The Golden Harvest
Stunning mountain landscapes and a harvest-time encounter with the Montagnards
For the ultimate mountain photo adventure through Northern Vietnam, we head north to capture ‘golden harvest’ on the towering rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai and Sapa. With rainy season over and the harvest fast approaching, the paddies go from bright green to gold in a matter of weeks, a landscape photographer’s dream. The Golden Harvest Festival in Mu Cang Chai attracts ethnic minority people from all over the north for markets and games in the centre of town. The road then takes us north to remote Lai Chau province and the spectacular O Quy Ho Pass, before we arrive in the former colonial hill station of Sapa. From there we head into remote Hoang Su Phi, also home to a great arena of golden rice terraces at this time of year. In many paddies, the local ethnic minorities are already cutting the crops, and we’ll capture stunning portraits of rural life. We round off the trip with an adventure in Ha Giang’s incredible Dong Van Rocky Plateau, a staggering volcanic landscape home to a colourful array of ethnic groups.
If you can’t join the whole Golden Harvest Tour, it’s also possible to just travel with us for half, as there is a natural midway break point at Sapa. That means you could join us for the first half of Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa and get the overnight train back to Hanoi on day 7, or alternatively meet us in Sapa on day 7 and travel the second half via of Hoang Su Phi – Ha Giang – Hanoi. Half of the tour would be half the price.
Our Golden Harvest Tour is a premium photographic adventure, and we’ll enjoy the best accommodation available in the region, from stylish bamboo eco-lodges to mountain resorts and restored H’mong forts. We’ll also taste the most delicious cuisine in a part of the world already renowned for its culinary excellence. We travel by spacious and comfortable minibus, with an extra vehicle to transport our luggage between accommodation. At the same time, our close connection to the people of this region, local friendships and many years of experience give us unparalelled access to the authentic life of the ethnic minorities and the area’s most stunning vistas. As working photographers and journalists, with many years of teaching experience, we provide you unique insights and knowledge about Vietnam and photographic storytelling.
This photographic adventure involves moderate activity: travelers should be in good health, comfortable walking or standing for extended periods, and prepared for several hours of activity on some days. Excursions may include navigating uneven terrain, and walking on paths with steep ascents/descents.
Flights arrive at various times of day and we’ll have complimentary pick up to take you to your hotel. In the afternoon, we have a group orientation and meet and greet. We’ll then head out for our first group dinner at a gourmet Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards, we head out for a Hanoi by Night photo tour, taking in the Old Quarter streets, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the railway village.
We arrive in Lao Cai in the early morning and head straight up to Sapa to check into our hotel. We then head out to scenic Sin Chai village, where we have a close encounter with the local Red Dzao people. Sin Chai’s people are renowned for their handicrafts, such as clothing and handmade jewellery. We’ll be talking to the villagers and taking photographs of daily Dzao life. After lunch in Sapa, we head out to Chu Va hill. Our focus here is landscapes, and we’ll be setting up here for some incredible sunset shots across the valley.
It’s an early start today to head west for Mu Cang Chai. On the way, we cross the legendary O Quy Ho Pass. and we’ll grab some epic landscapes over the remote province of Lai Chau. The road to Mu Cang Chai offers plenty of scenic spots, but we’ll also be stopping to capture local tribal life. We encounter H’mong, Thai, Tay and Dzao people along the way. We arrive at the dramatically-set Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge in time for a late lunch. In the afternoon we head out to a couple of incredible locations to shoot the golden rice terraces in full splendour, and also capture some local farmers beginning to work the fields. The Harvest Festival is in full swing, so at night we’ll head down into Mu Cang Chai town to check out the festivities, market stalls and famous local hospitality!
