Ever since I started seeing photos of Mu Cang Chai in Vietnam’s northern regions, it’s been on my list to visit! Now that I’ve made the journey and planned my own trip, I thought I’d share all my best tips.
I feel like the minute I settled in to Saigon and started following different Vietnam photography accounts, I kept seeing these stunning golden rice terraces. Only instead of the geo-tags saying places in Sapa, the name “Mù Cang Chải” kept popping up. Where and what the heck was this place?!
Turns out Mù Cang Chải is south of Sapa in the Yên Bái province and known for similar things — stunning rice field landscapes, ethnic minority tribes with their own culture and lifestyles, and lots of agriculture and farming. It sits below the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and is part of the Khau Phạ Pass for those of you looking for a motorbike ride.
Unlike Sapa, though, Mù Cang Chải is much less touristed so if you really want to feel like you’ve gotten a bit lost in the Vietnamese countryside, this is the place to go! I decided to make my trip up from Saigon during the first week of October, hoping to catch the area in its most golden glory and spent a few days seeing as much as I could see. Here’s all I learned from my planning my trip.
My Best Mu Cang Chai Travel Tips
Weather & When to Go
Unlike southern Vietnam, northern Vietnam does experience all four seasons. It’s kind of up to you to decide what you want to see:
- Winter (December – February) – rice fields are just giant pools of water and grass. I know it can snow in Sapa, not sure if it can snow in Mù Cang Chải too!
- Spring (March – May) – green fields, maybe some cherry blossoms, and cooler weather; best chance to avoid the rain
- Summer (June – August) – everything is super green and lush
- September – golden fields
- Autumn (October – November) – rice fields are beginning to be picked so it’s drier; you’ll see it more rugged and if you go in early October you might still see some yellow fields
All my photos are from the first week of October, so hopefully that gives you an idea of what to expect! September is really the time to go if you want to see all the terraces in their golden glory, and I’ve heard it’s much more lively as everyone is out and about for harvest season.
Where to Stay: Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge
So when it comes to Mù Cang Chải, you have a few options, but not much. In my Facebook groups, the Ecolodge came recommended a lot and, of course, I found their commitment to actually being environmentally responsible promising!
The lodge is only a few years old and was built to work with the landscape. All the materials used to build the bungalows are the same as used by the nearby Hmong and Thai minority groups. All the food you can get is made from local ingredients and all the guides and staff come from Mù Cang Chải itself. In fact, on my trek, my guide, Ba, pointed out his sister’s house as we walked by!
Overall, I really enjoyed my stay. The owner, Mr. Dzung, speaks English as does a few of his staff, and everyone really was so lovely and friendly during my stay. Because the lodge is fairly small, they’re able to chat with you and help you plan exactly what you want to do. They helped me set up my itinerary of trekking and motorbiking with their own guides, who were awesome despite the fact that we really couldn’t communicate with each other without our Google Translate apps!
I stayed in one of these cute bungalows and had the best views waking up. Of course, because we are in nature, you’ll most likely have some insect visitors at some point, so the net around the bed comes in handy to keep them all out while you’re sleeping.
The food here is amazing. I think I accidentally over ordered, but if I didn’t, they feed enough to one person for a week! By my last meal I asked for smaller portions just so I could attempt to finish everything. Breakfast comes with your stay but lunch and dinner are charged separately. You can sit inside or out on their deck and enjoy the views!
I booked my messaging them on Facebook, but you can also just book on Booking here.
Other Homestays, Lodges, and Resorts
The whole area you’ll wind up visiting is quite large! Most of my trips from the Ecolodge wound up being around an hour by motorbike and, obviously, longer by trek. Other areas you may want to stay in are La Pán Tẩn, Tú Lệ, or Ngọc Chiến Valley, which I’ll get into more in another section.
If you want to stay in La Pán Tẩn, La Pan Tan Paradise Lodge looks like a super nice option. It only has six rooms in all and Nam, the owner, is from northern Vietnam and has quite a few years with tourism experience.
For a “fancier” pick, your only option is really Le Champ Tú Lệ Resort, which is an hour from the Ecolodge. I’m not going to lie, it looks really, really nice and that infinity pool is calling my name. I had no idea the place existed when I was planning my trip, but I think if I go back, I’d splurge on a night there. Since it’s in Tú Lệ, it’s actually on the route back to Hanoi!
Other than that, the majority of accommodation options are homestays. They’re of course the most budget-friendly and they’re sprinkled all throughout the region. In fact, if you’re doing a more adventurous trip, with motorbiking and trekking, I’d recommend picking different ones to stay at to match your itinerary.
