The northern province of Lai Chau, situated 450km northwest of Hanoi, is not as popular a destination as Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province or Moc Chau in Son La Province. Yet it has a primitive and mysterious beauty that is well worth exploring.
|Terrace rice field in Lai Chau. Photo metrip.vn
Local authorities have taken advantage of the diverse culture of 20 ethnic groups to develop homestays as a special tourism product.
Tan Thi Que, director of Lai Chau Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the authorities understand the demands of most tourists, especially foreign tourists, who prefer a natural environment and to experience local life.
The authorities have focused on community tourism areas like Sin Suoi Ho Culture-Tourism Village and Vang Pheo Village in Phong Tho District; Si Thau Chai Village, Na Khuong Village; Hon Village in Tam Duong District; San Thang 1 Village and Gia Khau 1 Village in Lai Chau City.
“Standard homestays have served tourists together with art troupes to entertain visitors. Furthermore, traditional handicrafts are restored like making the traditional cakes of the Giay ethnic minority group in San Thang Commune, traditional embroidery weaving handicraft of the Lu group in Hon Village, traditional steel forging of the Mong group in Sin Suoi Ho Village and making herbs for bathing of the Red Dao group in Sin Ho Commune,” she said.
Que said various traditional festivals and games have been held after a long time of being stopped.
She said there are now 11 community tourism sites with 30 families offering homestay services.
Tran Duc Long, chairman of Lai Chau Tourism Association said locals have contributed a lot to the development of community tourism.
They have better knowledge about improving hygiene, the landscape, planting more flowers and building more public toilets.
Que said to provide qualified human resources to serve tourists, the department has opened training classes for locals using capital support from the EU and the province.
Locals have been trained with various skills to receive guesses in homestays, presentation skill, cooking skills.
Que said the province has also trained tourist guides and developed safe agriculture products including providing clean meat, food and vegetables.
She said the department has also enhanced PR work on websites, news sites, and social networks like Facebook, Facebook, YouTube and Zalo.
Through his survey, chairman of UNESCO Hanoi Travel Agencies Club, Truong Quoc Hung, found that most of the families offering homestay services in Lai Chau have offered food and art performances.
He thought locals should add more services like souvenirs and entertainment, as well as offering guests chances to experience farming, making handicraft products and exploring ethnic minority heritage.
“Except some impressive community tourism sites like Sin Suoi Ho Village, community tourism services in Lai Chau are still simple and lack creativity,” he noted.
“I think the typical features of ethnic groups like houses on stilts and traditional cultural activities at homestays have not been properly preserved and created stable trademark,” he said.
Que said the locality has changed very slowly from agriculture to tourism.
“The infrastructure, traffic system from city to villages, accommodation and toilets are not of the same quality,” she said.
To deal with those disadvantages, local authorities should invest more in infrastructure, she suggested.
Que said next year, the department will open more training classes for families and further promote PR to advertise homestays as a main tourism product of the locality.
She said the local tourism sector will also work more with travel agencies to create attractive tourism products.
“I hope travel agencies actively share experience dealing with community tourism with locals in the process,” she said.
Popular destinations in Lai Chau
O Quy Ho Pass
The pass is located in the northwestern route linking Lai Chau and Lao Cai Province, which is recognised as the longest pass in Vietnam at 50km.
Si Thau Chai Village
|A tree in Si Thau Chai Village. Photo metrip.vn
Located some 6km from the centre of Tam Duong District, the village is home to many people of the Dao ethnic minority group.
With breathtaking scenery, fresh air and cultural features, Si Thau Chai Village is a popular spot.
Muong Than rice field
The field is located in Than Uyen District. Its beauty changes every season. In summer when farmers pour water into the field, it looks like a giant mirror reflecting the sky and mountains. In autumn when the rice gets yellow, it is like a painting of yellow waves.
The 3,049m-high peak is in the range of Hoang Lien Son.
|Primitive forest attracts trekkers. Photo metrip.vn
Trekkers like to conquer the peak along the streamline up to its source, passing dangerous slopes and giant stones.
Bach Moc Luong Tu mountain
Though it’s not as high as Putaleng, Bach Moc Luong Tu is also worth checking out. It is as challenging as Putaleng, according to many trekkers. They have to trek on 30km route through various kinds of topography. Their reward is a breathtaking view over a sea of clouds below.
When to visit Lai Chau
|Wild flowers in winter. Photo metrip.vn
From December to March the area hosts many wild flowers and locals hold various traditional festivals.
September to October is also good period to explore Lai Chau. During that time, rice matures and the fields are filled with bright yellow.
How to get there
You can buy tickets at My Dinh Bus Station or book tickets on the bus routes of Khanh Thuy bus and Anh Tu bus companies.
The bus normally stops in Than Uyen, Muong Te, Muong So, Sin Ho, Pa Ha or Dao San districts.
Tickets range between VND200,000 (US8.6) and 400,000 ($17.2) depending on the bus quality.
If you want to hire a bike, take a bus to Sa Pa and hire a bike there.
With a bike, you can go by two routes: Hanoi - Lao Cai – Sa Pa – O Quy Ho – Lai Chau or Hanoi – Phu Tho – Yen Bai – Mu Cang Chai – Lai Chau