How to travel to Son La for your best experience
Son La Travel Guide – What to do, when to visit, and more…
About 300km from Hanoi, Son La province is located in Northwestern Vietnam characterized by a rugged yet breathtaking mountainous landscape, where home to more than 30 different minorities, including Black Thai, Meo, Muong and White Thai. Visiting Son La, tourists are impressed by the steep slopes of valleys layered in hundreds of stepped rice terraces, with an estuary that splits it up into two while the lush valley bases are home to small and isolated villages.
About 300km from Hanoi, Son La province is located in Northwestern Vietnam characterized by a rugged yet breathtaking mountainous landscape, where home to more than 30 different minorities, including Black Thai, Meo, Muong and White Thai.
Visiting Son La, tourists are impressed by the steep slopes of valleys layered in hundreds of stepped rice terraces, with an estuary that splits it up into two while the lush valley bases are home to small and isolated villages. This is an ideal place to take a trek along with the peaceful land and witness a traditional lifestyle of locals that perfectly compensates for the bustle and hustle from busy cities. If you can’t wait for Son La, let’s study how to travel to Son La for your best experience in this article.
1. Trekking Moc Chau Plateau
Located at an altitude of 1500 meters above the sea level, Moc Chau is praised for the beauty of various flower types in their blooming season. During the spring, Moc Chau is full of the pure white of Ban blossoms, plum blossoms, and apricot blossoms that are interwoven with the graceful pink of peach blossoms.
Fall and winter are seasons of red poinsettia blossoms, golden wide sunflowers, and pearl mustard blossoms making you feel amazed standing in front of flower fields spreading all over the hillsides as far as your eyes can see. In the summer with its cool weather, instead of flowers, this place will fascinate you with gardens of ripe plums and peaches and vast green tea fields, making itself an ideal stopover in torrid summer days.
2. Explore Son Moc Huong Cave
Son Moc Huong cave is like a work of art, a masterpiece bestowed on Moc Chau plateau. This cave was also called Sa Lai, which means “water” in the language of Thai people because there is underground water flowing all year round, which is the water source of Moc Chau people.
With its fanciful and exceptional, all visitors to this place agreed that this is the most alluring cave in the west. Son Moc Huong cave has been designated by the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism as a national monument.
3. Climb Ta Xua Mountain
Thanks to its rugged terrain and the vast steppe with thousands of wildflowers, Ta Xua has long been known as the paradise for travelers who love to hunt clouds.
The way up to this is steep and winding, like the backbone of a prehistoric dinosaur, which makes it one of the most arduous challenges even for people who are passionate about overcoming adventurous climaxes. With dangerously winding routes, it has become increasingly popular among Vietnamese and international trekkers in recent years. Breathtaking close-ups of blankets of clouds and valleys are the best reward for those who dare take up the challenge,
4. Conquer Pha Luong Summit
Sits at an altitude of nearly 2,000m above sea level, called “the roof of Moc Chau plateau”, Pha Luong is the captivating place for those who love exploring. Climbing to the summit of Pha Luong requires courage and endurance as the road is slopping and jungle-coated.
However, when you have successfully conquered the Pha Luong summit, you will feel proud to contemplate the imposing mountains. On cloudy days, this place is referred to as “heaven” with its fantastic scenery. And because Pha Luong peak is in the shape of vertical cliffs, your view from the top is airy, not obscured by any obstruction.
5. Stay Mong Village
Mong Village is a great destination for people who look for a new and interesting ecotourism site. You will immediately notice the distinctive scenery consisting of spectacular mountains and rivers. The mountains of different sizes from a stunning range that resembles a dragon embracing the Nam La River.
Coffee trees, pine trees, plum trees, apricot trees, and bamboos cover the sides of the mountains. The village is also surrounded by primitive forests full of precious trees and colorful orchid flowers. Every time the spring comes, apricot flowers, plum flowers, and Ban flowers show off their beauty, competing with one another to dominate the picture of the forest. In addition, the yellow bees fly around, dancing cheerfully on the bed of flowers and adding to the brilliant scenery of Mong Village.
It is not a mistake that the village will become tranquil and gloomy in the winter. In fact, winter is a perfect time for Vong Gai flowers to bloom, filling the forest with a bright red color. Feeling the winter breeze in the air while immersing yourself in the hot spring tub and looking at the red stilt houses and Vong Gai flowers will surely be something that you remember forever.
