You have heard about them, you have seen countless pictures of them, and sometimes you travel thousands of kilometres for them! The reputation of the rice terraces in North Vietnam that sculpt the landscape is well known. But the reality is even more beautiful in all seasons. With different shades of colour, light and atmosphere depending on the time of year.
Once you have chosen your destination, all you have to do is buy your plane tickets, but what is the best time to discover the famous rice terraces of North Vietnam? Here are some elements to help you choose the “best” period for you, and the destinations not to be missed to take in the sights!
Best season to visit the rice terraces in North Vietnam
The rice terraces in North Vietnam have become emblematic of this part of the country. They are the result of a traditional know-how perpetuated for generations by the ethnic minorities who live in the mountainous regions of the North. They cover the sides of the mountains or the bottom of the valleys, in several levels or small “fields” of fertile land, suitable for “irrigated” rice growing.
If the best time to discover them is between March and May (corresponding to the planting of rice), then between September and October (corresponding to the harvesting of rice), each season offers a different perspective, depending on the climate, the stage of ripening of the rice, the work in the fields… Rice growing is an art in perpetual movement, the spectacle of which is a delight for the eyes.
But visiting the rice terraces of North Vietnam is also an opportunity to enjoy beautiful hikes in the region and unforgettable encounters with the ethnic groups who have shaped these grandiose landscapes!
Here is a summary of what the rice terraces have in store for you depending on the dates of your trip to North Vietnam:
Between the end of April and the end of May: the rice fields are flooded.
Between June and the end of July: the rice fields are green.
Between August and the end of September: the rice fields are yellow-golden.
Between October and the end of March: the fallow rice fields are muddy.
The rice fields in North Vietnam during the water season
This season, which extends from the end of April to the end of May, or even the beginning of June, is aptly named. Indeed, at this period, the rice fields freshly ploughed before transplanting are flooded with water, forming huge mirrors in which the sky and the clouds are reflected. A particularly photogenic sight!
The rice fields in north Vietnam during the green season
During this period, which runs from mid-June to the end of July, the rice planted a few months earlier starts to grow, showing beautiful shades of green, depending on the transplanting. Temperatures are relatively high, but the atmosphere of the rain-fed rice fields is refreshing.
The rice fields of northern Vietnam at harvest time
From mid-August onwards, the rice fields start to turn yellow due to the summer heat. The rice is ripening, the harvesting season is approaching and the rains are becoming scarce.
September is the ideal month to enjoy the golden rice paddy landscape, in dry and mild temperatures.
The harvest begins in late September/early October. The Vietnamese are busy in the fields gathering the ripe rice. It is a particularly joyful and festive time. Particularly in Ha Giang, a mountainous province in the north-east bordering China, where the locals will be happy to teach you more about rice growing and show you their transplanting techniques.
As soon as the rice harvest is over, the festivities continue in Ha Giang in November with the buckwheat flower festival. The yellow of the rice fields gives way to the pink of the buckwheat petals in full bloom. A romantic but ephemeral spectacle, as it lasts only one month in the year. Not to be missed if you are in the region at this time.
November is also the ideal month to admire the tea plantations and the magnificent fields of white rapeseed flowers in the village of Moch Chau, located a few miles from the beautiful rice terraces of Mai Chau, southwest of Hanoi.
The most beautiful rice terraces
To admire the most beautiful rice terraces of Vietnam, go to Sapa, Nghia Lo, Mu Cang Chai or Bac Ha, in the North-West of the country, or to Hoang Su Phi, in the peaceful province of Ha Giang, in the North-East of the country.
The most beautiful rice terraces in Northwest
The northwest is home to magnificent rice terraces, which are particularly beautiful in autumn. These exceptional landscapes are characteristic of an ancestral culture preserved by the region’s mountainous ethnic minorities.
From the inevitable Sapa valley to Mai Chau, via Nghia Lo and Mu Cang Chai, the “photographers’ route” passes through grandiose landscapes and authentic ethnic villages where the lifestyles and traditions of yesteryear are perpetuated. During your excursions in the North-West, you will surely cross the path of Black Hmong, Red Dao, Tay, or Giay, the majority ethnic groups in the region.
Located in the mountains of Hoàng Liên Sơn, at the foot of Mount Phan Xi Păng, and overlooking the beautiful rice terraces of the Muong Hoa valley, Sapa is the destination of choice for any stay in northern Vietnam. One comes here to admire its sumptuous rice terraces as well as to go hiking and meet the many tribes that populate its hills, notably the Hmong, Tay and Dao.
Less touristy than Sapa, the charming villages of Nghia Lo and Mu Cang Chai are nonetheless worth a stop. Three of Mu Cang Chai’s communes – La Pán Tẩn, Chế Cu Nha and Dế Xu Phình – have been recognised as Vietnam’s National Natural Heritage for the exceptional beauty of their rice terraces. A festival of rice terraces is also held here every year in September.
Also nestled in the northwestern mountains, east of Lào Cai, the small and quiet town of Bac Ha seduces travellers not only by the beauty of its landscapes, as if sculpted by nature, but also by its discreet and authentic charm. It is the ideal place for a bucolic weekend getaway, between green mountains, endless rice fields, caves, rivers and ethnic villages.
Finally, the rice terraces of Mai Chau and the Pu Luong nature reserve, south-west of Hanoi, are certainly less impressive than those located north of Hanoi, but they have the advantage of being less frequented. Their wild natural setting also invites you to enjoy beautiful hikes through the villages and rice valleys, with authentic encounters with the local ethnic minorities, including the Thais, who will be happy to welcome you for the night in their beautiful houses on stilts.
The most beautiful rice terraces in North-East
If the rice fields of the North-East are less touristic than those of the North-West, it is because they are much less accessible due to the mountainous topography of the region. They are no less spectacular!
Located in the extreme North-East of the country, the beautiful province of Ha Giang, in particular, can be discovered after a long and tiring journey. The spectacle on arrival is all the more striking! Rice terraces as far as the eye can see, beautiful rivers winding through green gardens, picturesque traditional houses on stilts… an ideal backdrop for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts!
A natural jewel nestled in this green setting, the small town of Hoang Su Phi is as famous as Nghia Lo and Mu Cang Chai for its beautiful rice terraces, classified as national natural heritage. Hoang Su Phi is also home to many ethnic groups, including the Hmong, Tay, Red Dzao and Nung.
While in Ha Giang, explore the equally colourful areas of Dong Van and Meo Vac in the north of the province and climb Mount Kiou Leou Ti, the highest peak in the region (2,402 metres). The view of the rice fields from its summit is breathtaking!
Visiting the rice fields during a trip to Vietnam is a good way to learn more about the country’s rice cultivation and to interact with the local people who designed these true works of art.