has a location at the foot of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, at an altitude of 1,000 m above sea level, in the Northwest of Yen Bai Province. To reach this town, you have to go through Khau Pha pass – one of the four great passages in the Northwest.

The ethnic groups

The diversity of ethnic groups makes Mu Cang Chai a rich culture and a cross-cultural intersection among ethnic groups throughout the district.

A warm moment of ethnic people in Mu Cang Chai

A warm moment of ethnic people in Mu Cang Chai

There are 3 main ethnic groups living in Mu Cang Chai:

– The Mong:

In Yen Bai, this community consists mainly of 4 main groups: Mong Hoa (Mong Lenh); Mong Den (Mong Du) and Mong Trang (Mong Don) and Mong Si (Mong Do). Majority in which are Mong Hoa and Mong Si people.

The language of the Mong people belongs to the Mong – Dao language group (the South Asian language line).

– The Cao Lan:

Cao Lan ethnic people in Yen Bai have another name as San Chay. They speak the Tay – Thai language. These people in Yen Bai were originally agricultural farmers who were proficient in farming.

– The Thai:

This community lives in a concentrated Muong village in the valley of the basin, which are not far from each other. They can adapt to the knack for cultivating wet rice, cotton and brocade weaving. Rice paddies play an important role as the main food source, especially when Thai people use a lot of sticky rice.

Another part of their income comes from animal husbandry and aquaculture. Field fish is a unique element of the Tay – Thai culture. They speak Thai, belonging to the Tay-Thai language group, the South Asian language line.

The festivals

– Paragliding and Sightseeing the Mu Cang Chai Golden Season Festival

  • Date: Mid-September annually
  • Location: Khau Pha pass, Mu Cang Chai district
Paragliding from Khau Pha Pass

Paragliding from Khau Pha Pass

September at Mu Cang Chai is the best time of the year – the golden rice season on terraced fields. This is also a great time for pilots to make flights for adventurous travelers. Khau Pha Pass, where the paragliding activity takes place, is also known as one of the “four great mountain peaks” in Vietnam. From this flight point, pilots and visitors can enjoy the panoramic view of the Lim Mong valley during the ripe rice season.

In parallel with paragliding activities and discovering the beauty of terraced fields from above, visitors can also have the opportunity to see the display of the Khèn of the Mong people.

– National Terraced Discovery Festival

  • Date: From 20th to 30th September annually
  • Location: Mu Cang Chai stadium

Mu Cang Chai District National Scenic Spots Discovering Festival is an annual event to honor the National Landscape of Terraced Fields and Mong ethnic cultural values. Besides, this helps promote tourism development and creates a joyful atmosphere for both the Party Committee and local people.

There are also other interesting activities such as the festival honoring Suoi Giang tea tree, the contest of milling Tu Le nuggets in Van Chan district; the hot spring ecotourism and adventure tourism in Tram Tau district, etc.

– Muong Lo Culture and Tourism Festival

  • Date: Mid-September annually
  • Location: Muong Lo Valley, Mu Cang Chai district
Muong Lo Culture and Tourism Festival

Muong Lo Culture and Tourism Festival

This festival includes activities held annually to introduce and promote cultural values, unique tourism products of the western districts of Yen Bai province, attract domestic and international tourists.

– Tu Le Green Sticky Rice Milling Festival

  • Date: Mid-September annually
  • Location: Tu Le commune

Tu Le commune is famous for its specialty of sticky glutinous green rice – “melted rice” – a valuable food that only this region can grow. This is an occasion for them to express their gratitude to the ancestors, heaven and earth that have blessed the family with a bumper crop, a prosperous and adequate life.

The Heritages

– Xoe Thai – National intangible cultural heritage

5000 people performing Xoe Thai for the Guiness record

5000 people performing Xoe Thai for the Guiness record

This is a typical dance of the Thai in particular and the Northwestern region in general, which is rich in the power of connection. It spreads art symbolizes beauty, contains the values ​​of the Thai community’s dance, music, singing, costumes, cuisine, and cultural behaviors. Today, this art has become a symbol of hospitality, a hallmark of the ethnic culture and cultural identity of the Northwestern Thai people.

