Lai Chau Province: north Vietnam’s lesser-known beauty
Lai Chau Province has drawn scores of tourists to its stunning cloudy mountain peaks, enchanting waterfalls, vast rice fields and hospitable locals.
The province sits some 450 km (280 miles) from Hanoi and midway between Lao Cai’s Sa Pa and Dien Bien Province. Though lesser-known that the two northern highland destinations that flank it, Lai Chau boasts miles of untouched primitive forests.
The temperature in Lai Chau is mercifully cooler than in the Red River Delta that surrounds Hanoi. Waterfalls cascade down mountains covered in fog and clouds.
From September-October, Lai Chau exudes the vitality and beauty of a young woman, thanks to its glowing yellow rice fields and curving hillside roads. Travelers are advised to stay put during heavy rains and storms which can trigger landslides.
The train is the most popular means of transportation from Hanoi to Lao Cai. A train departs from Hanoi Railway Station at 21:10 every day and arrives in Lao Cai at 5:30. In Lao Cai, tourists can go to Lai Chau by bus or hired motorbike.
Around ten buses depart for Lao Cai from Hanoi’s My Dinh Bus Station every day.
Driving one’s own motorbike offers the best option for those who want to discover their own destinations along the way.
There are around 100 hotels in Lai Chau’s provincial capitol. Rooms start at around VND 200,000 ($9.5) per night.
– On foot or bicycle: People can walk or bike to discover the mountains, streams and valleys around the provincial capitol.
– O Quy Ho Pass: Located more than 2,000 meters (6,560 ft) above sea level, the pass connects Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces. A nice view of the mountains and valleys can be enjoyed from this spot. Rare snowfalls occur here in winter.
– Pu Sam Cap: A complex of caves in the Pu Sam Cap Mountains sits roughly 1,300-1,700 meters above sea level and features three big caves: Thien Mon, Thien Duong and Thuy Tinh.
– Sin Ho District: Located some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Lai Chau Town, Sin Ho is considered the province’s rooftop with beautiful natural scenery and pristine streams. Locals offer traditional treatments, such as herbal baths and acupuncture massages.
– Lai Chau Hydropower Plant: Located in Muong Te District’s Nam Hang Commune is the most upstream hydropower plant on the Da River.
– Ethnic minority villages: Na Luong, Ho, Vang Pheo, etc. have become popular tourist attractions thanks to the hospitality of the locals and their carefully conserved culture and traditions.
– Tac Tinh Falls: Considered one of the most enchanting waterfalls in Lai Chau, the Tac Tinh Fall is renown for its resemblance to the long hair of a young woman. Legend has it that a loyal woman died here for the man she loved.
The Tac Tinh Waterfall in Lai Chau Province.
– Pu Ta Leng: The peak is located in Phong Tho District’s Ta Leng Commune and is part of the Hoang Lien Son Mountains. At 3,049 meters above sea-level, it is the second-highest peak in Indochina.
– Local markets: Market days are often held on the weekends and reflect a distinguished feature of the northwestern region. Local ethic people can be caught riding horses to markets in Dao San, San Thang and Sin Ho.
Restaurants in Lai Chau offer a variety of local dishes made from pork, sticky rice, fish, vegetables and even moss. Corn alcohol is considered the special spirit of the mountains and is often enjoyed with home-smoked strops of beef and buffalo meat, forest bamboo shoots and honey.
Do and Don’ts:
– Respect local customs and always ask before taking picture of the locals.
– Avoid paying for help like getting directions and be careful when buying from hawkers.
– Carry enough cash because there are no ATM and POS services, especially in remote districts.
– Remember to carry warm clothes for cold weather.