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|Mu Cang Chai is slowly developing from typical traditional homestays to grander eco-facilities for new visitors, Photo: VietWings|
At more than 60 years old, bonding to the land of Mu Cang Chai from birth, Thao A Sang, former chairman of Mu Cang Chai district, said that agriculture is hard work for a retiree like him, so he decided to shift into tourism to both generate more income for the family and to bring stable jobs for some young people in the village.
In 2017 with the help of a friend, Sang decided to invest more than VND3 billion ($130,000) to build a resort. That July, Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge was completed and began welcoming guests. From five homes combining the traditional roof architecture of the Mong people with pine wood and the style of Thai stilt houses, the resort has now expanded to nine houses and aims to increase by six more in the future.
After nearly three years in operation, Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge has brought Sang's family a stable and increasing income.
Sang said, “In 2019 we welcomed nearly 2,000 visitors, two-thirds of which were international visitors. Although the price per room ranges from $39-47 per night, visitors usually stay for two or three nights because they like the quiet space and the chance to experience many interesting indigenous activities.”
Elsewhere Dao Xuan Thinh, general director of Thinh Dat JSC, was not born and raised in Mu Cang Chai like Sang, but ventured into tourism nevertheless with the establishment of the high-class Le Champ Tu Le Hot Spring & Spa in the beautiful Tu Le Valley.
In addition to hotels, Thinh Dat also invests in other tourism ventures such as establishing four co-operatives to develop professions such as brewing rice, knitting, growing vegetables, raising poultry, weaving brocade, and exploiting Pu Cang cave in Nam Khat commune.
These projects have created jobs for many people in Mu Cang Chai and contributed significantly to introduce the beauty and potential of this pristine land to investors. Thinh shared that district and provincial authorities had called for investors to come to Mu Cang Chai many years ago, but only small homestays were developed.
But in recent years, many investors in the field of tourism have begun to visit Mu Cang Chai to conduct surveys and build high-class luxury resorts, signalling a new wave of funding preparing to rush into this area.
|Agri-tourism is of higher interest to visitors these days|
Earlier this year, 900 hectares of the 4,500ha terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai were recognised as a special national beautiful landscape by the Prime Minister. At the same time, being named in the list of top destinations in the world in 2020 announced by US news agency CNBC has created momentum for tourism of Mu Cang Chai to develop even stronger in the future.
The orientation of Mu Cang Chai district is to turn tourism into a spearhead economic sector of the locality, but that development must be placed in the master plan so as not to break the scenic space and so that it moves towards sustainable development with the green tourism model, linking tourism activities with agriculture and environmental protection.
Therefore, despite welcoming investors, Mu Cang Chai district is also very strict in the selection of such investors for long-term co-operation. The story of investors coming to Mu Cang Chai is not a story of how large the projects are or how much the costs are, but the stories of green projects on a guaranteed sustainable plan in exploiting nature and maintaining long-term benefits between local people and businesses.
Therefore, although the number of tourists is increasing each year, including 250,000 domestic tourists and 37,200 international visitors in 2019, the whole district has just over 100 accommodation and food services, a rudimentary number that does not meet the needs of travellers.
With the support of local authorities, many Mong and Thai people in Mu Cang Chai are willing to travel to Sapa town and Lai Chau province to learn how to carry out community tourism, then return to invest and develop their own homeland. The long-term orientation of utilising available resources is one of the solutions encouraged to be implemented by the district, while waiting for investors who are interested in seeking co-operation and sustainable development to imprint Mu Cang Chai as a friendly and safe tourism destination for cultural and eco-luxury travellers worldwide.
Top activities in Mu Cang Chai
Trekking has been among the popular tourist activities in Vietnam’s mountainous areas. In Mu Cang Chai, tourists are invited to conquer some of the most breathtaking, challenging, and interesting treks along the eastern extension of the Himalayas – the Hoang Lien Son Mountain range – which promises to leave visitors with unforgettable memories.
The trek to Lung Cung peak is one of the highest treks at Hoang Lien Son with an altitude of nearly 3,000m. The peak is named after a village deep in the rugged mountains in Nam Co commune of Mu Cang Chai district. On the two-day slog, trekkers will enjoy beautiful paths which appears as a harmonious composition of the grassy hills, white reed mattresses, and terraced rice fields.
Paragliding is increasingly becoming a popular sport in Vietnam as the charming scenery can best be enjoyed from up above the sky. In addition, the regions soothing weather and topographic advantages offer favourable conditions for anyone who loves adventure sports.
Two major festivals for paragliders take place in the summertime and during the autumn’s harvesting period.
Most of the flying performances usually take place in the district’s Khau Pha mountain pass in Cao Pha commune, which is about 1,200m above sea level. Khau Pha pass is rated among one of the four most beautiful paragliding sites in Vietnam. The spot, which is famous for its stunning terraced fields, provides spectacular views of the stunning natural scenery. In the near future, the district is planning to open two more locations for paragliding lovers, at the top of Khau Pha pass and on Mam Xoi hill in La Pan Tan commune.
Another sporty activity in Mu Cang Chai, sparked by its renowned terrains and seasonal natural charms, is hopping on a good ol’ bicycle or light motorbike.
Many adventure seekers choose to take in a long uphill drive across the busy deltas to end up in remote mountainous paradises with completely different vibes. Others prefer a short trip around Mu Cang Chai district to sniff in the captivating fragrance of ripe rice or Tu Le’s young rice in autumn.
Typical cycling journeys in Mu Cang Chai pass through stunning mountainous landscape, featuring green tea plantations. As the mountains are getting higher and higher, be prepared to cross over the Khau Pha pass, one of the four greatest passes in northern Vietnam with windy curves that amaze any rider, before heading to the beautiful valley villages located at the foot of the pass.
Mingling with locals
A trip to Mu Cang Chai would not be complete without getting to know some of the residents and trying out their delicious dishes and exotic food. Along with the area’s marvellous scenery, the cultures of the ethnic minorities living in there count towards the most prominent tourism features of the locality, considered to be an indispensable highlight with its abundant cultural treasures. The ethnic groups of the Hmong, Thai, and Dzao still preserve their cultural heritage, including their customs, festivals, costumes, musical instruments, and preserved folk dances and songs.
With green and community-based tourism being bolstered daily, more services have been developing. This also mean visitors now have more chances to dive into the authentic culture and customs by participating in the locals’ daily live activities, no matter if they are staying in a hotel, resort, or at a homestay.
The communes that are currently most engaged with community-based tourism are La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha, Nam Khat, and Khau Pha, to name just a few.