Ultra Travel Guide of Son La Vietnam

Are you looking for a landscape with endless green plantations, mountains shrouded in mist and surprising experience in the heart of an ethnic village? Bordering the majestic Black River, Son La invites you to discover the land of tea, coffee, beautiful flowers, and delicious fruits. Take a walk in Moc Chau, a heaven for nature lovers, conquer the summits of Ta Xua, Pha Luong or take a ride in a boat in the middle of Son La Dam’s reservoir are definitely some of the moments to experience during your journey to this mountainous province in the Northwest region of Vietnam . In order to help you prepare for your trip to Son La, we offer you all the information and practical advice listed in this Ultra Travel Guide of Son La Vietnam.


1. What need to know before traveling to Son La

Located in the heart of the Northwest region of the country, Son La is a mountainous province located about 300 km west from Hanoi. It is the third largest province in Vietnam with an area of more than 14,000 km2 and a population of over one million.

Having an average height of 600 and 700 metres above sea level with two plateaus, Moc Chau and Na San at 1,050 meters and 800 meters respectively, Son La has a mountainous humid subtropical climate with a cold winter and a hot, humid summer. Due to various reliefs, however, Son La also has micro-climate zones favorable to various plants, creating a multitude of majestic scenery, attracting tourists from all over the world.

Being home to twelve ethnic groups, Son La also boasts a wealth of cultural beauty with unique festivals, delicious cuisine and beautiful souvenirs handmade by natives.

1.1 Best time to visit Son La?

Son La has a pleasant climate all year round with temperate weather thanks to its height. However, it is advisable to visit Son La from November to April to avoid dangerous natural disasters like flash floods or landslides in the rainy season.


1.2 How to get to Son La from Hanoi?

The easiest way to go to Son La is from Hanoi by overnight bus. There are plenty Ha Noi - Son La buses and Ha Noi - Moc Chau buses that depart nightly from downtown Hanoi or from My Dinh and Yen Nghia bus stations. One ticket cost VND 220,000 or USD 11 on average per person.

To get around Son La by public means, there are six bus routes that allow you to go around the province. The fare is also very affordable, ranging from USD 1-2 depending on your traveled distance.

For exploring throughout the province, you can rent a motorbike, which is quite affordable in Son La. You can easily find rental services at your hotel or at rental stores. The motorcycle rental varies between VND 150,000-200,000 (USD 6-8)

2. Top 10 places to visit in Son La

With picturesque nature and great hospitality, Son La is an ideal place to immerse oneself in the preserved cultures concealed in beautiful scenery. Here are the best spots to visit in Son La:

2.1 Moc Chau

Moc Chau is perhaps the hottest tourist destination in Son La with picturesque roads, full of colorful flowers such as mountain ebony, cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, yellow canola, etc. Besides, Moc Chau also has attractions that you cannot ignore such as:


2.1.1 Thung Cuong village

Being nestled on the hillside, is the home of the H'Mong people. Along the path leading to the village are rows of plums trees that bloom white flowers before and after Tet, followed by white cabbage fields in full bloom, stretching to the horizon. It is these cabbage fields that have helped this place become a favorite wedding photography location for many young people.

2.1.2 Pa Phach village

Having a foggy sky in the afternoon, Pa Phach has a fanciful and cool scene. Coming here, you can also learn about the daily life of the native H'mong people.

2.1.3 Na Kha Plum Valley

If you come here in the spring, the cold weather with a clear sky and a warm sun will make the landscape filled beautiful and vibrant white plum blossoms, which surely will make your heart flutter. Na Kha is considered one of the largest plum valley and also one of the most famous check-in place in Son La.

2.2 The mysterious Five Caves of On Village

If you are an active tourist and like to explore and adventure, try discovering the Five Caves of On Village. This is a system of five caves discovered by locals for the first time in 2006. Because there are not many tourist services here, the caves retain their wild and mysterious beauty.

Inside, giant stalactites with unique shapes dot the caves, creating a mysterious beauty in them. To explore this cave complex, you will have to spend about 1-day trekking along the trail leading to the cave. The scenery along the road is also very poetic with rice fields and wildflowers patches.

Regardless of traveling with a group or go alone, you should carefully prepare the necessary items for trekking such as climbing shoes, comfortable clothes (in winter, you should wear warm clothes), climbing sticks, first aid kits… and pay attention to the signs along the way.


2.3. Ang Village Pine Forest

Located 2km from Moc Chau Town, the Ang Village Pine Forest, with a total area of up to 43 hectares, will cool your eyes with fresh air and beautiful green pine trees.

You can experience camping overnight in the pine forest to immerse yourself in the cold wilderness. Besides the scenery, you can also have the opportunity to learn the process of growing strawberries and manually harvest them when the season come. (around April to November).

2.4. Dai Yem Waterfall

If nature has bestowed a treasure upon Son La, that treasure is definitely Dai Yem Waterfall. The waterfall is also known as Lady Waterfall because it is associated with the legend that the girl used her bib to save the boy from the flood.

