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STAIRWAYS TO HEAVEN

(No.6, Vol.6,Aug-Sep 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)





Mu Cang Chai District in Yen Bai Province is about 300km from Hanoi, with an average height of 1,000m above sea level, mostly mountainous, cut by deep gorges. The average steepness of slopes is 30o, but sometimes it’s over 45o. The tallest peak, Lung Cung, is 2,963m high.
But unlike other rugged regions, Mu Cang Chai’s hill slopes look like they are covered with scales. Terraced paddies form stairs for giants to walk up to heaven. According to official data, Mu Cang Chai currently has 2,500ha of terraced fields.
To most domestic and foreign tourists, these terraced fields are not only the most grand site of the Northwest, but also one of the most unique and spectacular attractions of Vietnam. The special thing about these masterpieces is that they were made by the sweat of many generations.
About 500ha of terraced fields in La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha and De Xu Phinh communes of Mu Cang Chai have been ranked National Tourists’ Attractions by the government of Vietnam.
The terraces, though always proud and humble through times and weathers, look best from mid-September to October, when they are covered in golden ripening rice under the mild sun of autumn.
From May to June, Mu Cang Chai wet terraces shine like a glass mosaic reflecting the colours of heaven and mountains.
Generations of Hmong and many other tribes have worked their hearts out to level each stair, build the edges with rocks, cut trees and make irrgation pipes, and to transform the terain into a work of art.
Even the local customs and festive activities are all related to the terrace paddy lifestyle. In recent years, local authorities have been promoting this cultural heritage by organizing a ‘Week of Tourism and Culture of Mu Cang Chai Terraced Fields’ in mid-September. On this occasion, domestic and foreign visitors have a chance to not only comtemplate the glory of the stairways to heaven, but also to take part in cultural events rich of local and ethnic content, such as highland fairs, a sticky cake making contest, Hmong pipe contest, and goat fights.
Apart from the terraces and festivals, Mu Cang Chai also has many other attractions to be discovered, such as Pung Luong peak, a rock sculpture field in Lao Chai commune, Che Tao pristine forest, the triple cascades of Dream Falls in Mo De Commune, hot springs and caves at Nam Khat, and the age-old tea forest of La Pan Tan, Notably, in recent years, tourist companies have offered also paragliding service at Khau Pha Pass for those who want to see the terraces from above.

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  • To go from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai, adventurers can use a motorbike, and comfort lovers can use bus service at My Dinh terminal. In Mu Cang Chai township, there are dozens of inns where a double bed room costs about VND150,000 – VND200,000. The inns also have motorbikes for hire.

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