Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of rice. There is a big difference between paddy planting in flat areas and the highlands. Whereas in the flat land it is possible to harvest three times a year, the wet rice cultivation just allows to be harvested once a year – this usually happens between September and November depending on altitude and the local climate. When I set off for my SEA trip from Thailand (through Lao and Cambodia) in beginning of May, I’ve already planned to stand on a hill in Mù Cang Chải and nearby Văn Chấn (Yên Bái Province, Vietnam) in the end of September overlooking the picturesque rice terraces before the farmers start their harvest. And finally, here I am.
Rice is the most important ingredient in vietnamese cuisine (rice, rice wine, rice paper for spring rolls, porrige) and its cultivation is simply art. Since I’ve visited the Yuan Yangs rice terraces in Chinas Yunnan Province during rain season approx. one and a half year ago I was captivated by the form of rice cultivation. Mù Cang Chải is easily accessible. There are some view points and it’s possible to hike almost everywhere without any tour operators. The biggest problem might be to find out where and when the harvest takes place. While most of the rice in the Mekong Delta is used for exports, the rice in the highlands is used for survival. I did a small survey in Mù Cang Chải town to find out what really interested me. Do the self-suffient rice farmers that grow their food know about the beauty of their art? Armed with google translator I went into a rice wine parlor to mingle with the farmers and question them about this topic. As usual, the Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese), Hmong or other ethnic groups are frank, virtous and happy to chat with strangers if they can handle the language barrier (which is a tough one). But a foreigner exploring their lands by its own is always welcomed to enjoy some delicious rice wine and a chat. It appeard to me after talking to around 10 different farmers and getting drunk with them, that they are not aware about the beauty of their creation, nevertheless they like the fact that their rice cultivation is a stress therapy for city people and a inspiration for nature seekers. If I would have had an easel and brushes with me, I would paint for weeks. The sight is not visited by busloads of tourists yet since the majority prefers to visit the well known area of Sa Pa.
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