Harvest season is a magical time in the northern highlands, when landscapes of terraced fields bathe in golden hues
The terraced fields of Hoang Su Phi District in the northern province of Ha Giang have recently been named a national heritage site. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Last month the 300-year-old terraced fields of Hoang Su Phi District, Ha Giang Province, were named a national heritage site.
The recognition spurred me to do a "field tour" starting in the district, then going on to the nearby Xin Man District, and finally Bac Ha District in Lao Cai Province.
From Hanoi I took a bus with bunk beds to Ha Giang, and was dropped off at the Tan Quang
T-junction, which is located between Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang provinces, at around 3 a.m.
Since it was already late and the road was totally dark and without street lights, I searched for some nearby motel to take a rest before heading to Hoang Su Phi, which was some 60 kilometers away, the next morning.
It was not easy to catch a passenger bus to go to the district, as only one operates on the route, but it was not that difficult to hitchhike a ride on a car that was transporting goods.
I reached the entrance to Hoang Su Phi's central market in Quang Vinh Town after more than two hours. Because of the winding mountainous passes, the journey was quite rough. However, the discomfort was replaced by a sense of excited expectation as soon as I caught glimpses of what I had set out to see.
Covering an area of nearly 800 hectares in six communes, the Hoang Su Phi fields are cultivated by the ethnic minority peoples of La Chi, Dao and Nung communities. They are already considered the most beautiful fields in Vietnam, but during the harvest season, which falls in September and October, they look even more stunning as they turn golden, and these pictures never fail to lure more tourists.
After taking my fill of the amazing view, I returned to the district's central market and hitchhiked a car ride to Xin Man District, where 18 ethnic minority peoples like the Tay, Dao and Nung live.
Xin Man is just 40 kilometers from Hoang Su Phi, but it took the car more than two hours to reach the destination, passing through narrow, winding passes. Along the passes were abysses with springs on one side, and mountains with terraced fields on the other.
With bigger slopes than I saw in Hoang Su Phi, the terraced fields along the passes to Xin Man looked like they were reaching to the sky as I gazed outside in wonder through the car's the windows. As soon as I reached the mountain top, the view expanded red roofs dotted a giant valley surrounded by big mountains.
I then headed to Bac Ha District, hiring a xe om (motorbike taxi) because no cars went there. The road was some 40 kilometers long, and half this distance was tricky mountainous passes.
The journey turned out to be better than expected as Kien, the xe om driver, turned out to be a well-informed tour guide, supplying me with information as I observed the beautiful landscapes.
Since the road was very thinly populated, I could not help feeling excited on spotting a small residential area, little Mong girls in colorful clothes, or farmers who were harvesting rice in distant fields.
After nearly two hours, we reached Bac Ha, the capital town of Bac Ha District. However, it was already sunset time and I decided to find my way to the rice fields the next morning, after taking a rest at a local hotel. As I set out the next day on a rented motorbike, the bike's owner told me to be careful about rough roads full of rocks.
The first fields I visited were those around the Lung Phinh Market, which only opens on weekends. Compared to Ha Giang, terraced fields in Lung Phinh were at lower levels. Rice also seemed to ripen earlier, as women and young girls with red cheeks were harvesting the crop when I reached there.
I visited Ban Pho Commune next, just a kilometer or so from Bac Ha. The terraced fields there were not located on high mountains but along hills and next to springs.
Since the beginning of the harvest season in the northern highlands, tourists, both local and foreign, have been coming here in droves to see and take photographs of the famous terraced fields. Some of the visitors chose tours offered by travel companies, while others just packed and set out.
Each and every visitor will tell you that the trip was worth it, that they have seen sights that will stay with them forever, and that they want to return soon.
As I looked at these beautiful works of art, the thought struck me that what we are enjoying now are the results of hundreds of years of hard work put in by the people of this soil, the ethnic minority communities.
Many transport companies operate on the Hanoi-Ha Giang route. A ride costs VND150,000 (US$7.08), or VND180,000 ($8.49) for buses with bunk beds.
Besides the terraced fields, Hoang Su Phi also hosts other famous sites like Dong Van stone plateau, recognized as a world geographical park by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 2010.
Xin Man is famous for the Deo Gio Primeval Forest, which covers more than 16,000 hectares and hosts thousands of plant species along with the Tien (fairy) over 30 meters high. Another famous site is the 2,000-year-old rock area in Nam Dan Commune where traces of ancient Vietnamese people have been found over years.
The most famous site in Bac Ha is the Hoang A Tuong Palace, built in 1914 by Hoang A Tuong and his father Hoang Yen Chao, both serving as the town's heads during the beginning of the 20th century.
The building, which covers more than 10,000 square meters, was built with French and Chinese architecture.
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