One of six provinces in Northwest Vietnam, Yen Bai is renowned for its rugged mountain landscapes, green forests, roaring rivers, and blue lakes. Living harmoniously with the land, locals heavily rely on important natural resources. Forestry and farming are the main industries in Yen Bai, though hydroelectric power is also essential for the province and region.
Agriculture is another big industry in the province and the stunning rice terraces throughout Yen Bai have become a tourist attraction. Even with the splendid scenery, tourism in Yen Bai Province mostly comes from Vietnamese nationals. Most years, only a low number of foreign tourists will visit the province.
Mountainous Province in Northwest Vietnam
Yen Bai (Yên Bái) Province is centrally located in Vietnam’s Northwest Region, which is called Tay Bac (Tây Bắc) in Vietnamese. Decently sized, the province covers an area of 6,887.7 sq km (2,659.2 sq mi). Geographically, the terrain throughout Yen Bai is classified as mountainous and steep.
The flattest areas in the province tend to be around the rivers and lakes, though there are a few open valleys. Even in the flat areas, it’s common to see communities and agricultural fields built into the hillsides. Being located in Northwest Vietnam, Yen Bai Province is fairly close to the country’s capital city, Hanoi.
Yen Bai City, the provincial capital, is less than 2.5 hours, 154.6 km (96 mi), northwest of Hanoi. The fastest way to get from Hanoi to Yen Bai is by taking private transportation, like taxis or motorbikes, as well as public transportation options including trains and buses. Public buses are the most affordable option, although the journey can take up to 4 hours.
With fertile land and access to freshwater, Yen Bai Province has been inhabited by humans since ancient times. Archaeological digs in the province suggest that ancient ethnic groups lived along the Hong and Chay Rivers. While ancient temples have been uncovered in Yen Bai, excavations in the Mu Cang Chai (Mù Cang Chải) District led to the discovery of stone tools.
Widespread knowledge of ancient history in Yen Bai Province isn’t common due to it being overshadowed by the French Occupation. French Occupation in Vietnam began in 1859, becoming a solidified French colony by 1883. In Yen Bai Province, the local people heavily resisted French forces.
Alongside national movements and rebellions like Can Vuong (Cần Vương) or Thai Nguyen (Thái Nguyên), Yen Bai organized its own resistance. In 1930, the Yen Bai Mutiny was an uprising of Vietnamese soldiers and civilian supporters who sought to oppose the French colonial army.
The mutiny became an important military post for the Viet Minh, which was formed by Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh). Although the soldiers and civilians put forward their best effort, the French ended the mutiny within one day. Killed by aerial bombardments or executed by French soldiers, many Vietnamese died after the mutiny.
Enraged by the French army’s actions, there were many anti-colonialist riots throughout Northern Vietnam after Yen Bai Mutiny. However, the Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (Vietnamese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party were still unable to gain control. The French would continue to rule Vietnam as a colony until the early 1940s when World War II saw the Japanese invade French Indochina.
- In Sino Vietnamese, Yen Bai is written as 安沛.
- As of 2021, there are 890,041 people living in Yen Bai Province.
- The most recent archeological find in Yen Bai Province occurred in 1996 when a bronze jar was discovered with the ancient remains of a 6-year-old girl on Choi Mountain.
Straddling the line between Northwest and Northeast Vietnam, Yen Bai City is the capital of Yen Bai Province. Moderately sized, Yen Bai City is built along the banks of the Red River and covers an area of 108.15 sq km (41.76 sq mi). Within the city, the local government has created 15 administrative divisions consisting of 9 wards and 6 rural communes.
Acting as an important hub for business, Yen Bai City has developed an extensive trade network that services Northern Vietnam’s highlands and lowlands. Tourism is fairly limited, as most of the province’s main attractions are located in more remote destinations, making the city a common transit stop for tourists who plan on heading into the province’s more secluded areas.
In Yen Bai City, there are only a handful of hotels where tourists can stay the night. Travelers that are on a tighter budget may want to look at homestays or guesthouses just outside of the city. The best hotels in Yen Bai City are the Hotel Hao Gia, Khach San Nhu Nguyet 3, Zoni House – Yen Bai, Ngoc Anh Hotel, and the AK Motel.