– Mu Cang Chai terraced fields – National intangible cultural heritage

Mu Cang Chai - National intangible cultural heritage

Mu Cang Chai – the leading destination in 2020

With a poetic comparison to the fingerprint of God, terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai is an architectural work of art, showing the creativity and hand dexterity of the Mong ethnic people living on this land. Centuries ago, in order to grow rice in vertical hills and mountains, ancient tribes created a terraced system to control the flow of water. Thanks to their ingenuity and resourcefulness, fertile fields with spectacular beauty were born and preserved to this day.

Nowadays, Mu Cang Chai is the leading destination in 2020 according to CNBC. Also, terraced fields here were ranked national monument by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Best Time to Visit Mu Cang Chai

The ideal time to admire the terraces is from the end of September to the middle of October when the rice season turns ripe. This is also one of the most beautiful moments for visitors to Mu Cang Chai.

At this time on the slopes and hillsides, the grain of rice curls and the terraced fields become dyed yellow. Each successive field descends from the top down like endless creates an extremely impressive picture.

Transportation to/ around Mu Cang Chai

By motorbike

From the center of Hanoi, there are 3 routes to reach Mu Cang Chai:

– R1: You will go straight to NH32, cross Trung Ha Bridge (Ba Vi), through Thanh Son district (Phu Tho), then through Nghia Lo town, Tu Le commune (Van Chan district) of Yen Bai to De Xu Phinh. Pass Khau Pha Pass to reach Mu Cang Chai. This route will take about 8 hours to drive.

– R2: Thang Long Bridge – Highway 12 – Phuc Yen – Viet Tri – Doan Hung. Then take Highway 70 to get to Yen Bai. This is the easiest and shortest way with 6 hours to drive.

– R3: Thang Long Bridge – Phuc Yen – Vinh Yen – Lap Thach – Son Duong – Highway 37, Tuyen Quang – Yen Bai. This route will take about 7 hours to drive.

Notes when riding a motorbike:

– With high mountainous terrain and rugged mountain passes such as Khau Pha, you need to slow down when moving to ensure safety.

– Do not transfer overnight in remote areas because of limited visibility as well as troubles such as security issues, broken wheels, etc.

– You need to prepare all the papers and equipment for your motorbike. Keep in mind that on Highway 32 from Hanoi to Ba Vi, the section through Phu Tho province will have many checkpoints.

To get to Mu Cang Chai from Hanoi, you can choose from many high-quality car companies departing from My Dinh and Giap Bat terminals such as Daily Limousine, Hung Thanh, Khanh Thuy, Cuong Lan, Ngan Ha, Hai Van, etc.

A typical sleeper bus to Mu Cang Chai

A typical sleeper bus to Mu Cang Chai

After arriving, to wander around Mu Cang Chai, the most convenient way is to rent a motorbike with the price of 150,000 – 200,000 VND / day depending on the time.

Some car companies from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai:

Hung Thanh Travel

  • Departure time: 18:00 daily.
  • Duration: About 6 hours. However, the arrival time depends on the traffic situation.
  • Ticket price: VND 250,000 / 1 ticket
  • Departure: My Dinh Bus Station, No. 20 Pham Hung Street, Hanoi
  • Destination: Town of Mu Cang Chai

Cuong Lan Bus

  • Departure time: 22h30 daily.
  • Duration: About 6 hours. However, the arrival time depends on the traffic situation.
  • Ticket price: VND 250,000 / 1 ticket
  • Departure points: No. 14 Ho Tung Mau Street, Cau Giay District, Hanoi
  • Destination: 1. Mu Cang Chai Bus Station, Highway 32, Mu Cang Chai; 2. Nghia Lo Bus Station, Highway 32, Mu Cang Chai.

By train

There is no direct train from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai so you will stop at Yen Bai. After that, you can take the car/ bus to Mu Cang Chai. You can consult the train schedule at the departure station or online. However, this means it will make you passive and difficult to transfer.

Some bus routes from Yen Bai to Mu Cang Chai:

Duc Huong Travel

  • Schedule: Yen Bai – Mu Cang Chai
  • Departure time: Yen Bai (7:30) – Mu Cang Chai (13:30)
  • Phone: +84 982 404 999

Tuan Long Bus

  • Schedule: Yen Bai – Mu Cang Chai
  • Departure time: Yen Bai (15:00) – Mu Cang Chai (20:00)
  • Phone: +84 963 247 766

Manh Phuong Bus

  • Schedule: Yen Bai – Mu Cang Chai
  • Departure time: Yen Bai (12:00 noon) – Mu Cang Chai (18:30)
  • Phone: + 84 36 5377 677

Accommodation in Mu Cang Chai

Mu Cang Chai Eco Lodge

A communal room of Mu Cang Chai Eco Lodge

A communal room of the eco lodge

This is an eco-tourism model, close to nature and very popular with tourists recently. Mu Cang Chai Eco Lodge is the perfect choice for you if you want to stay in this form.