Today we head further into the countryside towards Tu Le’s concentric ‘rice bowl’ paddies. On the way, we’ll climb up to La Pan Tan village. The route here winds through the most incredible rice terraces in Asia, and the village is home to H’mong tribespeople renowned for their colourful dress. Before reaching Tu Le, we also cross the Khau Pha Pass, one of northwest Vietnam’s most spectacular journeys. We check into our ecolodge at Tu Le and have lunch here. The afternoon is to be spent exploring some remote villages near Tu Le, where we’ll be meeting people from the Tay and H’mong tribes and shooting more golden sunsets among the paddies.
We have a sunrise shoot in the stunning terraces near our ecolodge, and we’ll be up early enough to capture workers on their way to the fields. After breakfast, we drive east, crossing the Red River at Lao Cai. We have lunch in Lao Cai and then travel to the River Chay valley, where we’ll have a longboat trip upriver (dependent on river level) and landscape shoot in the area. From there we head up in to Bac Ha town, where we overnight.
This morning we rise very early for the Coc Ly ethnic minority market near Bac Ha. Local H’mong traders descend on this small lakeside market to buy and sell textiles, food and other goods. It’s a great chance to capture authentic images of H’mong life. We then hit the road north for Hoang Su Phi. The area is home to incredible rice terraces, and there are stupendous landscapes along the way. We arrive at Pan Hou Ecolodge in late afternoon.
We will shoot around Ban Luoc and Ta Su Choong today. We drive up to Ban Luoc at dawn (1.5 hours drive) and shoot some of the steep rice terraces on the way up. We’ll then enjoy a walk around this stunning area, which has some of the north’s most spectacular scenery. In the afternoon, we head up to Ta Su Choong, with more incredible landscapes and scenes of local life as the farmers begin their harvest. We drive back down to Pan Hou Eco Lodge towards sunset, when we hope to catch some classic pictures of farmers returning home from the fields. Overnight Pan Hou.
We’ll travel from Pan Hou along remote backroads into Ha Giang. On the way, we have time to spend photographing the spectacular landscapes of ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and Tam Son. At Nam Dam, we’ll meet a Red Dzao family, giving us an up-close look at the daily life and traditions of this minority. Long-time friends of ours, the family are also happy to sit for a portrait shoot, and we’ll be focusing on composition and lighting for these kind of pictures. In the evening we enjoy some of the finest cuisine in the region, home-cooked by our Red Dzao hosts. Overnight Dzao Lodge.
The beautiful route into the Dong Van rocky plateau takes us past adobe mud villages and French colonial ruins. However, the main attractions are the unique landscapes and minority people of the rocky plateau. We’ll stop at various points along the way to capture magisterial mountainscapes and colourful minority life. We’ll also visit an old H’mong King’s palace, once a major transit point in the region’s historical opium trade. We arrive in the frontier town of Dong Van towards sunset. Overnight Dong Van.
After Dong Van town, we’ll make the very short but spectacular journey through the clouds across the Ma Pi Lan Pass. As the light changes and the mist rises from Vietnam’s deepest gorge, an unearthly scene of volcanic rock formations emerges, the vivid clothes of local H’mong, Nung and Hoa people like beacons in the dawn. We arrive at our ecolodge in Meo Vac in time for lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll enjoy a walk to a local H’mong village deep in the Ma Pi Leng valley and encounter some traditional hospitality, as well as capturing more stunning scenery. Overnight in Meo Vac.
This morning we visit Meo Vac’s colourful ethnic minority market. People from a rich variety of ethnic minority groups descend from their villages in the mountains to trade, barter and catch up with old friends. It makes for a colourful and unique photographic project, with great chances for portraiture and pictures of people at work and play. After lunch, we enjoy an afternoon exploring the local area or relaxing at the lodge and catching up on picture editing. Overnight in Meo Vac
The back road from Bao Lac to Ba Be Lake takes us through some of the most stunning rural scenery in northern Vietnam. However, today is a long drive, so we need to limit our stops. Descending from the mountainous borderlands, we glide past bright green paddy terraces and cascading waterfalls. The final stretch into Ba Be National Park brings us into a verdant valley, and face to face with the limestone mountain lakes that give this area its name. Overnight with our Tay minority friends at their eco lodge on the shore of Ba Be Lake.
