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 terrain types, 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.
History of Vietnamese Rice
Since the beginning of the ancient societies in Vietnam, rice has been a staple in almost every family meal. When agriculture was the main focus of the national economy, there was 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.
As growing rice in the past relied heavily on physical manpower and industriousness, people tended to live together in villages. This was the breeding ground for many well-established customs and mindsets (like collectivism rather than individualism) in Vietnam nowadays.
In the era of modernization and industrialization in Vietnam today, the area of rice fields has narrowed down. The objectives of farmers and the government now are to increase production rates and design better cultivars instead of using a large number of lands for growing plants. Cultivation is currently effectively supported by machines. However, in certain places, the residents still follow their traditional production methods depending on human capabilities and cattle.
The Popularity of Rice in Vietnamese Cuisine
Rice is the main star in almost every Vietnamese meal and can be cooked differently. Besides eating plain rice with delectable home-cooked dishes, locals also have Xoi (Sticky Rice) or Com Tam (Broken Rice), usually for breakfast. 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), etc.
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 hard work. There are two to four harvests yearly, depending on the climate and soil condition.
The best time to visit rice fields in Vietnam is when the standing grains are fully ripe, when 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 the Northwest and paddy fields in the Red River Delta are in full bloom in mid-September – early October (the end of the summer-autumn crop). The ones in the Central Coast and Mekong Delta attract tourists in April – June (the end of the 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 abundant rainfalls.
Places to See Splendid Rice Fields in Vietnam
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 lasts only 3-4 weeks. If you do not want to miss out on the spectacular scenery of endless shining yellow terraced fields, put on your backpack to visit the locations below before the villagers of Vietnamese minorities finish harvesting their crops.
Sapa is an upland town in 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, and Ha Nhi, who 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, and Lao Chai in Muong Hoa Torrent Valleys, the largest complex of terraced fields in this region with an area of up to 1,000 hectares. Or, if you are looking for a challenging journey, visit the 121-step Vu Lung Sung terraced field in Trung Chai Ward, Sapa District. Along the way to the top, you can also capture the sight of the locals’ houses and hard-working farmers.
Sapa Rice Fields in harvesting time
Another great time to visit these terraced fields is May or June, although the weather might not be comfortable. 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
Mu Cang Chai is a small mountainous town 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 beautiful land.
Fall is the busiest time of the year for the locals and the big trekking fans. If you 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 bring about a relaxing atmosphere. The fields in La Pan Tan Ward, Che Cu Nha Ward, and 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
In September, you can also participate in the Terraced Fields Festival and join the fairs and the Competition for 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.
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.
The terraced fields of Tu Le draw attention with their 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, mainly the Thai ethnicity in Vietnam, the government encouraged the villagers to grow staple foods 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 unique 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
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, and Thong Nguyen. Traveling by bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang would take 7-9 hours. In the northernmost part 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.
The curving terraced fields here have witnessed many generations of the Dao, La Chi, and Nung born and raised. Many tourists consider Hoang Su Phi the perfect final stop for 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 more rugged and 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 rice, the music 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.
Rice Fields in The Mekong Delta (Southern Vietnam)
The Mekong Delta is a large plain region that accounts for most of Vietnam’s rice yield. Fruitful alluvial soil and complicated river systems are two factors that create the ideal conditions for boundless rice fields in this area. Visiting some provinces, such as Hau Giang, Dong Thap, and 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 extraordinary place in the Mekong Delta where you can find the terraced fields. 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 an excellent 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 feel immersed in nature.
Rice Fields on the Vietnam Central Coast
Despite not being as large as the ones in the Mekong Delta and not as mighty as the ones in the Northwest, rice fields on the 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 the Vietnamese Beaches where you can enjoy your summer vacation with your family and friends.
Rice Fields in the Red River Delta
Besides the 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. For example, in My Duc District of the capital city of Hanoi, or Tam Coc-Bich Dong in Ninh Binh. 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.
Summary of Rice Fields in Vietnam
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.