A great way to spend more time exploring Yen Bai City is by dining at local restaurants. Not all of the hotels in the city have an on-site restaurant because of limited space. However, there are a few quality restaurants where visitors can enjoy a good meal. Traditional Vietnamese food is common on menus and there are a few dishes that are unique to Yen Bai.
These include the Luc Yen banana cake, Muong lo fungus, Sinh fish, and the Yen Bai sausage. The best places to eat in Yen Bai City are the Yummy House, Sanh BBQ, Hai San Khanh Nga, and the Salmon King Restaurant Yen Bai.
Famous Places in Yen Bai Province
Apart from Yen Bai City, the two most famous places in the province are Nghia Lo (Nghĩa Lộ) Town and Mu Cang Chai District. Both fairly remote destinations, travelers have fallen in love with the countryside landscapes around the town and district.
Nghia Lo Town is closest to Yen Bai City and takes about 2 hours to reach by car. To visit Mu Cang Chai, travelers will have to head further into the province. The drive from Yen Bai City to the Mu Cang Chai District takes just over 4 hours.
Nghia Lo Town
A historic town that was once part of the Viet Minh 312 division that fought during the First Indochina War, Nghia Lo is a quiet destination. Providing visitors with an insight into Northern Vietnam’s Highland culture, Nghia Lo Town’s top attractions are the local markets and cafes. Locals are friendly and often curious about outsiders, as tourists rarely visit this secluded town.
In the center of town, the Muong Lo Market is a busy commercial hub where vendors sell clothes, household goods, cooked food, and fresh produce. Away from the city center and not too far into the country, the land opens up to breathtaking views of the Muong Thanh Valley. With mountains rising on each side, visitors can walk through the valley or hike the lower hills.
One place to stop in the valley is the local hot spring, where locals bathe to cure various ailments like arthritis.
Mu Cang Chai District
By far, the Mu Cang Chai District is the most famous place in Yen Bai Province. A remote district, Mu Cang Chai sits at the base of the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range. The district has become the province’s acclaimed destination where travelers head to the hills to view the stunning rice terraces.
Spread throughout the district, there are numerous rice terraces, with the most well-known being Che Cu Nha, La Pan Tan, and Mong Ngua. A few of the most photographed terraces in Mu Cang Chai are Mong Ngua and Mom Xoi Hill. Most of the terraces are located just a few miles outside of Mu Cang Chai Town.
While the rice terraces take center stage, travelers shouldn’t head to Mu Cang Chai just to see the verdant hills. Within the mountainous landscape, there are a few beautiful features that can’t be missed. Additional attractions in Mu Cang Chai include the Rung Truc Mu (Rừng Trúc Mù) Bamboo Forest, Kim Noi Village, Mo Waterfall, and Khau Pha (Khau Phạ) Pass.
Nature and culture are important to the locals and the best attractions in Yen Bai Province showcase the beauty of the people and land. From the brilliant green mountains to the clear water lakes, Yen Bai’s most spectacular main attractions are Thac Ba Lake, Ta Xua Mountain, Suoi Giang Tea Hill, and the Pu Nhu Waterfall.
Thac Ba Lake
Vietnam’s largest man-made lake is called Thac Ba. Located in Yen Bai Province, the lake was originally formed by the Thac Ba and Thac Ong Waterfalls. When the local government decided to construct the hydroelectric dam, the area was flooded to become a lake. Today, Thac Ba is nearly 80 km (50 mi) long and its deepest point is about 58 m (190 ft).
The hydroelectric dam has become a tourist spot as it provides excellent views of Thac Ba Lake. Visitors are permitted at the dam in specific lookout spots. The layout of the lake, which has hundreds of tiny islets, is perfect for swimming, boating, and hiking. Boat trips are the most popular way to see the lake and many tours will stop at a few of the islets too.
