The majestic views of rice fields in Vietnam
Rice is a symbol of Vietnamese culture and cuisine. Rice fields are not only the key food suppliers for millions of people but also ideal destinations for photographers and nature lovers. Thanks to the diversity of types of terrain, there are different kinds of rice fields in Vietnam. While the lowlands have vast fields which can stretch so intensively that they, in the words of Vietnamese people, make the storks’ wings tired because of flying, the highlands impress the world with their unique design of terraced fields.
Since the beginning of the ancient societies in Vietnam, rice has been a staple that appears in almost every family meal. It plays such a dominant role that historians call the era when agriculture was the main focus of the national economy the Era of Wet Rice Civilization. Some artifacts found in Vietnam and its neighbors have proved that this civilization existed and flourished starting from the 7th century BC.
For centuries, rice has been a part of Vietnamese eating habits as well as a contributing factor to the formation of the local culture. As growing rice in the past relied heavily on physical manpower and industriousness, people tended to gather and live together in villages. This was the breeding ground for many well-established customs and mindsets (like collectivism rather than individualism) in Vietnam nowadays.
Under the era of modernization and industrialization in Vietnam today, the area of rice fields in Vietnam has been narrowed down. The objectives of farmers and the government now are to increase production rate and design better cultivars instead of using a large number of lands for growing plants like in the previous periods. Cultivation is currently effectively supported by machines. However, in certain places, the residents still follow their traditional methods of producing depending on human capabilities and cattle.
Rice is so popular that in Vietnamese, “eating rice” (an com) is a perfect alternative to “having meals” (dung bua). The reason for this popularity is partly because rice can be cooked in different ways, and it is the ingredients to make other types of food. Therefore, Vietnamese get used to grains of rice from the very early stages of their life. Besides eating ordinary rice with delectable home-cooked dishes with the whole family, locals also have Xoi (Sticky Rice) or Com Tam (Broken Rice), usually for breakfast, and Com Chay (Scorched Burnt Rice) as a delicious snack. In addition, the prevalent ingredients made from rice flour are rice paper (banh trang), Pho, Bun, and Hu Tieu (noodles/vermicelli). Those that can fill your belly include several representatives such as Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Rolls), Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancakes), Banh Khot (Mini Vietnamese Pancakes), and some tasty desserts are Banh Duc (Steamed Rice-Tapioca Cakes), Banh Beo (Water-ferned Cakes).
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When is the Best Time to Visit Rice Fields in Vietnam
Vietnamese Rice Production is a process of patience and expertise. Growing rice from preparing the fields for harvesting and milling would take farmers several months of working hard. There are two to four harvests per year, depending on the climate and soil condition.
The best time to visit rice fields in Vietnam is when the standing grains are fully ripe. Waiting for harvesting, the golden meadow delivers a peaceful atmosphere and provides an endless scene for photography. Although farmers all over the country focus on two main crops: winter-spring and summer-autumn, terraced fields in Northwest and paddy fields in the Red River Delta are more likely to be visited in mid-September - early October (the end of the summer-autumn crop), the ones in Central Coast and Mekong Delta attract tourists better in April - June (the end of winter-spring crop). Weather is the main contributing factor to this difference, since the North region, at that time, is cool to slightly cold - perfect for trekking, while the condition of the Center and South is more comfortable at the end of spring, right before the arrival of the abundant rainfalls.
Northwest mountains are where many “stairways to heaven”, or terraced rice fields in Vietnam are located. Mid-September to early October is “the golden season” for farmers when the harvesting time lasts for only 3-4 weeks. If you do not want to miss out on the spectacular scenery of endless shining yellow terraced fields, you had better not hesitate and put on your backpack to visit the locations below before the villagers of Vietnamese minorities finish harvesting their crops.
Sapa is an upland town of Sapa District, Lao Cai Province. Located on the slope of Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range, it takes about 6-8 hours to get to Sapa from Hanoi by train or bus. Dwelling in the valleys is the Dao, H’mong, Ha Nhi who have totally relied on their own strength to create the hundred-year-old terraced fields along the contour of the mountains.
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There are a lot of fields in this cozy town. Some of the most noticeable fields are Ta Van, Hau Thao, Lao Chai in Muong Hoa Torrent Valleys, the largest complex of terraced fields of this region with the area up to 1,000 hectares. Or if you are looking for a challenging journey, visit the Vu Lung Sung field in Trung Chai Ward, Sapa District, the terraced rice fields in Vietnam with the biggest number of steps (121 steps). Along the way to the top, you can also capture the image of the locals’ houses and the sight of hard-working farmers.
Sapa Rice Fields in harvesting time
Another great time to visit these terraced fields is May-June, although the weather might not be comfortable and your trip may be inconvenient. In this period, the villagers would prepare for their only crop in the year, fill up the fields with rainwater; they call it the plunging water season. Every step is like a large mirror, shines bright like being overlaid with pearls, and the whole region is a marvelous ink and wash drawing. The image of rice plants is absent, but the picturesque landscape remains.
Mu Cang Chai is a small mountainous town in the West of Yen Bai province; it takes about 7-9 hours to arrive here from Hanoi by bus. Tourism has not been fully developed in this area, but many domestic and international travelers still spread word of mouth about this wonderful land.
Fall is the busiest time in the year for the locals and the big trekking fans. If you have a chance to go through Khau Pha mountain road, you can see flocks of tourists rushing to Mu Cang Chai. This is the best place to contemplate the beauty of terraced rice fields in Vietnam in harvesting time. The naturally comforting, sweet fragrance of ripe rice and the laughter of the farmers would give you a relaxing atmosphere that makes you forget about the bustle of life. The fields in La Pan Tan Ward, Che Cu Nha Ward, De Xu Phinh Ward are the most well-known places in this town. They have been recognized as National Landscape Heritage.