I decided if I go back, I’m motorbiking, and taking my sweet time to see pretty much everywhere I can along the way and just staying at random homestays as I go.
What to Wear & Pack
Ok, so now that you know when to go to Mù Cang Chải and where you’re going to stay, here are some extra tips on packing. I’ll spare you the obvious things like shirts and underwear; these are just some items I’m glad I had or wish I’d remembered.
Slip on Shoes/Sandals
You’ll want two pairs of shoes for this trip and one of them will be some sort of slip-on shoe. Your sneakers are going to get muddy or dirty if you’re trekking, so you want something you can just throw on for dinner or a less physically intense day. Since it was fairly warm for my trip, I just had my Birkenstocks as usual.
Sneakers or Hiking Shoes
I mean, take this with a grain of salt because my trekking guide straight up wore shower shoes and was totally fine. In fact, it was easier for him to wash his feet in the river whereas I couldn’t really get my whole sneaker wet… Anyway, you’ll definitely want something sturdy for your treks! I just had my running sneakers and I was, once again, wishing I had my proper, water resistant hiking shoes with me in Vietnam. The paths vary from dirt to cement to straight up mud, and my shoes are still kind of dirty even after a round in the washer!
A Light Jacket
I don’t think you’d really need it in the summer, but every other season you’ll want a light jean jacket or windbreaker for the evenings. Even in early October, it actually got quite chilly! Funny enough, I looked at my very unused jean jacket in my closet and almost packed it but didn’t last minute. Was a bit cold when I went up for dinner!
Long Sweat Pants or Leggings
Same reasoning as above, but also because it’s much comfier to wear long pants on those sleeper buses! They keep the A/C on quite high and during my first experience to Vinh Long, I kept wishing I’d had a sweatshirt or leggings to wear. I actually bought a random pair of black sweats from H&M in Saigon just to have something since my linen pants have major holes in them. I wound up wearing the sweats on both bus rides and in the evening to go up to dinner at night ha!
Trekking or Exercise Clothes
For the treks, of course. I always have some T-shirts and my trusty Girlfriend leggings! Remember this is the countryside, so it doesn’t really feel appropriate to wear super fitted tank tops or sports bras on their own.
Even if you go in the winter! One of the best things to do in Mù Cang Chải is visit one of their hot springs, and the one I went to you needed a suit for. Every time I’ve been up north, my clothes have actually not dried overnight, so I’d bring a suit with the least amount of frills and a dry bag.
Motion Sickness Tablets/Seabands
Guys. Omg. I’m so annoyed with myself because I actually packed my seabands in my original backpack but forgot to move them when I got a heftier one. The bus ride from Hanoi to Mù Cang Chải was actual torture at some parts. If you saw my IG stories, you’d know I was losing my mind lol.
The ride is like 8 1/2 hours and probably 8 of those houses are your bus driving slowly around mountainous roads and honking at every corner to make itself known. I needed those seabands about 45 minutes after we left Hanoi.
I mean, yeah, here’s your reminder to bring some sunscreen with you as well as maybe a hat and sunglasses. You’re going to be in the sun quite a lot. Did I accidentally leave my sunglasses on the sleeper bus and regret it? Yes, yes I did.
How to Get to Mu Cang Chai from Hanoi
I feel like I’m in that current mood where I don’t even want to talk about getting to Mù Cang Chải. Like I guess part of the reason it’s still quite underrated for foreign tourists is that getting there is such a mission and it’s so long. Anyway, enough complaining. Here’s exactly how to get from Hanoi, which would be the closest city, to Mù Cang Chải.
Start at My Dinh Station
First of all, get a grab or private car to My Dinh Bus Station. If you stay at Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge, Mr. Dzung will make sure the bus driver comes to fetch you. Don’t worry if you have a data-only SIM; I used WhatsApp.
Once you get there just call him to let him know you’ve arrived and ignore all the super aggressive men standing at the entrance ready to pounce. When you call just let Mr. Dzung know where you are and something you’re wearing. I also asked him to tell the bus driver to say “Mu Cang Chai” so I knew to go with him.
Do not buy your ticket at ticket counters; someone will collect payment on the bus itself in cash. It was 200,000 VND on my way there and 250,000 VND on the way back.
There are different times you can leave, but I think the best is to go at 9:00 AM as the other options leave at awkward times in the afternoon and put you in Mù Cang Chải past midnight. It’s a local bus so I think their departure time is quite loose. We didn’t actually leave until 10:30 AM and a driver didn’t even come to find me until like 9:45 AM.