  • Location: on a hill in Hua Khet village, Nam Khet commune, about 20 km from the center of Mu Cang Chai town.
  • Price: 340,000 VND – 1,000,000 VND

Hotels

Most hotels are located in the center of Mu Cang Chai town with basic amenities such as wifi, television, refrigerator, air conditioner, etc. You can choose from some of the following hotels:

  • Thanh Cong Hotel

Address: Highway 32, Mu Cang Chai town.

Price: from 300,000 to 550,000 VND / room.

  • Duy Vu Hotel

Address: Residential Area 6, Mu Cang Chai town.

Price: from 650,000 VND / room.

  • Suoi Mo Guest House

Address: Residential Area 6, Mu Cang Chai town.

Price: from 550,000 to 600,000 VND / room.

Motels

This is the most popular accommodation type in the district. Some addresses near the town center:

  • Khau Pha Paragliding Guest House Restaurant

Address: Parachute Khau Pha, Khau Pha Pass, Cao Pha, Mu Cang Chai.

Price: from 250,000 VND / room.

  • Son Ca Motel

Address: Mu Cang Chai town.

Price: from 250,000 VND / room.

  • Moon 2 Guest House

Address: Residential Area 4, Mu Cang Chai town.

Price: from 250,000 VND / room.

Homestays

If you want to experience the locals’ life, this is a perfect choice for you. With a suitable price and a chance to admire the lifestyle of the local people, staying in a homestay in Mu Cang Chai is highly appreciated by visitors. Some suggestions for you:

  • A Chong Homestay

Address: La Pan Tan commune, about 16 km from the center of town.

Overview: This is a stilt house built of Siam wood (po mu), in the traditional style of the Mong people, combining modern features with a TV, fridge, and water heater.

Price: 90,000 VND / person with dormitory floors and 250,000 VND with private rooms (6 rooms overall).

  • Tu Nguyet Homestay

Address: Located in the ethnic Thai town.

Price: from 120,000 VND to 250,000 VND.

  • Sanh Nhon Homestay

Address: Located in the ethnic Thai town.

Price: from 120,000 VND to 250,000 VND.

Best Things to Do in Mu Cang Chai

Set up a tent on the Khau Pha pass

Khau Pha Pass

Khau Pha Pass

This special road has its one side is Tu Le commune and the other is the Mu Cang Chai terraced fields. This is one of the most winding and steep passes in Vietnam.

On the pass, there are lots of large and empty grounds for you to go camping here. Just so you know, this is one of the best places to go camping in Vietnam. The winding roads between the old forests are still full of pristine and terraced fields of H’Mong and Thai ethnic groups.

Best time to visit Khau Pha Pass: Khau Pha is most beautiful in the rice season, around September and October – the time of terraced yellow rice fields, when many adventurous tourists conquer the pass to enjoy the scenery.

Notes when traveling to Khau Pha Pass:

  • During the length of the pass, there are several dozens bends. On cloudy days, the pass is especially dangerous for the driver’s wing because the pass has no barriers or any warning signs.
  • The mountain pass has been degraded because it is not regularly repaired, easily eroded and subsided because it is located in basaltic red soil with weak soil system. In addition, the constant danger lurking with rocks from high mountains that can make you fall at any time.

Admire Fagopyrum esculentum fields

A gorgeous Fagopyrum esculentum field in Mu Cang Chai town

A gorgeous Fagopyrum esculentum field in Mu Cang Chai town

The district is famous for not only terraced but also Fagopyrum esculentum fields, that are located in a very beautiful position on the Khau Pha Pass (near the paragliding flying point). Here, you can immerse into the beauty of flowers, admire the majestic pass, sightsee the terraced fields, the villages of the Thai and the Mong and mingle with the cold, dim weather on one of the four most beautiful mountain pass peaks in Northern Vietnam.

Moreover, with a purpose of adding more beautiful places for tourists to unleash their poses and take photos, a few people in Cao Pha Commune brought Fagopyrum esculentum flowers to plant here. These flowers are planted in the area of paragliding festival every year on Khau Pha pass. Fagopyrum esculentum blooms in about 3 weeks and coincides with the occasion of ripe rice.

