WESTERN NORTH AT A GLANCE:
The Western North Zone of Vietnam includes the provinces of Lai Chau, Son La and Hoa Binh.
Lai Chau is located in northwest Vietnam and shares borders with China, Laos, and Lao Cai and Son La. This is where various minority people first settled down. In the local language, Pha Din means heaven and earth; according to the local legend, this area was the frontier between Heaven and Earth. Pha Din is located 1,000 m above sea level. Climbing and descending the slopes with their many bends and deep gorges amid such magnificent scenery is a really interesting trip. The population consists mainly of the Thai, Si La, and La Chi minority groups. The tropical monsoon climate brings a rainy summer and a short winter. The annual average temperature is 23°C and the average rainfall is 2,500mm
Son La, the fifth largest province in the country, is located in the northwestern region of Vietnam. Eighty percent of the province’s natural area is covered with mountains. The province is populated by various ethnic groups, including the Ma, H’mong, Dao, Muong, Kinh, Khmer, Tay, Thai, and so on. Son La has a temperate climate throughout the year. Tham Tet Tong is a complex of marvelous grottoes located only 1.5 km from Son La. Excursions to Tay Bac Mountains and bathing at Ban Mong Hot Springs are available. Visits to ethnic minorities hamlets are also popular. The Son La Provincial Museum was originally a penitentiary built by the French in 1908. At first, it was only a small provincial prison but between 1930 and 1945, thousands of Vietnamese patriots were imprisoned here. Key individuals who later became main leaders of the Revolution for National Liberation were incarcerated in the Son La Prison. In 1962, it was classified by the Ministry of Culture as one of the numerous revolutionary heritage sites in the country. The penitentiary was partially rebuilt after 1952 bombings and visitors can visit the subterraneous tiny cells with food-serving hatches and leg irons. The museum also exhibits precious objects introducing the historical and cultural traditions of 12 ethnic groups living in Son La province. Son La Provincial Museum welcomes tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Hoa Binh is a mountainous province located in the north. It is bordered by Son La in the west, Phu Tho and Ha Tay in the north, Ha Nam and Ninh Binh in the east and Thanh Hoa in the south. The culture of Hoa Binh combines six minorities with their own languages, traditional literature, and festivals. The climate is hot and humid with high levels of precipitation during the rainy season. Several calamities such as heavy rains, floods, violent storms, and droughts occur in this area. Tourists especially enjoy the minority specialty dishes including rice cooked in bamboo and grilled meat. They also enjoy watching traditional dancing, music performances (bronze, drums, gongs), and Thai minority singing and dancing. The remote minority villages are attractive sites for tourists. Mai Chau is located in Hoa Binh province, approximately 135 km from Hanoi and 60 km from Hoa Binh. From the top of Cun Mountain, one can admire the superb panorama of Mai Chau surrounded by a green valley and stilt houses. Many minorities, including the Thai ethnic group, live in Mai Chau. Stilt houses border both sides of the roads. The houses are quite large with palm leaf roofs and polished bamboo-slat floors.
The kitchen is located in the center of the house; the cooking as well as the making of the colorful tho cam, the material used by Thai minority to make their clothes, takes place in the kitchen. The windows are large and decorated with patterns. Each house also has a pond to breed fish. The Sunday market brings a lot of people into town. People from different minorities living in the mountains come to Mai Chau market to sell their specific products: honey, bananas, corn, and tho cam made by skilled Thai women. The Sunday market is also an occasion to enjoy traditional Thai dishes and to participate in traditional dances. A 30 km drive from Hoa Binh will lead to a rest house named Kim Boi. The house was built near a large mineral water pool. Visitors sitting inside the house can hear the water, which is at a constant temperature of 36° C, continuously spouting out. Scientific tests have shown that the mineral water at Kim Boi is suitable to drink, bathe, and use in the treatment of rheumatism, intestinal diseases, stomachache, and high-blood pressure. Kim Boi mineral water is bottled for drinking. It has almost the same composition as certain well-known foreign brands of mineral water.