Sleeper Bus to Mu Cang Chai
The bus is, of course, a sleeper bus. It stops pretty early on for snacks (maybe 2 hours in or less) and then only stops to let people off later on. You’ll have about 45 minutes of smoother highway before it goes into the mountains and things get very winding.
There are no chargers on the bus and, like I said, it actually gets really cold, so wear sweatpants even if it’s hot out! You get a fuzzy blanket and a pillow but, to be honest, I’m not sure how often those things are washed.
Mr. Dzung will have spoken to the bus driver to let him know to drop you off at the meeting point near the lodge. It’s called Do 1 Nam Khat, and either he or one of his staff will come pick you up. Don’t worry about missing it, it’s one of the last stops for the bus, and the driver will make sure you get off!
How to Get to Hanoi from Mu Cang Chai
From Mù Cang Chải, you can get a bus at 7:00 AM, 2:00 PM, or 9:00 PM. I decided I wanted a chill afternoon vs. a chill morning, so I opted to get the 7:00 AM bus back, hoping also that it’d make me want to sleep for more of the ride.
Transport to the Meet-Up Spots
I’m not sure about the 9:00 PM bus, but the 7:00 AM one had a different process while I believe the 2:00 PM is the same as the above process of getting from Hanoi to MCC but in reverse.
Anyway, once I ate breakfast I met one of the lodge’s staff and he took me via motorbike into town to meet a van. It’s like 5 minutes tops, and he’ll wait with you. My van came within a few minutes of us getting there.
Van Ride to Tu Le
Now, I had no real idea what was going on, so for a hot second I thought I’d be taking this van (pictured above) all the way back to Hanoi and died a little inside. First of all we were packed in like sardines. Two guys literally sat in the side aisle on rice bags.
Luckily we stopped in Tú Lệ and switched to a sleeper bus. But beware, that hour drive is very winding and might make you nauseous, even if you were okay on the sleeper bus. There were literally two guys vomiting most of the time (or doing that spitting you do when you’re trying to throw up but can’t).
I personally was digging my thumb into the center of my forehead, which kind of helps and I saw a guy on “Survivor” do something similar once. (Actually I found the clip and what I’ve been doing is not remotely the same thing lol).
Sleeper Bus Back to My Dinh
Then it’s a looooong bus ride back to My Dinh Bus Station with a bunch of random stops. I got back to My Dinh at 3:30 PM, which means I was on the road for 8 1/2 hours. It’s pretty much the same as getting to Mù Cang Chải, lots of windy roads and really pretty scenery! I remember getting so antsy seeing we had 49 miles left but would take 2 1/2 hours to finish.
Just beware of the aggressive taxi men at My Dinh. This time they’ll come right up to the bus door and start badgering you. Just push by, say no thank you, get your bag, and head to the station exit. The grab drivers have to wait outside the main gate and my car was with the taxis.
How to Get Around Mu Cang Chai
I think in the best case scenario, you rent a motorbike by the day and set off to explore the surrounding areas on your own. The drives are absolutely incredible, and you’ll find yourself wanting to stop off frequently.
However, I was by myself and have driven a motorbike twice, so I wasn’t about to attempt any of these drives on this trip. Instead, Mr. Dzung set me up on my second day with Mr. Cai to drive me to Tú Lệ and Ngọc Chiến Valley.
And, of course, the most ideal option is to trek as often as you can! I ambitiously thought I’d do two full days of trekking, but after the first I was pretty much done with that idea. Mr. Dzung can kind of customize a trek for you, but he also does have a few multi-day listings on the website you can pick from.
I will say I’m glad I could do at least one trek. The scenery is so beautiful, and it’s just so peaceful! Your guide won’t speak English, so it’s not as educational as, say, a trek in Sapa, but it’s still a lovely time. Shout out to my guide, Ba, who I think was truly worried I was going to fall in the muddy parts or just give up out of exhaustion.
Andddd, of course, you can always rent a driver and a car. This does limit you a bit as a car can’t necessarily go everywhere, but we did have one pick us up at the end of our trek and take us to Mâm Xôi viewpoint.
What to Do & Where to Go
And now for the fun stuff! What exactly is there to do in Mù Cang Chải and where specifically are you supposed to go?
Go trekking right from the Ecolodge
From the Ecolodge, you can follow this 11-12km trekking route through the mountains to Rừng trúc Púng Luông, an uphill bamboo forest. This is what I did my first day and I think my legs are honestly still recovering! The views were incredible, though, and you’ll go through a few Hmong villages on your way.
Say hello to the Hmong minority tribes along the way
Along our trek, we passed by quite a few Black Hmong villages, the ethnic minority group that mostly lives in Mù Cang Chải. You’ll recognize them by their colorful head scarves and the women often have incredibly long hair.