The waterfall is over 100m high, divided into 2 main floors, in which the first floor has a total of 9 steps and the second has 5. From April to October every year, when huge amounts of water pour in, it will create strong currents, creating beautiful white foam in the process.

The area around the waterfall has large old trees with a wide canopy for shade. After taking pictures, you can spend some time sitting under the shade, admiring the beauty of the waterfall, and letting the sound of water dispel all of your worries in life.


2.5. Pha Din Pass

Considered one of the "Four Great Passes" of Vietnam, Pha Din Pass has a length of about 32km, located on the border between Son La and Dien Bien provinces. Pha Din in Thai is called "Phạ Đin", in which Phạ means "heaven" and Đin means "earth", meaning this is the place where heaven and earth met.

When coming here on the cold winter days mixed with the drizzle, visitors can walk slowly between the space of clouds spread all over the path on the top of the pass and let their souls go with the wind and mingle with the clouds, which look like a wonderful work of nature. From the peak of the pass, we can zoom out and enjoy the picturesque Muong Quai Valley below. In addition, tourists can also take pictures with the pinwheel hill, pinwheel bamboo bridge, or romantic swing at the Pha Din Pass Tourist Area.

2.6. Moc Chau Tea Hill

Moc Chau has long been famous for its excellent tea products. Therefore, one cannot exclude Moc Chau Tea Hill when listing the top attractive places to visit in Son La. The artwork of the farmers of Moc Chau makes an inspiring source for all photography enthusiasts and honeymooners.

February to December every year is the best time to visit the tea hills, so you should take advantage of it and take lots of souvenir photos. After that, people will harvest the tea to prepare for the next crop.

Visiting Moc Chau tea hill, you can choose the Taiwan tea area with its unique heart shape or go to Moc Suong, Tan Lap 1, 2, 3 areas. Remember to pay attention and never cut leaves or enter a restricted area while visiting!

2.7. Conquering Ta Xua Peak

The best place to visit in Son La - another sky in Ta Xua mountain is Ta Xua Peak with its dinosaur spine which has long been on the list of backpackers who are passionate about discovering the Northwest roads. The most prominent activity here is conquering the small and narrow road leading to Ta Xua Peak (dubbed the dinosaur spine) and hunting clouds in the early morning. October to April is considered the ideal time to hunt clouds. 

From the top of the peak, you can admire the majestic scenery around you with green terraced fields with the kitchen smoke looming in the distance, all the while touching the clouds with your hands.

Since the road to Ta Xua Peak is quite dangerous, you need to carefully prepare the means of transport and make sure you have steady handling of your vehicle. If you don't have much experience in backpacking or are afraid to go alone, you can sign up for cloud hunting tours to join groups and get detailed instructions from the guide.


2.8. Son La hydropower plant

When completed in 2012 after seven years of construction, the Son La hydropower plant was the largest hydroelectric power station in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, a record it still holds to this day. The plant provides a staggering 10,246 GWh of electricity per year for the electrical grid.

When you come here, you will be surprised to witness the massive dam, right beside the lake area with its wild appearance and fresh, airy air. From the lakebed, starting from Muong Trai wharf, you can embark on a boat trip to admire Tiger Rock Mountain, Buddha's Hand Mountain, andbroken Rock Mountain... and explore aquaculture activities on the lakebed with famous specialties of great-size fish. When you come here, don't forget to take photos at this famous check-in place!

2.9. Bach Long Glass Bridge

Going to the windy Moc Chau plateau, coming to Bach Long - the longest glass bridge in the world (600m in total) – is a must. Bach Long, which means “white dragon” in Vietnamese, is literally like a "white dragon" lying across the mountainside, winding between trees and clouds, creating a scene that is both majestic and poetic. The journey to conquer Bach Long Bridge is a trip with countless emotions, worthy of being the most attractive tourist destination in Moc Chau.

From an impressive height of 150m, you can zoom out to admire the Northwest mountains. On cloudy days, you will feel like you are swimming in the clouds. The bridge will bring visitors to beautiful natural caves. Muong Mooc cave is more than 7,000 m2 wide, marked by a system of stalactites of various shapes and stone sculptures. In particular, when coming here, visitors also have the opportunity to experience the very unique Café at the cave entrance.


2.10. Son La Prison             

Besides exploring the natural beauty, you can also spend time visiting the historical site of Son La prison and museum located at Khau Ca Hill, group 9, To Hieu ward, Son La city

Built by the French in 1908 to torture Vietnamese revolutionaries, this prison used to house more than 1,000 prisoners. Although the conditions of the prisoners were extremely poor, difficult and harsh, it was also at this place that successfully trained many politicians who contributed to the victory of the August Revolution such as Le Duan, Van Tien Dung, Truong Chinh... Next to the prison relic, there is also a cemetery for martyrs and a museum that contains many ancient relics and exhibits of many minority ethnic groups living in the country. Although not as popular as the tourist attractions of Son La above, if you love history, you should also visit this place.

