Yen Bai Province is located on the gateway to North-West Vietnam and still a new destination to foreigner tourists. This place is an agricultural based province but has many potentials to develop tourism. In recent years, more and more adventure tourists and photographers have come there and taken photos to reveal Yen Bai with the stunning beauty of the rice terraces, breathtaking rugged mountains and the evergreen tea plantations. In addition, they are attracted by the diversity of local ethnic minorities whose life has remained unchanged for centuries, the fresh hill stations whose climate remains almost unchanged all year round.
Just be ready to plan the trip to Yen Bai, which can be both challenging and rewarding, and help you to gain more adventurous travel experiences in a lesser-known destination in North-West Vietnam.
Weather and best time to visit
Yen Bai’s ecozone is defined as rainforest, subtropical and temperate mountainous zones. Generally, the province experiences a tropical monsoon climate. At elevations above 1500m, the mean temperature is about 20°C (68°F) and drops to 0°C (32°F) with frost and snow in some parts. November to the next March are winter months when the climate is dry. Frequent drizzle is experienced during late winter months; this type of rain has earned Yen Bai the epithet “drizzle centre of the country”. Dry season is suitable for adventure tours like mountain biking, trekking, motorcycling. Be sure to prepare lots of warm clothes because the temperature will be very cold, especially in the evenings.
April to October are summer months and the rainy period. The mean temperature is stable for the district as a whole and is in the range of 18°C (64°F) to 28°C (82°F).
For those who visit Yen Bai for photography purpose, don’t miss two best periods: May – June (pouring water season) and September – October (ripen rice terrace season) , when you can admire the wonders of the terraced paddy fields in the province.
How to get to Yen Bai?
The distance from Hanoi to Yen Bai City is 156km. National Highway 32 and National Highway 70 are two main roads linking Hanoi and Yen Bai. The province is also on the railway from Hanoi to Laocai. Tourists can access Yen Bai from Hanoi, via public bus, motorbike, train or private transportation.
By local bus
Based on different travel routes, tourists have many options to choose bus for the transfer between Hanoi and popular tourist places in Yen Bai. Below are some popular bus routes for your references:
* Hanoi vs Yen Bai City:
Almost buses from Hanoi to Yen Bai City depart from My Dinh Bus Station (No. 20 Pham Hung Street) with bus fare around 120,000 VND per person.
+ Tuan Nhung Bus (29 seaters) departs from My Dinh at 6h15 – 8h45 – 17h – 18h.
+ Dung Thao Bus (30 seaters) departs from My Dinh at 13h20 – 16h.
To reach Mu Cang Chai from Yen Bai City, you should wake up early to catch the local bus that departs at 5.30 am. Buses pass by many tea fields and the beautiful Khau Pha pass. You can get around Mu Cang Chai easily by renting a motorbike there. Motorbike for rent is around 150,000 VND/day and you have to deposit your ID Card to rental shop owners.
* Hanoi vs Mu Cang Chai by limousine:
In recent years, there are several bus companies offers luxury buses between Hanoi and Mu Cang Chai. The bus ticket ranges around 300,000 – 350,000 VND/ per way. These limousine cars offer bigger leather seaters to bring more comfortable journey for all passengers.
+ Toan Anh Limousine (9 seaters) – 6 hour journey.
=> Pick up/drop off points in Hanoi: Lotte No. 8 Dao Tan Street – Vincom No. 54A Nguyen Chi Thanh – Big C Thang Long No. 222 Tran Duy Hung Street.
=> Pick up/drop off points in Mu Cang Chai: Mu Cang Chai Post Office.
+ Daily Limousine.
=> Hanoi to Yen Bai: 7h – 14h, pick up point: No. 78 Tran Nhat Duat Street, Hanoi.
=> Yen Bai to Hanoi: 11h – 18h, pick up point: KM 114 Rest Stop, Noi Bai – Laocai Highway.
Train journey between Hanoi and Sapa will make stop in Yen Bai. Therefore, passengers with car sickness issue can choose this means of transportation for their trip from Hanoi to Yen Bai City. From Hanoi, trains usually depart at night and arrive in Yen Bai train station in the early morning. Note that Hanoi railway station has two gates: the main gate located at No. 120 Le Duan street for South-bound train, and the gate at Tran Quy Cap Street for trains to North mountainous places like Yen Bai and Sapa.