Experience stream bathing in Tu Le Commune

Tu Le is one of the favorite destinations for many nature lovers on their trip to Vietnam. Bathing in streams is a unique cultural feature of Thai people in Tu Le. This is a traditional custom of the Thai people with the name of “fairy bathing”.

Wander around at La Pan Tan Village

Majestic rice terraces at La Pan Tan

Majestic rice terraces at La Pan Tan

This town is a cannot-be-missed destination with terraced fields – creative and artistic constructions of the Mong people living on this land. La Pan Tan is a highland commune of H’Mong people, about 15km from the town of Mu Cang Chai. When setting foot on the land which is considered to have the largest and most beautiful terraced area in Mu Cang Chai, you will get surprised by such a poetic scenery of the village.

Become a professional photo hunter at Mam Xoi rice field shooting spot

Mam Xoi rice terrace, a perfect place for capturing

Mam Xoi rice terrace, a perfect place for capturing

Mam Xoi (Raspberry) is the lovely name that people call this beautiful photographic location when the rice season comes to visit. This place is about 10km from the district center, right at the foot of Ba Nha bridge, on a road going upwards. Although this is a perfect place to take majestic pictures of famous Mam Xoi rice field, the road is quite bad and slippery, especially in the rainy season.

Visit Mu Cang Chai highland fair

Going to this market has become an indispensable cultural activity in the life of highland people. In addition to the purpose of trading goods, the fair is also a place for cultural exchange of ethnic minorities here. The items sold in the fair are plentiful but mainly products of the mountains, or items made by the people here such as honey, shiitake mushrooms, wood ear, paddy, corn, soybeans, vegetables, brocade, etc. There is a rule for the costume: men often wear black clothes and women show colorful costumes, creating beauty and joyful atmosphere for the market day.

Get lost in the realms of the future with Mo waterfall

This waterfall is located between Na Ha A and Na Hang B peaks in Mo De commune. After walking about 30 minutes from Highway 32 to the foot of the waterfall and sitting on the rafting array, you will see this site as beautiful as a colorful picture, with the pink and white of apricot flowers, plum blossoms, bright red of wild banana flowers, the clear blue of the Northwest sky and the pure white of the watershed.

The majestic Mo waterfall

The majestic Mo waterfall

  • One-storey waterfall point: Once you get here, you will see this waterfall’s spiral flow makes it the ideal place to enjoy the clean and clear water.
  • Four-storey waterfall point: After going on foot against the Mo waterfall, you will get to this point. The 1st floor of the 4-storey waterfall stretches over 30 meters, the water flowing from above as diamond, making people fascinated by the majestic natural scenery. The 2nd floor is like a small and white lake – this is the best place for you to drop down the waterfall to relax. The 3rd floor has its water waves tied again like a funnel-shaped mouth, making the scenery so fanciful and attractive. The 4th floor is like a curtain in the magnificent palace, pouring down from 5 meters above.

Enjoy the best specialties of Thai people at Thai village

This is a small, peaceful village located in the valley, leaning against the mountain. Coming here, you can enjoy Thai specialties, try the traditional tobacco of Thai people, relax at the stilt house and participate in social exchanges and bonfires.

Best Food to Try and Buy Home As Souvenirs in Mu Cang Chai

Tu Le green sticky rice

Tu Le green sticky rice

Tu Le green sticky rice

Only when coming to this town, visitors can have the opportunity to taste the famous Tu Le sticky rice – the “culinary elite” of the Northwest. The rice is soaked at the stream of Khau Pha. The dish associated with the legend of a fairy brought fragrant sticky seed germs down to the fields here. Besides, you can not ignore the five-color sticky rice – a unique dish that carries the meaning of the cosmic concept, the philosophy of yin and yang, and the noble meaning of human life for Northwestern people in Vietnam.

This fragrant plastic gift with the unique mountain flavor is suitable to bring as a gift for friends and relatives after the trip.

Stir-fried forest bees with lemon leaves

Stir-fried forest bees with lemon leaves

Here is a must-try dish on your trip to Mu Cang Chai

This is a nutritious and rare dish because the main ingredient does not appear every season. The best time to get good nymphs is from April to August when the bees start to build and breed. The dish is perfect only when the bugs on the plate are brown-yellow. The greasy aroma with the blend of lemon leaves will give visitors an unforgettable taste.

