From Hanoi, Mitch and I wanted to take a small side trip to the inland mountains in order to see the famed terraced rice paddy fields. Instead of heading to tourist-saturated Sapa, we chose to go to Mai Chau, and we are so glad we did.
We stayed in a lovely hotel with views of the local flat field rice paddies just outside our window. What we didn’t realize when we decided to visit Mai Chau was that mid-February wasn’t the best time for the classic photos of verdantly green and lush rice paddies. In fact, we were very lucky because when we arrived, the towns were in planting stage, which is just a 4-7 day period — something we could have easily missed had we arrived just a few days earlier! So we didn’t get to see the paddies at their greenest, but we did get to see how much hard work and labor goes into planting a rice field.
From what we could tell, the seedling rice plants are grown in a small patch just a few meters wide and long covered by plastic to protect them from the mountain chill. After the seedlings are old enough, they are gathered into a bucket and planted one by one in a flooded field. Families were up to their knees in water while the air outside was quite cold. It’s backbreaking work.
Our first day met us with misty fog, which was a bit disappointing but it did give the mountains a magical, mysterious feeling. The next day was still cold, but the air was clearer, so of course, we rented a motorbike and took to the hills in search of hidden villages and beautiful scenery.
Mai Chau is a beautiful area with hard working, kind people. The owner of our hotel invited us for several shots of corn whiskey one evening and talked to us at length about growing rice and life in the local villages, where he grew up.
Even though we missed the peak photography season, we still found Mai Chau incredibly beautiful and I think we have a greater appreciation for the process of growing rice, a major form of income in Vietnam.