* Travel route: Hanoi to Yen Bai
* Travel route: Yen Bai to Hanoi
Most tourists are eager to come to Yen Bai for golden rice terraces in and around Mu Cang Chai. Therefore, they choose motorbike as the direct access from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai with one night stop in Nghia Lo Town. Traveling to Mu Cang Chai by motorbike allows visitors to stop en route to visit several places which are too far for a walk and the paths are too small for cars. However, the distance between Hanoi and Mu Cang Chai is about 315km and mostly in mountainous conditions. Thus, the riders must be in good physical condition and confident in their motorbike riding skill.
By private car/van
Mu Cang Chai and other places in Yen Bai are considered as the perfect choice for those looking for something different to better known regions of Vietnam’s North. However, these are not many English information on the Internet about transportation, accommodation, destinations to be visited in Yen Bai. So international tourists may find difficulty when making plans to visit this little-visited gem. Vietnam Travel’s private driver and tour guide will be your perfect companions on the way to explore hidden treasures in this peaceful destination of mountains, ethnic villages and culture.
Main tourist attractions in Yen Bai
Rice terraces in Mu Cang Chai
It can be said that Mu Cang Chai is the first and foremost reason for people coming to Yen Bai due to its stunning rice terraces and captivating mountains. The district is home to about 2,200 hectares of terraced rice fields, with 70% situated on three communes: La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha, and De Su Phinh. From late September to early October, ripen rice terraces with bright yellow stretching from the top of mountains down to small streams create the magnificent scenery. Being ranked as national relic site in 2007 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, rice terraces in Mu Cang Chai has been recognized as one of the unique landscapes of Vietnam.
Another period to view the spectacular scenes of these terraces is the pouring water season in May. When summer rains appear in this mountainous area, locals make use of water led from the top of mountains to fall into their terrace fields. This creates gigantic sparkling mirrors that reflects the blue sky and floating white clouds. During this season, tourists can see lots of old-traditional activities of local people dong farm work, such as: plowing to harrowing on the field with water buffalos, replanting rice, fertilizing their fields. You will be impressed by the beautiful smiles from hill tribal women wearing colorful traditional dresses and working in a group.
Khau Pha Pass
Khau Pha Pass is one of the four greatest passes in northwest Vietnam (O Quy Ho Pass in Laocai, Khau Pha Pass in Yen Bai, Pha Din Pass in Dien Bien, Ma Pi Leng Pass in Ha Giang). Located at an altitude of over 1,200 meters above sea level, the 30km Khau Pha Pass links Van Chan District and Mu Cang Chai District, stretching through many well-known places in Yen Bai Province, such as La Pan Tan, Mu Cang Chai, Tu Le, Che Cu Nha and Nam Co.
In the Thai minority language, “Khau Pha” means a horn-shaped mountain rising up to the high sky. The best time to view this pass is in September and October, when the terraced fields change into golden color and ready for harvest.
The slopes around Khau Pha Pass are chosen for paragliding festivals in May and September/October annually.
Muong Lo Valley
Located 80km from the west of Yen Bai City, Muong Lo Valley attracts tourists by its authentic culture charm and breathtaking natural landscapes. Fitting inside Nghia Lo and Van Chan District, Muong Lo Valley is the second largest valley in the northwest Vietnam and also the largest food production area in the western region of Yen Bai. This is a hug and flat valley, surrounded by the endless ranges of mountain ranges. Besides seeing the wild nature and beautiful scenery, coming to Muong Lo, tourists can discover the beautiful villages, experience the peaceful life of ethnic people, with the Black Thai takes the majority. Visitors can have chance to experience staying in stilt houses, learning to cook Thai food and engaging into Thai’s daily life while in Muong Lo.
Muong Lo Market is situated in the center of Nghia Lo Town and the commercial hub of Yen Bai’s western region. Formed a long time ago, this market has been used for the trading purposes of common goods, as well as the place of cultural integration of ethnic groups. Visiting the market, tourists can find from industrial to agricultural products; from commercial items to traditional handicrafts.
