In Vietnam, there are exotic masterpieces of nature and local people that are mostly yet unknown by travelers. Located primarily in the mountain areas in the North of Vietnam, the terraced rice fields are called the “stairway to Heaven” by many people. These are the result of really amazing work over a hundred years by local hill tribes, mostly the H’mong people. Living in the area of the high mountains, the only way for them to cultivate the wet rice is by creating terraces on the slopes of the mountains in which to keep water for growing the rice. The first terrace always had to start from a place where they could find a water source. From there they built the entire terraced field structure down as far as water could be supplied. Some of the terraces could run from the bottom to the top of a mountain, exactly like an incredible stairway to heaven. This took a lot of work and time for generations of the local people here; sometimes as much as a year just to build a few new terraces.
Terraced Rice Fields – The Stairway to Heaven
Different from rice cultivation on the plain, the Vietnam terraced rice fields can be cultivated with only one crop per year, normally from June to October. With the first summer rains, the hill tribe people all come to the fields to prepare for the new crop. They call this time the “Falling Water” season. First, they have to reinforce all of the terraces on the fields, clear the weeds along the banks, and then start plowing the fields with their buffalo. It is really hard work as the terraces are uphill and very narrow. Moving up and down the hills is a much harder job compared to farming on the plain. Then they start irrigating the fields in a very special way. At the water source, a bank of the top terrace is opened so that water can run into the field. Then each succeeding terrace will have an open place for the water to run down. It is an amazing scene when you see the silver water running down to all of the terraces. When there is enough water, they can harrow and then replant the rice in each field. This is a very busy and interesting time with all of the different kinds of activities of the hill tribe people. The rice “Falling Water” season in the North of Vietnam is always the most attractive and lively season for Vietnam photography tours.
In the middle of the growing season, all of the fields are covered with the green color of rice. It is also in the middle of the rainy season, so there is abundant water for the rice to grow. The local people can take a rest. They just need to make sure they have enough water for their fields and do some weeding. The peaceful and green rice fields can ease your eyes even on a hot summer day.
Starting in September, the fields start changing color from green to yellow in preparation for the new harvest. The rice fields are getting busy again, but there is a difference from the beginning of the crop season. Now you can see energy and happiness in the eyes of the people as they anticipate a good crop. Like in the “Falling Water” season, everyone comes to the fields again. You can see them harvesting rice with old style sickles, thrashing the rice into wooden square barrels and carrying the rice and straw home. Sometimes you can see smoke from fires at the corners of the fields. This can be an ideal element for pictures of the rice fields at harvest time.
The terraced rice fields can be seen in most of the mountain areas in the North of Vietnam, but the three most beautiful areas for you to visit these masterpieces are Sapa, Hoang Su Phi and Mu Cang Chai – where the terraced rice fields have been recognized to be a National Heritage site of Vietnam. The most important factor for a successful trip here is our tour guides. They not only know the places very well, but they are also passionate about the terraced rice fields and are willing to share their passion and knowledge with you.