Roasted grasshoppers

Roasted grasshoppers

Crispy and rich of flavors of roasted grasshoppers

Not a luxury dish, roasted grasshoppers attract tourists by the crispy and greasy flavor. The gift is simple but contains so many childhood memories of many generations, even the plains. After the harvest, grasshoppers appear more in the field and are taken by people to process them into different ways such as frying, stir-frying, etc. then add lemon leaves.

Salmon

Fresh salmon in town

Fresh salmon in town that you should not miss

At the foot of the Khau Pha Pass, about 7 km from Tu Le, lies the largest salmon farming place in Mu Cang Chai. Salad and salmon hotpot are two attractive dishes that tourists prefer the most here. This fish is sold at a high price because of a sophisticated care process, ranges from 180,000-200,000 VND / kg.

Tram Tau chili bamboo shoots

This is an indispensable dish in daily meals or on holidays, especially New Year of the Mong ethnic people. This rustic dish is made from Lay bamboo shoots – a tree that only grows in high mountains. Bamboo shoots are soaked in a mixture of white salt and fresh chili for a long, tart and blend to create an unforgettable taste.

Grilled pork

Grilled pork in Mu Cang Chai

Grilled pork with fresh forest leaves on point

This dish is attractive because of the fusion of separate mountain spices like cocoons, fresh onions, etc. The pigs used to prepare this dish are raised with no captivity so this is the reason why this dish brings you greasier and more fragrant flavor than the regular types. After the marinade is finished, the meat is rolled with fresh forest leaves, clamped on bamboo and then grilled on charcoal.

Docynia indica wine

Mu Cang Chai is a famous place with many delicious wines that are typical of the mountains. This Docynia indica wine is made from a kind of forest apple with a dark brown and characteristic sweet aroma.

Honey

Mu Cang Chai honey is one of Yen Bai most famous specialties. It has long been favored by consumers from near and far because of its good quality, shiny yellow color, thick consistency, and good health and healing effects.

Roasted stream crab with salt

Roasted stream crab with salt

Nutritious, soft, crispy and unforgettable – All in one

Unlike sea crabs, stream ones often live in rocky holes in streams in the uplands. The meat is fragrant, firm and can be processed into a lot of delicious dishes, including roasted spring crab with salt.

Tam Hoa plums

Juicy Tam Hoa plums

Juicy Tam Hoa plums

Mu Cang Chai captivates visitors by its rich and crunchy flavor of Tam Hoa plums. This land’s plums blossom in large and red fruits, with fresh pink flesh inside, covered with a fine white powder. When enjoying this specialty, you will feel the purity and freshness of nature.

Mu Cang Chai Travel Tips – Things you should know before visiting Mu Cang Chai

Make use of time to chase the clouds and dawn

In addition to admiring marvelous rice paddies, capturing the moment of floating clouds halfway up the mountain in Mong Mo Hill is something photographers have not forgotten to miss.

Going overnight is not a good decision to make if you intend to travel by motorbike

The road up to the hill was warned by a lot of people that it was quite dangerous because of limited visibility, prone to accidents. Therefore, you had better visit Mu Cang Chai by car/ bus. Or if you really feel like taking an adventurous trip by traveling by motorbike, you should only go in the day time.

Choose a property with views overlooking the terraces

Contrary to the dust you have to get used to every morning in the city, waking up with the natural scenery will be an unforgettable experience during the ripe rice season. Motels and homestays in Mu Cang Chai are minimalist and rustic, using natural materials such as wood, bamboo, etc. that will bring you close to nature with views out of the terraces.

Best time to admire the beauty of Mu Cang Chai

Ethnic women in Mu Cang Chai working in the field

Ethnic women working in the field

You can sightsee the best of this town from 7 to 9 am. At this period of time, the first ray of sunshine in a day begins to creep into the golden color of the terraced fields, creating a beautiful picture of the ripe rice season.

Bring enough warm clothes

Tucked away on the western flank of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, at a remote location from the sea, Mu Cang Chai has its unique features of the Northwest climate. The annual average temperature is around 19.6°C. In summer, the highest temperature is 33°C and in winter, the temperature may drop below 0°C. Hence, you should prepare enough warm clothes in case the weather turns cold.

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Bich Ngoc

As a true Vietnamese enthusiast of music, books and coffee, Bich Ngoc loves researching into those typical cultural characteristics of Vietnam as well as exploring further destinations in the country of thousand years of civilization.

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