Suoi Giang in Van Chan District is around 20km from Nghia Lo Town and 80km from Yen Bai City. With the location on the height of 1,400m above sea level with cool climate all year round, Suoi Giang gets its fame for growing over hundred years old tea trees, which provide the famous Shan Tuyet tea. Local people call it as “medical tea” because they believe that it can help people to improve their health conditions.
Small villages and wooden houses of Thai and Hmong ethnic groups in the area create peaceful landscapes and suitable for authentic cultural exploration.
Thac Ba Lake
Thac Ba Lake is one of three largest man-made lakes in Vietnam. It was created by a huge hydro-electricity project in the 1960s that submerged vast areas of land. Covering an area of 23,400 ha, the lake is considered as another version of Halong Bay with 1,133 hill-islands, diverse ecological setting and varied vegetation cover. Thanks to blue and clear water, impressive cave systems formed by limestone mountain ranges and mild temperature, Thac Ba Lake has become one of the most appealing tourist site in Yen Bai. Coming there, tourists can relax on motorized boats along the lake, climb the nearby hills and mountains, explore the primitive forests. In addition, they can interact with nearby ethnic groups such as Tay, Nung, Dao, H’mong and enjoy local fish dishes, like: bream, hemibagrus, snake-head and so on.
Ngoi Tu Cultural Village
With beautiful natural landscape and diversified ethnic culture, Yen Bai has many potential advantages to develop community-based tourism and Ngoi Tu Cultural Village is an outstanding example. From Huong Ly Port in Thac Ba Lake, tourists can access Ngoi Tu via motorized boat. Local authorities aimed to develop community based tourism combining with ecotourism in this village because it’s endowed with a unique landscape and possesses the long-standing cultural values of local ethnic people.
Landscapes here includes rocky mountain, hill, lake, fall, river and stream. When in Ngoi Tu Village, tourists can take boat trip along Thac Ba Lake, take hiking trip to Cao Bien Mountain chain in the east of Thac Ba Lake and Elephant Mountain in the west side.
Moreover, visitors will have chance to learn more about daily life of ethnic minority people there. Ngoi Tu Village is home to Dao, Cao Lan, Nung ethnic people, mainly Dao people wearing white pants, with more than 130 houses. Interestingly, locals have well preserved traditional handicrafts (carving jewelry, embroidering, printing pattern on fabric with wax; making ban paper); culture events (fire jumping festival, wedding ceremony); folk songs; traditional cuisine (lam rice, roast meat, manioc wine, rice wine); folk games (stick pushing, walking on stilts); and traditional house architecture. The typical architecture there is three room house-on-stilt making from separately components and linking by bolts instead nails. There is only one stair with odd footsteps leading to the house’s entrance.
Pu Nhu Waterfall
Pu Nhu Waterfall is located in La Pan Tan Commune, about 10km from west of Mu Cang Chai District. On the journey to explore the leveling rice terrace fields in La Pan Tan, tourists are highly recommended to make a stop at Pu Nhu Waterfall. The water source here is originated from watersheds of Lao Cai and Son La. The 20m waterfall lies between two high cliffs of vertical mountains and divided into many steps. It can’t be seen from the main highway because it’s around 1.5km from the highway. The leading way to Pu Nhu Waterfall is very easy to access: just pass through a small stream and a corn field, you can enjoy the cool atmosphere of the waterfall. The highest temperature in this area is around 26°C, which makes it an ideal ecotourism spot for day trip travelers.
Ta Chi Nhu & Ta Xua Mountain Peaks
Ta Chi Nhu (2,979m above sea level) and Ta Xua (2,865m above sea level) in Tram Tau District are respectively the 6th and 10th highest mountain peaks in Vietnam. They are put in the wish list of adventurous travelers with great desires to conquer mountain tops and “hunt cloud”. The best time to plan your climbing journey to these peaks are in October/November and late March/early April, when the cool air makes clouds to gather around the mountain. You are not suggested to make the trip in December to early February when it’s freezing cold, as well as avoid raining season from May to August with extremely slippery and dangerous mountain paths.