3. Best "must-try" food in Son La?

You should not be surprised to see a variety of dishes on your table when you visit Son La, this is the home of twelve ethnic groups after all. As such, do not hesitate to try some of these local specialties:

3.1 Son La buffalo jerky

Buffalo jerky is considered a specialty of the Northwest region in general and Son La in particular. The main ingredient in this dish is meat that comes from buffaloes that roam freely on the mountain slopes. The meat is cut into pieces, seasoned with salt, ginger, chili, Indian prickly ash, etc, then they would be smoked using charcoal burnt from forest trees.


3.2 Son La pickled meat

Another specialty of Son La that cannot be ignored is the sour salted meat. This dish is unique in that the older it is, the more delicious and chewy it becomes. This is considered a traditional dish of the Dao people. Making pickled meat is not difficult, but it also takes a lot of time and effort in order to create a delicious batch.

3.3 Pa Pinh Top

Means “Grilled fish” in the Thai language: On the outside, Pa Pinh Top just looks like any other grilled fish. However, what makes the dish a must-try is its unique preparation. Various spices such as Indian prickly ash, magnolia seeds, dill, basil, chili, and lemongrass, ... are stuffed inside the fish's belly to marinate the meat, creating a distinctive flavor when eaten.


3.4 Buffalo skin salad

Buffalo skin salad is a dish made according to the Thai family recipe with a delicious and strange taste. After being thoroughly cleaned and boiled, the skin is marinated with spices such as garlic, sour bamboo shoot juice, and prickly ash, then eaten with wild vegetables to increase the flavor. When eating, you will feel the crispy but slightly chewy, sweet taste of buffalo skin mixed with delicious typical spices.

4. Best hotels to stay in Son La?

Son La has plenty of accommodation choices that can fit your desires and budget, ranging from luxury hotels to traditional homestay services. Small tip: Accommodation is the easiest to find in the most famous areas like Moc Chau and Ta Xua.

4.1 Muong Thanh Luxury Son La - 5*

       + Address: 02 To Hieu Road, Sơn La City.

       + Rate: from USD52 - USD90/room/night


4.2 Galaxy Grand - 3*

       + Address: 228 Truong Chinh Road, Group 1, To Hieu Ward, Son La City.

       + Rate: from USD87 - USD180/room/night

4.3 Muong Thanh Holiday Moc Chau - 4*

        + Address: crossroads of Moc Chau farm, Hoang Quoc Viet street, Phieng Luong, Moc Chau

        + Rate: from USD87 - USD180/room/night


4.4 Stella Moc Chau - homestay

       + Address:  Ang hamlet, Dong Sang, Moc Chau town

       + Rate: from USD25 - USD40/room/night

5. Best useful tips and advices:

When visiting Son La, it is important to respect the local culture and traditions in order to avoid unnecessary troubles and tainting your image in the eyes of the locals. Here are a few rules you need to remember when you are visiting the Thai native population in Son La:

When you visit any ethnic village, the first thing you need to do is ask the village head for permission. It is the leader in the village, this action shows your respect, and also ensures security in the village and for yourself.

Before entering the stilt house, you have to stand under the stairs and ask if anyone is home, partially in order to wait for the owner's permission, partially if you step on it arbitrarily, you can be bitten by a dog, which is considered bad luck in Thai culture.

Before you go up the stairs, you should also see where the owners put their shoes and leave yours there. Do not wear shoes and slippers in the house without permission from the house owner.

If entering a Thai family, you should wait for the guidance of the host and not arbitrarily sit in the kitchen or the table and chairs. In particular, it is forbidden to sit on the window and to sit or sleep with your feet pointing towards the house’s ancestral altar.

Respect the elderly. Greet the house members from the elderly to the young. When talking to a Thai, do not point your finger in their face and when you want to show the host something, do not use your feet, but only your hands.

When you are invited to eat with the family, remember to make your decisions before the family begins to make the meal since denying the invitation after they have already begun cooking is considered disrespectful. If you accept, take your place at the end of the mat, the rest is for the family members. Finally yet most importantly, even if you are full, you have to stay on the mat and wait until everyone had finished the meal.

If you accept to stay overnight at the house, follow the instructions of the house owner. You should not arbitrarily lie in bed in the house without permission. Sleeping spaces are often shared, so when you sleep, you should not disturb other people in the house. Thai houses are built close to each other, therefore after 10 o'clock, you should not make noise to avoid affecting other people in the village.

Are you ready to explore Son La? Besides the places mentioned in this ultra travel guide of Son La Vietnam article,there are many more interesting things awaiting for you. What are you looking for? Let's arrange the schedule, prepare the luggage and invite a few more friends to adventure to Son La!

===> Interested in a tour to Son La and surroundings, please check out: Vietnam Authentic Tour 21 Days

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