Unfortunately, unlike trekking in Sapa, you won’t get quite the educational experience of being able to chat with them and learn more about their community. Something to hope for in the future! For now this video is a nice introduction to their culture, though it focuses on Lao Chải, a different region.
Visit the Bamboo Forest
Your reward at the end of a very long trek is this beautiful, uphill bamboo forest! I actually remember getting to the bottom of the staircase and looking at Ba with a “Are you jokin’?” face haha. But I managed to climb up and enjoy the views!
It’s also a big photo spot with little zones, so we stumbled across a few groups in the midst of photoshoots! When I tell you I’ve never felt more underdressed in my life… especially as I was dripping with sweat by this point. Like I’m pretty sure they were asking Ba if I was okay whenever they talked lol.
If you don’t want to suffer through a trek to get here, you can, of course, visit via motorbike. This is the location to look for. Obviously, we were the only ones who arrived at the end of a long walk.
Visit Mam Xoi Viewpoint & La Ta Pan
The most famous view of Mù Cang Chải is probably from this Mâm Xôi viewpoint! I’m pretty sure photos taken here were what I kept seeing splashed across Instagram and Google Images. Because this spot is so popular, it was by far the busiest and most “touristy.” Once you go in, you can trek up to to the main area or get a motorbike for 70K (or 100k for two in our case, which I would not recommend lol).
Once you get there, there’s a few places to get a drink as well as a lot of souvenir stands. Within the area are different photo zones, and you can rent costumes and props. It’s definitely a lot haha.
While I only made it to Mâm Xôi, I’m told La Pán Tẩn boasts some of the prettiest rice field views in the area, so this is just scratching the surface! Grab a motorbike to explore the area!
Motorbike from Mu Cang Chai to Tu Le
Tú Lệ is a beautiful area about an hour from the Eco Lodge. Motorbike to the town for an hour of utterly scenic views and valleys. A lot of it reminded me of Taroko Gorge or even parts of Phong Nha and then bam! You get to the giant valleys of rice fields!
There are quite a few spots you can stop off at (honestly if you’re on your own, you might want to stop your bike every ten feet lol). My driver, Mr. Cai, stopped a few times. Điểm Bay Dù Lượn Khau Phạ is on this path as well for those interested in parasailing. It also functions as a bit of a rest stop and viewpoint.
Tu Le Town
Our stopping point was Tú Lệ town! There’s really not much to see at all, just a normal countryside spot. We got off and walked into the very small market and up and down the street. Tú Lệ is also home to a fancier looking resort and hot springs, but I didn’t make it to either of those. Mostly I wanted to stop here for…
Try the sticky rice in Tu Le
The sticky rice! When I was looking up Tú Lệ, all I kept seeing was a recommendation to try its sticky rice, so it’s all I wanted to try! I won’t pretend I know anything of why it’s particularly good here (except, we’re obviously in rice field county), but I did enjoy the meal I got in town.
It wasn’t on the map, but Mr. Cai took me in, and it looked like a spot a lot of different visitors stop in at. I’m sure there are quite a few restaurants, so let me know if you know of a particularly good one!
Visit the nearby Thai minority village
Right outside of Tú Lệ is a Thai minority village. Again, this would’ve been pretty cool if we were able to chat with one of the women here and ask them about what they were doing and a bit more about the Thai culture! However, it was nice saying hello, walking up and down a bit, and even spotting some very cute kittens!
Right outside, as well, Mr. Cai took me to a nice overlook of the village and fields.
Motorbike from Mu Cang Chai to Ngoc Chien Valley
On the opposite side of Mù Cang Chải is Ngọc Chiến Valley, which is another stunning drive. We drove through here to get to the hot springs. You’ll drive through the mountains and arrive into the town of Ngọc Chiến with its fields and low houses.
Go to a hot spring
There are quite a few hot springs all around the area, but the one I went to was Suối Khoáng Nóng Ngọc Chiến Mường La. It’s a very cute spot with some kittens playing around the entrance. There are three pools to vary degrees of hotness. The perfect place to bring your Kindle and let your legs recover from all the walking and motorbiking!
I know some places are completely nude, but this one you wear a swimsuit to. Though if you do want to be nude, the rooms where you get changed in also have their own tubs, so you can always fill one of those up and soak there.
Bonus! Did you know there’s quite a popular parasailing place at Điểm Bay Dù Lượn Khau Phạ? Yoon Seri would love it. While I didn’t go this time (weather would have prevented me regardless), I did catch a view of the ground below from the jump off point, and all I can say is it would be such an incredible view!