Even not as high as Fansipan Mountain (the highest mount peak at 3,143m located in Lao Cai Province), Ta Chi Nhu and Ta Xua Mountain Tops are more difficult to conquer because paths to the peak are almost vertical, sometimes like walking on a ridge. Therefore, climbers must prepare very good physical conditions and practice training programs in advance. And to ensure a safe trip, they should contact local authorities and hire a qualified and experienced local guide and porter. It may take 2 – 3 days for the trip to these marvelous mountain peaks. In the middle of the journey, hikers will have overnight camping at the transient station. Along the way, they will immerse themselves in the vast fields of mountainous flowers, peaceful moments when seeing horse, goats and cows to leisurely enjoy grasses, as well as have a unique chance to watch the mesmerizing dawn and sunset among the clouds.
Local authorities in Tram Tau District make plan to provide training courses on safety in adventure tourism for a team of coaches, tour guides and technical staff in adventure resorts; build a warning and guidance system for visitors before and during the adventure tour; develop plans to ensure safety for visitors.
Tram Tau Hot Spring
After hard conquering journeys to great mountain peaks of Ta Chi Nhu or Ta Xua, it will be such a pleasing experience to soak into the hot mineral springs with picturesque background. These hot springs are only 2km from Tram Tau District, surrounded by pine forest hill and terraced fields. With the size of about 600sq.m, the stream is divided into several small lakes with an average temperature of 43-45 degrees C all year round. Coming there in winter days, bathers will not feel cold when they enjoy the hot baths in the springs. It looks like a fairytale scenery when the steam rising above the springs’ surface mingles with the early mist.
To provide more convenient stay for tourists, there is homestay next to the spring with two outdoor baths, 10 double rooms and one communal room, all of which can accommodate nearly 80 guests.
Yen Bai’s culinary is quite diverse and plentiful with unique ingredients and simple but interesting cooking procedure. Below are savory foods that tourists should have a try when visiting Yen Bai.
Tu Le green sticky rice
Tu Le Commune (in Van Chan District, Yen Bai Province) has long been famous for its green glutinous rice. Looking down from Khau Pha Pass, more than 170 ha of rice paddies in Tu Le look like a giant basket in golden rice season. Thai people in Tu Le take meticulous care of their fields from planting to harvesting to ensure the value of fragrant and delicious sticky rice. In harvest season, rice plants produce big and white grains with extremely charming fragrance flying all over the village.
Tu Le green sticky rice is made of tender rice and after being cooked, it becomes soft, greasy and very sweet. In addition, it’s wrapped by green phrynium leaves which seems to enhance its green color, and emanate the flavor of rice milk.
Locals believe that Tu Le sticky rice is the gift from the heaven that can’t be found in other highland areas. However, the distinctive flavor of this rice results from the mild climate all year round. The large temperature gap between day and night in this land helps rice to store relatively high amount of energy. In addition, other natural elements like humus and minerals from Tu Le’s land, clear water from streams flowing through the area, contribute to make up the special flavors of Tu Le sticky rice.
Smoked buffalo meat
Smoked buffalo meat from northern highland of Yen Bai is the best thing to go with rice wine. It’s made by Black Thai ethnic people in Nghia Lo. They choose fresh and tender meat, cut them into 1 cm slices then mix them with salt, pepper, garlic, powdered red pepper and “mac ken” seed. “Mac ken” seed is picked from the forest by locals then being dried and roasted and used as the most important spice in cooking recipe of mountainous people. The slices of buffalo meat then are left to marinate for four hours and hang up by sticks. These sticks of meat are hang up inside a traditional wooden oven, left in fire and smoke for three days. During these time, local need to watch the fire carefully, otherwise it would burn meat slices up, or the slices would shrivel up. The smoked buffalo meat should be red on the inside and tough when being stretched. When eating, you will feel the spicy, chewy and sweet taste, and tingling sensation from cape yellowwood on your tongue.
Yen Bai smoked sausage
The main ingredients for this dish are chopped bacon, pepper, honey and sugar. In addition to the careful selection of ingredients, locals have their own technique to get this dish seasoned with distinctive flavor that can’t be found anywhere else. Firewood from the cinnamon tree are used to smoke sausage to get its best flavor. During the smoking period, chef have to pay attention to keep the fire not too big or too small. When finished, the sausages have dark red color, radiate a pleasant smoky scent, and get a special sweet fat taste.