Many boat tours will also stop at the local temples including Doi Ca, Mau, and the Song Pagoda. The highest panoramic point to view Thac Ba Lake in its entirety is at the top of Cao Bien Mountain. Hikers can take the challenging trail up to the mountain summit to enjoy the sunset. The hike takes a few hours and for prime sunset viewing, visitors will have to start their hike in the late afternoon.
Ta Xua Mountain
Marking the border between Yen Bai and Son La (Sơn La) Provinces is Ta Xua Mountain. Sometimes called Phu Sa Phin, Ta Xua is the country’s 10th tallest mountain and its distinct ridges have been nicknamed the “Dinosaur’s Spine” because of their appearance. Hiking Ta Xua is a challenge, but one that many tourists are eager to conquer.
At the top of Ta Xua, hikers will be delighted with the epic views. Often, the summit of Ta Xua sits above the clouds, which fill the valley below. Hikers who begin their climb in the early morning will have the best chance to view the clouds. Cloud cover typically lasts from about 6 am to 10 am.
Depending on their speed and experience, tourists will need to start their trek from 4 am or 5 am in order to reach the summit before the clouds clear in the late morning. The climate at Ta Xua Mountain is cool year-round due to the higher altitudes and is best visited from December to May when the weather ensures that the temperatures drop low enough for the clouds to rise above the valleys.
Suoi Giang Tea Hill
In the remote Van Chan District, the Suoi Giang Tea Hill is a cultural destination where tourists can learn more about the ethnic locals and the cultivation of tea in Northern Vietnam. At Suoi Giang, locals live in 8 villages with the majority of the families earning an income through the tea hills.
Grown along the hillsides and planted in perfect rows, the green tea leaves are then harvested by hand before being processed in the villages. Tourism to the Suoi Giang Tea Hill is greatly encouraged as the locals are eager to share their culture with outsiders.
Traveling to the Suoi Giang Tea Hill is quite tedious as the roads to the villages are steep and twisted. Tourists are encouraged to take a bus service or hire a private car to travel to Suoi Giang.
Pu Nhu Waterfall
Not too far from the famous La Pan Tan rice terraces in the Mu Cang Chai District is the Pu Nhu Waterfall. Fed by streams from the neighboring Lao Cai (Lào Cai) and Son La Province, the waterfall is situated between two rocky cliffs and it falls from a height of 20 m (65.6 ft).
The waterfall’s cascade then flows into a stream, which empties into a small river. Visitors to Pu Nhu can visit the base of the falls or relax by the lake to cool off in the pristine water. Hiking in the area around the waterfall is also popular as a few small trails cut through the lush forest.
Throughout the year, there are various festivals held in Yen Bai Province. One of the most unique festivals, the Paragliding Festival, is held annually in the Mu Cang Chai District from the middle to the end of September. Celebrated for 3 days, paragliders take to the skies above Mu Cang Chai as they symbolically fly above the “golden season”.
While many professional paragliders give demonstrations during the festivals, paragliding tours for tourists are offered too. Soaring above the landscape, tourists will get a unique view of the district’s verdant rice terraces.
In addition to the paragliding activities, the festival is a time for local artists to exhibit their crafts such as food services and Xoe Thai dance performances. Hoping to further boost tourism, a small carnival is held during the festival with local games for entertainment.
Heavily dependent on the weather, tourism in Yen Bai Province is busiest during the dry season, which begins in September and lasts until May. During the dry season, the weather is cooler and there is less rain. For outdoor activities, which are most of the attractions in Yen Bai, the dry season is great for hiking, swimming, and boating.
During the rainy season, which begins in late May and lasts until August, tourism in Yen Bai Province is practically nonexistent. Tourists want to avoid the warmer temperatures and heavy rain showers that come with the summer months.
Undiscovered by mass tourism, Yen Bai Province is a breathtaking destination where tourists can get up close to Northern Vietnam’s highland culture and mountainous topography. Although most of the attractions are found in remote locations, there’s plenty to see and do in Yen Bai.
From the immensely popular rice terraces in Mu Cang Chai to the shores of Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province is an enthralling destination.
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Mu Cang Chai District, Yen Bai, Vietnam
Hidden at the base of the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range is a remote district called…