6. Visit Son La Prison
Named “Hell on earth”, the prison was built in 1908 by the French colonists. It was notorious for being the most miserable place in the country to be incarcerated. Although the original construction was partially demolished after the two wars, Son La Prison has still conserved major features of it, especially the jail system and torturing facilities inside.
The atmosphere is damp and stifling with ugly smelling and insects everywhere. For the underground jails, the condition is much worse and essential elements for human lives like light and air seem only to be a luxury. Though most visitors will be terrified of the brutal scenes, however, this is a place to experience the past and appreciate the peace we have now.
Grilled Stream Fish
One merit of grilled stream fish is that you can eat both the meat and the bone. In addition, the grilled fish is tasty with the company of spicy fish sauce (mắm tỏi ớt) or chili sauce. It is highly recommended to eat grilled stream fish with sticky rice, which never fails to amaze the diner.
Xoi Ngu Sac (Five-color sticky rice)
This is the traditional dish of Tay ethnic people. The name comes from the fact that it has five colors. These five colors represent the five elements of life in their belief: yellow is earth, green plants, red is fire, white is metal, and purple is water. No chemical is required to make this colorful sticky rice, only natural leaves are used. The leaves are boiled before being put into a large bowl with rice to create different colors.
Cai Meo (Cabbage of Meo)
Cai Meo is a one-ingredient dish featuring Son La. Rest assured since it won’t disappoint you with numerous tastes your tastebuds will feel with only a bite of it. A little bitter at first but it will pass soon, leaving a clear sweetness in your mouth. Although Cai Meo can be used to add in hotpot, fried fish, chicken, its favorite style is the easy boiling and then served with a bowl of soy sauce or fish sauce.
Dried buffalo meat
This dish is a specialty of Thai people. The buffalo meat will be marinated then hung on the wooden bars on top of the kitchen’s fire. The smell of charcoal remains with the flavors of peppers, ginger and “mac khen” – a kind of forest pepper in northwest Vietnam.
The fresh milk in Moc Chau, Son La has made a name for itself across the country for being perfectly creamy and nutritious. Having a cup of warm creamy milk in the chilly morning is an undeniable blessing feeling, rendering you warm as well as refreshed.
For most first-timers, we often suggest a 2-day & 1-night itinerary, which includes various activities of outdoor exploration and culture discovery, for your best experience while traveling Son La.
Day 1: Moc Chau Plateau – Son La Prison – Mong Village
Arrive at Moc Chau Plateau earlier to make a trek around the land. Admire beautiful blooming flower scenes and capture breathtaking views of green hills. Move to Son La Prison in the afternoon to witness the thrilling picture of the past war then stay at Mong Village for a night with locals.
Day 2: Pha Luong Summit – Son Moc Huong Cave
Get to Pha Luong to climb the summit. Enjoy the cool air and grandiose panorama from the top. Hike down the mountain and visit Son Moc Huong Cave to be amazed by the artwork of nature. Spend some time exploring the cave then prepare to return to Hanoi.
If you are a veteran backpacker, please feel free to manage the trip on your own and alter it when needed, else, we recommend you join a tour organized by a professional company that can free you from hassles and keeps you safe throughout the journey.
As with the rest of the northwest, June through September in Son La is the wet season. Expect heavy rainfall and misty weather with possible landslides.
Travel wise, October to May are the best bet, when the flowers bloom beautifully and there are some lavish carnivals of ethnic groups in Son La like Xoe Dancing, Khen Flute performance or Con Throwing competition taking place.
From Hanoi, there are several options for transportation for you to take to get to Son La.
By public bus: Buses leave pretty much hourly from Giap Bat, My Dinh, Yen Nghia, or Thanh Xuan Stations in Hanoi, from 7 am-9 pm and cost roughly $12 that take around 9 hours of traveling.
By private car: Alternatively, there is the option to hire a car and driver in Hanoi to drive to the region, which gives a very convenient and comfortable trip, but at a higher fare of about $60.
In addition, you can rent a motorbike to drive yourself from Hanoi to Son La. Although renting a
motorbike is not a big deal, we do not encourage you to do this, especially when you first come to Vietnam. Ensure your safety first.
Throughout this article, we wish you to have an idea of how to travel to Son La for your best experience. In case you are looking for your own travel agent, who can offer a wonderful and hassle-free trip to Son La, please feel free to let us know. We always commit our best to make it your once-in-a-lifetime journey.