Spectacular terrace fields in Mu Cang Chai
Visiting Mu Cang Chai in September, you can also participate in the Terraced Fields Festival, join the fairs and the Competition of making Banh Day (a round, sticky rice cake). If you dare, try tasting an exotic dish called fried grasshopper. Grasshoppers can be found at any time of the year, but harvesting time is when they are most commonly spotted.
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Located at the foot of Khau Pha pass, Tu Le is a ward in Van Chan District, Yen Bai Province. It is just about 50 kilometers from Mu Cang Chai so you can take the bus with the same route and stop by here.
Not having a gorgeous sight like Mu Cang Chai, the terraced fields of Tu Le draw attention with its virgin and primitive beauty. A long time ago, this land was known as the Kingdom of Opium; the fields now verdant meadows were once full of poppies. To improve the living qualities of the locals, mostly the Thai ethnicity, the government decided to pluck out all the poppies and encouraged the villagers to grow staple food such as rice or corn.
Unlike most other rice fields in Vietnam, the people here only grow glutinous rice. They believe that God bestowed them with that kind of seed, so they have passed it down from generation to generation with respect. After harvesting, they would use the rice grains to make sticky rice and green rice flakes. Those are two must-try dishes when you come to Tu Le. The sticky rice has a special aroma, it smells like dozens of types of flowers that are only found in the pristine forest. The rice flakes are also made in an elaborate process that requires care from picking the rice to cooking. It is usually eaten with fresh fruits or fried dishes.
Hoang Su Phi is a complex of terraced fields located in 6 wards of Ha Giang Province: Ban Luoc, San Sa Ho, Ban Phung, Ho Thau, Nam Ty, Thong Nguyen. Traveling by bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang would take 7-9 hours. Sitting far away in the Northernmost of the country, this area gives a majestic view of the gift of the mighty landscape from Mother Nature and the brilliance of the farmers who have created the agricultural innovation.
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The curving terraced fields here have witnessed many generations of the Dao, La Chi, Nung born and raised. Many tourists consider Hoang Su Phi the perfect final stop for their journey of exploring the Northwest since the harvesting time of this place is a little bit later compared to the neighboring provinces. The roads to this land are also much rugged, the terrain is more treacherous, and even the gap between the two steps of the terraced fields is larger. However, behind that roughness is the romantic and poetic scenery that makes people fall in love. You would be surrounded by the happiness of the villagers collecting ripe rice plants, the melodious sound of the streams, and the refreshing scent of hundred-year-old tea hills. Thanks to the ripe rice grains on the spectacular fields, the whole area is covered by a golden, sparkle coat.
Mekong Delta is a large plain region that accounts for most Vietnamese rice yield. Fruitful alluvial soil and complicated systems of rivers are two factors that create the ideal conditions for the existence of boundless rice fields in this area. Visiting some provinces of the Mekong Delta such as Hau Giang, Dong Thap, Ca Mau, you would find yourself standing in the middle of a golden sea of rice stalks swaying in the breezes.
Although most rice fields here are flat and spacious, there is one very special place in the Mekong Delta where you can find the terraced fields that are usually thought to be only found in the Northwest. That place is Ta Pa Mountain in Nui To Ward, Tri Ton District, An Giang Province. It is about a 6-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. From its peak, you can capture the image of Ta Pa Field. This land is also a good shelter to escape from the city. With the magnificent Ta Pa Lake - the Apathy Lake of West Vietnam, and primitive Tra Su Melaleuca Forest, you can surely feel immersed in nature.
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Despite not being as large as the ones in Mekong Delta and not as mighty as the ones in the Northwest, rice fields in Central Coast still give out a peaceful vibe of Vietnamese rural villages. Located in the embrace of majestic mountains and rows of coconut trees, the fields are the perfect place to wander in the sunset. They are dotted with several humble houses, flocks of cattle leisurely grazing, and musterings of storks flying back home after a long day looking for food. Not far away from them are some top Vietnamese Beaches where you can enjoy your summer vacation with your family and friends.
Besides Mekong Delta, the Red River Delta is one of the two largest granaries in Vietnam. Many provinces here are in the rapid process of urbanization, so there is no surprise that some rice fields can be found in the suburbs of many major cities. For example, in My Duc District of the capital city of Hanoi, there is a picturesque field whose rice plants bowed down with ripe grains in harvesting time.Tam Coc - Bich Dong is one of this region's most famous rice fields. Just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi, you can arrive in this heaven on earth. Late May to early June is the best time to visit Tam Coc since most of the fields are covered with shining yellow coats in this period. The meaning of the name “Tam Coc” is “three caves” which are the attractive destinations of Ninh Binh Province, so after admiring the beauty of the rice fields, check out these outstanding natural gifts as well.
Since rice is a national staple, the number of rice fields in Vietnam is countless. All over the country, you can find paddy fields with different designs and various types of rice. While the Northwest Highlands is the home of immense terraced fields, the South and Central deltas also have fields that stretch to the horizon. Rice fields are important food supplies and the place of birth of many Vietnamese customs.
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We did the motorbike trip in northern Vietnam earlier this year in May with a group of friends, and I have to say, it was so worth it. Breathtaking views and nice weather. I would do this again in a heartbeat! p.s. we spent 1 month motorbiking our way around.