In freezing weather of northwest mountainous area, it’s such a great moment to enjoy smoked sausage with corn wine and warm your body by the fire.
Muong Lo’s roasted “muom muom”
“Muom muom” is a kind of insect appearing with swarming herds in the rice fields in Muong Lo when harvest season comes. Locals will catch the large and fat “muom muom” and create their own kind of this dish. After being drained and washed, “muom muom” are braised with sour bamboo shoots on the stove to add more flavor and fat level. Other ingredients are added, such as salt, fish sauce, chilies, sliced lemon leaf. When cooking is finished, the dish has an eye-catching yellow color and irresistible flavor, which makes anyone want to enjoy it immediately.
Luc Yen banana cake
This special sweet cake is created by Tay ethnic people and made from ripe bananas. Peeled bananas are soaked in hot water, grounded and mixed with rice powder to coat and finally stuffed with sugar, pounded steamed mung bean and peanuts inside. After the cake is wrapped by banana leaves, it will be steamed for 25 – 30 minutes and has a distinct sweet flavor. Traditionally, the cake is usually served on full moon day or during local festivals.
Accommodations in Yen Bai.
Tourism in Yen Bai is still in developing period and it’s quite a new destination for foreigner tourists. Therefore, there are not many options for accommodation in the province, except in several popular places like Mu Cang Chai, Nghia Lo, Tu Le and Yen Bai City. However, tourists can expect decent lodges, guest houses and mid-range hotels, which are suitable for adventure travelers. Make sure to check your schedule and plan with our travel consultant in advance to avoid any disappointment.
Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge
* Address: Hua Khat Village, Nam Khat, Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai Province.
This lodge is located on a high hill surrounded by green terraced fields, long winding roads and small forests. Wake up here in the morning with the cold weather and misty fog, guests will feel that they are living in a fairyland. The lodge consists of 7 beautiful valley view bungalows and one communal house on stilt. Its neo-renaissance style furniture is elegantly decorated with unique wooden floors and comfortable amenities. Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge also offers tour packages with local tour guides to explore surrounding natural beauties and local culture.
Tram Tau Hot Spring Homestay
* Address: DT12 Zone 5, Tram Tau, Nghia Lo District, Yen Bai Province.
The homestay was built next to the famous hot spring in Tram Tau District. It consists of two outdoor baths, 10 double rooms and one communal room, all of which can accommodate nearly 80 guests. Homestay also serves local foods of the H’Mong and Thai ethnic groups like grilled meat, grilled fish, five-coloured sticky rice, dried meat and grilled bamboo shoots.
At weekends, guests can enjoy traditional performances by local ethic people such as Khèn dancing and try making local specialties like dày cake.
La Vie Vu Linh Ecolodge
* Address: Ngoi Tu Village, Vu Linh, Yen Binh District, Yen Bai Province.
While in Thac Ba Lake, tourists can choose to stay overnight in La Vie Vu Linh Ecolodge. This project aims at developing community based tourism and implementing a responsible & sustainable tourism development.
This lodge consists of 2 traditional Dao stilt houses with capacity of 20 persons each. These houses were built with local and sustainable materials such as bamboo or precious wood. Besides 2 duplex studios for groups or families, the lodge also has lake 3 view rooms, 4 upper lake rooms with stunning view on the Thac Ba Lake.
Staying there, tourists can take day trip to visit Thac Ba Lake by traditional boat, trek into the jungles, visit local ethnic villages to learn about local crafts and take cooking class.
Dragonfly Nghia Lo Hotel
* Address: Pu Lo Hill, Phu Trang Ward, Nghia Lo Town, Yen Bai Province.
Located in the center of Nghia Lo Town, Dragonfly Hotel is the first high-quality resort style in western Yen Bai area, brings an extremely new experience for visitors to visit the cradle of Thai Western culture. With a scale of 50 rooms, divided into 3 areas: Villa, Vip and Honeycomb area, this hotel can accommodate guests with short overnight stay in Nghia Lo, on their way to explore beautiful terraced fields in surrounding areas. Dragonfly has the most beautiful & diverse space design at this time in Nghia Lo Town.