Enjoy the food at the lodge
Definitely take at least one dinner at the Ecolodge because the food is amazing. I can’t tell if it’s 50k VND a dish and I accidentally over ordered or it’s a set price and they just give an absurd amount of food, but either way it was never more than 200k VND.
I actually got all my dinners and one lunch here! Like I said earlier, the lodge is quite far from town and other places. By the time you’ll want to eat around 7/7:30 PM, it’s pretty dark out, so it’s easiest to just eat here. Plus, the food is so fresh and delicious, you’ll look forward to the feast!
Of course, when you have such a calm atmosphere, super fresh air, and access to hot springs, you’ve got to take some time to relax. Each bungalow at the lodge has a hammock underneath, so you could easily spend a lazy morning lounging and reading in one. Enjoy being out of a city and into the deep, deep Vietnamese countryside because I promise you the air is not going to be this fresh anywhere else.
Day 1: Travel
Honestly just plan that your whole first day is going to be traveling or, if you chose getting into town late at night, recovering from your long travel. If ever go back to Mù Cang Chải, I’m renting a motorbike in Hanoi and just planning to stop in the different towns along the way and making it a longer trip!
I arrived to the lodge around 6:30 PM, got settled, and then went to the main dining area for a super delicious dinner.
Day 2: Trekking
Sign-up for one of the treks the lodge can customize for you. Mine wound being around 11km from the lodge to the bamboo forest. You can get picked up from near the bamboo forest by car and just go back to the lodge and spend the rest of the afternoon letting your legs rest.
Day 3: Motorbiking
Today’s a good day for some motorbiking and scenery! I would say, spend the morning going to Mâm Xôi Viewpoint and also going into La Pán Tẩn to really see the views. It’s one of the things I’ll do when I go back as I now regret not getting to properly see one of the most gorgeous areas in Mù Cang Chải!
After lunch at the lodge or somewhere in town, you can head back out to Ngọc Chiến Valley for some views and hot spring time.
Day 4: Motorbiking to Tu Le & head back at night
So if I was doing this again and didn’t get my period four days early, I would’ve taken the later bus back, either after lunch or at 9:00 PM depending what I wanted to do. Then I’d have saved Tú Lệ for this day because the you can get the sleeper bus from here, so you’ve already cut out an hour from your return time (and avoided that sardine-van with cough-vomiting).
Get a lunch of sticky rice before hopping on the bus and heading off to Hanoi! You could also give yourself one more night and stay at the Tú Lệ Resort for a bit of a fancy end to your trip.
I actually think I saw exactly one ATM the whole time I was in Mù Cang Chải and paid with cash every other time, so I thought I’d jot down some budget info so you know how much cash to bring with you! (Some of these I can’t remember exactly, so I ball-parked it):
Transport between Hanoi & Mu Cang Chai
- Hanoi – MCC: 200,000 VND
- MCC – Hanoi: 250,000 VND
- Bamboo Forest – 10/20,000 VND
- Mâm Xôii – 20/30,000 VND
- Mâm Xôi Motorbike – 70,000 VND or 100,000 VND for two
- Drinks – 15-20,000 VND
- Tú Lệ Sticky Rice Meal – 75/85,000 VND
- Hot Spring – 30/40,000 VND
- Room: 600,000 VND/night
- Dinner: 200,000 VND/meal
- Lunch: 50,000 VND/meal
- Trekking Guide: 250,000 VND + tip
- Taxi to/from Mâm Xôi – 200,000 VND
- Motorbike Guide: 400,000 VND + tip
- Motorbike Transport: 50,000 VND
Bonus: All the Cute Animals!
That’s really all I have to say about this following section. Please excuse the obnoxious captions that are to follow.
Hope this guide helps you as you plan your trip to Mù Cang Chải! It really was such a beautiful place, and I loved being able to properly get outdoors and into the countryside for some city reprieve.
Have any questions planning your trip or have more advice to offer? Let me know below!
for more vietnam travel
I’ve been loving traveling Vietnam more and more! When I first visited in 2016, I managed did a few days in Saigon, a day trip to the Mekong Delta, some time in Hoi An, including a visit to the Marble Mountains of Danang and getting clothes tailor made, a cruise in Halong Bay, and finally a few days in the capital of Hanoi.
Now that I’ve been here for quite a few months, I’ve gotten to known Saigon even better, especially District 1 and District 5 with Cholon. I’ve also managed to do little city breaks out to Vinh Long in the Mekong, up to Sapa where I learned more about the Red Dzao minority tribe, over to Phong Nha and its incredible caves, and to Mui Ne and Phan Thiet for the beach!