We have a morning to explore and enjoy the lush area around Ba Be, with a guided boat trip around the enormous lake, including visits to a waterfall and enormous cave. After lunch we head back to Hanoi, arriving in the capital in late afternoon. We have a final farewell dinner together in the Old Quarter.
Flights depart at various times.
Tour leader Duc Nguyen is a highly successful commercial and travel photographer, and one of our most popular guides. He has travelled widely throughout Vietnam, and has work published internationallly. He is currently also chief photographer for a major national tourism project in Ninh Binh province.
A Hanoian born and bred, he has led numerous tours for Vietnam in Focus, including regular tours in his hometown, northern adventures in Ha Giang and Mu Cang Chai, as far south as Mui Ne, and of course our cross-country Vietnam by Rail photo tour.
Duc is fluent in English and Vietnamese, and apart from his photography work manages a popular cafe on Hanoi’s West Lake.
Some comments from our guests on Duc’s guiding:
- Digital Camera or Film Camera
- Selections of lens
- Cable release
- Memory cards
- ND Graduated filters
- Storage device
Throughout the trip, we stay in quality 4 star hotels or the best mountain eco-lodges available locally. In some places there are shared bathroom facilities. There is a surcharge for single bookings. If you are open to sharing with someone outside your group, we will do our best to make sure your preferences are met.
The detailed list of accommodation for the tour is –
Location – Hotel
Hanoi – MK Premier
Sapa – Pao’s Hotel
Mu Cang Chai – MCC Eco Lodge
Tu Le – Tu Le Eco Lodge
Bac Ha – Sao Mai Hotel
Pan Hou – Pan Hou Eco Lodge
Nam Dam – Dzao Lodge
Dong Van – Hoa Cuong Hotel
Meo Vac – Auberge de Meo Vac
Ba Be – Ba Be Lakeside Bungalows
Throughout the tour we travel by comfortable, air-conditioned 16 seat private minibus. There will be enough room in the vehicle to carry our maximum 5 guests, guide, driver, luggage and camera gear. Please however bring a maximum of 1 large suitcase, small daypack and/or camera bag.
Pricing and Dates
|2021||15th September (TBC – Covid)||$4950|
Prices are per person based on double occupancy and do not include international airfare to/from your destination or internal flights during the tour. Single supplement is available at $500 per person. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. See the terms and conditions for this trip for more information.
Early Bird Discounts
We offer a early bird discount of 10% If tour bookings are made 6 months in advance of departure
We take an initial holding deposit of $500 per person, which is non-refundable (unless we call off the trip for some reason). The remainder is due 3 months in advance of the departure date. We also confirm tour departure at this point, and people can go ahead and book flights.
Tour cancellations incur a fee based on your time of notice before the tour commences.
The time frame and fees for cancellations are as follows
90 to 61 days before departure is 25% of the trip price.
60 to 46 days before departure is 50% of the trip price.
45-0 days prior to departure is 100% of the trip price.
We take a maximum number of 5 guests per 1 tour leader. With larger groups we will split between 2 tour leaders
Tour departures will be confirmed 3 months in advance, and depend on a minimum number of guests. Guests should not book flights until they receive confirmation of the tour departure.
This northern tour through Vietnam is available annually during the months of January to May and from August to December. We officially run this tour on on our designated dates near the end of September during the Golden Harvest (when the rice paddies turn from green to gold) but the tour can be booked privately at any stage during the available months .
- Transfers upon arrival and departure
- Accommodation as indicated in the itinerary
- All transportation
- Meals as indicated in the itinerary
- Daily activities and excursions as indicated in the itinerary
- All gratuities
- local guides and government permits
Whats not included
- Airfare to and from destination, as well as internal airfare where applicable
- Trip cancellation insurance or any other travel insurance
- Alcoholic beverages