Photography of Vietnam Rice Terraces

Autumn in northern Vietnam arrives with brisk morning, gentle breezes all day and refreshingly chilly afternoon and evening. Sunlight is just pleasantly warm enough to make the yellowish color of the landscape more memorable. Autumn is when you want to lie in bed forever awakening to each fresh morning…

 Your camera may be forgotten completely in a dry-box at the other times of the year, but not in autumn. All day you feel revitalized butRice terraces at Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley, Yen Bai, Vietnam you don’t want to do anything but have fun. The beautiful roads, the lovely mountainscape, the dry air, the lovely coffee smells...are like rushing through your mind all the time. They stir you up and you struggle to resist until you succumb to the simmering temptation to hit the road again…

In northern Vietnam autumn is in September and October, and it is when the rice terraces in Vietnam’s far northern mountains shine with sparkling golden colors. No doubt, it is the best time for photography of the amazing landscape.

Vietnam’s best rice terraces are found at Mu Cang Chai in Yen Bai. The rice terraces here are just overwhelming and stunning! Remember that you do not rush at all on your trip to this area and try your best to savor the experience of rice, try to indulge every of your senses.

Say, you travel to Mu Cang Chai from Hanoi, then first you’ll pass the lovely valley of Tu Le – Cao Pha. Do come out of your car, or get off the motorbike and have a walk amid the beautiful vast rice valley with majestic mountains around. Try to take in deep breaths and let the A good angle for shooting the rice terraces at Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley, Yen Bai, Vietnamwonderful rice smells take the best of you. You’ll feel completely relaxed after a short while. Have a walk around the rice fields and it is more likely that you’ll get yourself a few wonderful photographs of the amazing landscape. If you get a Thai lady in their graceful traditional attires in the foreground, then you are lucky that you have added more charm and life to your photos. And you should feel good to move on with your photo quest then.

The road then starts going up and up endlessly as you climb the Khau Pha Pass, the air is cooler and you’ll feel lovely autumn breezes. Then, slowly you get excited and ecstatic when you gain better and better views of the landscape of mountains, valleys and golden rice fields below. The best moments for photography from the Khau Pha Pass are either in the morning or mid afternoon when sunlight is soft and the fog is not so thick as to spoil your photos; at mid day the full sunlight makes the landscape less mysterious and less charming though. There are quite a few vantageA bird eye's view of the rice terraces at Tu Le - Cao Pha Valley points on the pass that you should stop and take photos. Your photographs will look different from different angles, different lighting conditions and light directions, so do not mind stopping too many times!

While a wide lens gets you some nice panoramic pictures, traveling in the mountains with a telephoto zoom lens proves especially useful for sensational photography. It is often you can get nicer and sharper photos getting closer to the target, but you can not always do that in the mountains as the terrain doesn’t normally allow you to. Also, it is quite often that the shooting angle changes will normally make the photo less of a charm as elements which make up a nice photo become not visible anymore.

From the Khau Pha Pass, you’ll have amazing photos with a telephoto zoom lens which allows you to focus right on the rice terraces and even Rice terraces at Che Cu Nha, Mu Cang Chai, Yen Baithe farmers working on them. And they allow you to blur the unnecessary elements in the background. A wide lens allows you to have few panoramic pictures, but a telephoto zoom lens allows you to have several images focusing on different targets of the panoramic landscape. Also, a telephoto zoom lens could produce better 3-D effects maximizing the altitude difference of the elements on the photo, hence more sublime and more real an image.

It is normally foggy at the top of the Khau Pha Pass on high altitude and amid forest, so there is no hope for photography up here. When you descend the pass, then things start getting clearer in sight. There may be patches of rice terraces close to the road and dense forest in the backdrop. Things look nice but not that impressive and you may like to continue further till a road intersection. There is a small trail going up a steep gradient. It is still accessible by car, so not to worry for now.Golden rice terraces in the sky at Che Cu Nha, Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai, Vietnam

You take the trail for 5 minutes, you’ll come to a different world with unbelievably beautiful rice terraces in front of you. You may like to get off the vehicle and take a hike on one of the small trails which offer some nice photos for certain. Else you may like to continue the trip uphill further. Once you have a good sweeping view of the surrounding and you say to yourself: “Wow, this is just amazing!” Yes, it is time for a long hike. You leave your car here and continue either on foot or on a motorbike as the paths are small up here.

Before you take the hike make sure you have someone who knows the way and especially the paths with lovely angles for shooting photographs. The trek takes a full day and you’d better be prepared with enough food and drinking water. You’ll be worn out but you won’t give up as it is too tempting a scenery. By the end of the day, you’ll have a great collection of photos of the rice terraces at Mu Cang Chai.

The second best place for rice terraces in Vietnam are at Bat Xat in Lao Cai Province. A photographic adventure at Bat Xat requires travel by both car/motorbike or on foot. And a complete photography tour of Bat Xat may take a couple of days for certain.

Golden rice terraces at Den Sang, Bat Xat, Lao Cai, Vietnam
Golden rice terraces at Den Sang, Bat Xat, Lao Cai, Vietnam

The third best place for rice terraces in Vietnam are at Sapa (also in Lao Cai). Most of the rice terraces of Sapa are in the Muong Hoa Valley and a full photo tour should take less than a day to complete.

The fourth best photogenic spot for rice terraces is Hoang Su Phi in Ha Giang Province. The terraces are scattered far from one another and may take a few days to have them all in your photo album. At Hoang Su Phi, you’ll have to do quite some trekking to have nice angles for shooting. Most rice terraces here are far from the main roads. Those who do not want to hike can only take lovely photographs of the rice terraces from distance.

Golden rice terraces at Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang, Vietnam
Golden rice terraces at Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang, Vietnam

For those of you who do not have time to travel to the mountains for the golden rice terraces, then you can still have lovely photography of the rice fields at Tam Coc in Ninh Binh and at Bac Son Valley in Lang Son Province. In both areas, the rice fields are surrounded by amazing limestone mountains with several high vantage points for gaining good aerial views of the landscape. There are day tours from Hanoi to each of these spots.

Paradissa is a tour operator based in Hanoi with luxury travel and photography tours to different photogenic destinations in Vietnam. You can contact them for detailed information on departure dates and useful advice before departure.