As far as 450 kilometers from the capital, there locates a highland in northwest Vietnam, namely Lai Chau (Province). This complex of plateaus is situated at the altitude of 1,500m above sea level, comprising high mountains, pure streams and rivers. It shares borderline with Yun Nan province (China) in about 273 km to the North, Son La, Dien Bien to the west and south, and Lao Cai to the east. Accordingly, the town has a similar weather to Sapa (Lao Cai), being cool and mostly foggy all the year round, making it a visionary land in between mountains. The annual average temperature is from 21oC – 23oC, with two seasons, hot-rainy and dry-cold seasons. The whole province’s area is about 9,071 sq. Km, with a population of only 325,000 people.
Tourists coming to Lai Chau may choose between following the main road, the national 12th highway (from Dien Bien Phu town to Ma Lu Thang border gate in Lai Chau), or the 4D road (from Sapa to Lai Chau).
Natural beauty & sight-seeings
Lai Chau is said to be the land of Ban and Dao flowers (hoa ban & hoa đào), the unique ones of jungles, which attract and inspire thousands of artists. Yet, most of all, as the nation’s highest mountainous region, the beauty of Lai Chau is structured by the high mountain ranges stretching from the Northwest to the southeast. It shares the Fansipan Mount – top of the Vietnam’s highest mountain range (Himalaya)- with Sapa (in Lao Cai). With the height of 3,143m, Fansipan is not only the highest in Vietnam but also in the Indochina peninsula, being considered “the roof of Indochina”. Among others, some plateaus such as Sin Ho, Ta Phinh, Dao San, etc. are even higher than 1,500m, thus being covered in cloud, fog, and purely cool atmosphere all the time.
Apart from high mountains, Lai Chau is also rich in narrow valleys, beautiful rivers and springs. The longest and largest river in the province is Da river. These together with others, such as Nam Na, Nam Mu flowing between the ranges, make several roaring and white frothy waterfalls in the quiet forests. One amongst the most popular waterfalls is Tac Tinh, which is higher than 50m with 2 classes, and frequently full of water flows, bringing a magnificient picture of natural beauty. Taking a boat along Da River, no visitor could help keeping eyes on the very fine landscapes, namely the roofs made of black stones, and mountains in clouds. The fanciful villages of ethnic minorities on the banks of the River are gathering in a picturesque scenery. For those fond of health-care elements, there are some hot and mineral water springs scattering in the province, for examples, Van Bo (in Phong Tho District), Na Dong, Na Don (Tam Duong), and some other hydroelectricity lakes.
Can you imagine that the caves and grottoes in the mountain ranges in the area still remain their original states, such as Binh Lu and Tien Son grottoes, which are no doubt the magic beauties of nature! Moreover, there exists a thousands-of-hectare forest, in the 6 km southwest of Lai Chau town, consisting of more than ten original caves. All of those are truly beautiful with sparking brightness and varied shaped stalactites and stalagmites. Thanks to this gifted scenery, the area is called “Phong Nha Grotto of the Northwest”.
People take interest in Lai Chau not only because of its natural beauty, but also of its historical relics. One amongst them is Deo Van Long’s Palace located in Sin Ho District, which the palace of Thai King under the French colony. The palace, covered by the Thai-style architectural features, is also a place for educating the youth of national love. The second-ranking one is Le Loi’s stele, which was sculptured and set up on Da River bank, unveiling the story of Le Loi’s defeating an upraising troop in the Northwest, keeping the nation’s security. Also, there are some relics of ancient Viet people such as bronze drum and bronze tools, which are vestiges of the Eastern Culture.
People & Custom
The natural landscape is the accommodation of more than 20 ethnic minorities. Most of them are Thai people (33.5%), H’mong people (23.6%), Dao (14.4%) and Viet or Kinh people (11.2%), Ha Nhi people (5.6%) and some others. And there are two groups, who only live in Lai Chau, that is, Mang and La Hu people. Lots of ethnic people still keep their unique original tradition and custom, making the local culture diversified and worth a study.
What makes Lai Chau worth remembering is its various customs of each tribe, which has its own culture of funeral, wedding, worshipping, and so forth. The mentioned market is the most significant activity in life, which take place in the Thursday and Sunday morning. People from many tribes get together here in colorful clothes early in the foggy morning. Seen from above, the market looks like a flower with thousands of colors. The goods to be transacted are the local specialties, such as chickens, pork, honey, rice, tea, etc. Somebody says : “If you would like to figure out the unique local market, you must join one, which reveals the ethnic minority and mountainous life culture in clarity and details.
Festivals are one among the most activities of Lai Chau in particular and mountainous regions’ in general. The most popular one in Lai Chau is “Hoa Ban festival”, which reflects the cultural and spiritual life of Thai people. In the second lunar month of the year, when it gets warmer and “hoa ban” (the significant kind of flower in the Northwest area), blossoms, “Hoa Ban festival” is celeberated. This is time for boys and girls to meet and get to know each other. The boy picks up the most beautiful flower and put it in his girlfriend’s hair. The girl hides under the fresh leaves. This is not only the time for love but also for Thai people to pray for good crops, happiness, expressing their gratitude to ancestors. The festival is always full of songs and prays.
Another famous festival is “Han khuong festival”, which takes place in spring. Once again, this is an opportunity for boys and girls to get to know each other by singing and dancing. “Han” means stage, “Khuong” means yard. When the festival starts, young, beautiful and unmarried girls sing love songs on the stage. Then, the boys sing songs for response. At the same time, they can look for a person who can share their feelings and then come, sit together and talk. After that, they date, and wait for the next appointment. And can you guess? After the festival, many couples get married. For old people, that is the time for memories.
“Gau Tao festival” – “spring traveling”, a festival of H’mong people, is held every spring. After Lunar New Year festival, couples go to the market just for spending time together. The boys play “Khen”, a kind of musical instrument for one another.
Lai Chau is exactly a captivating and typical mountainous land, absorbing huge numbers of tourists widespread. If you are interested in ethnic minority culture, you should really take part in a market or festival of Lai Chau, which unveils the mountainous culture in the way of a “love-blossoming” land!