The fifth largest province in the country with not many visitors and tourists.
Son La province (Sơn La) is a good place to stop if you are coming down from Dien Bien to Moc Chau or vice versa. You will not find too many tourists and historic sites. Up to 80% of the natural environment is covered by mountains. A lot of people of different ethnic groups (Ma, Hmong, Dao, Muong, Kinh, Tay, Thai, …) live in this province, you can visit their villages. Many villages are located north of the town of Son La, along the TL106 road for about 20 km, and further northwest, the road QL6 and AH13 for about 40 km.
On a motorcycle you can go to the one of the largest dams in Vietnam.
In this area is one of the biggest dams in Vietnam – Son La Dam, built because the region suffers from water shortages. This dam is about 50 km north from the city on the river Da and there is no problem getting there on a motorcycle. The Son La Dam was completed in 2012 and became for a time the largest hydroelectric producer in Vietnam. Along the way you pass many interesting villages. Look on the map below the article. The largest dam in Vietnam is in Hoa Binh province.
The Black River (Sông Đà) is the longest river of northern Vietnam, it is 527 km long. The Black River is the most important tributary of the Red River. It also forms part of the border between Phú Thọ Province and Hanoi. People use the water to irrigate rice fields in the lower reaches.
The THAI people – the 3rd biggest ethnic group in Vietnam (1,500,000 residents).
Members of the Thai ethnic minority are the 3rd biggest ethnic group in Vietnam after the the Tay inhabitants. Their number is estimated at less than 2% of the total population of Vietnam. The approximate number is about 1.5 million inhabitants. The people of this minority live mainly in Son La, Mai Chau, Lao Cai and Lai Chau. In the area of Lai Chau and Lao Cai in the north live more people of the White Thais. While in the southern part of the province of Son La, Yen Bai and Mai Chau live members of the Black Thais.
The Thai ethnic minority is well known for its beautifully woven garments and other accessories and typical houses on stilts. These houses are designed to protect the residents from possible flooding and from dangerous animals.
Son La is an area with Thai ethnic residents, these people came from Thailand.
Another popular visited place near the town of Son La is Hua La village (5 km south). Its a very easily accessible location in the beautiful valley and hills. The valley is covered with coffee trees, plums or apricots. I recommend you taste some typical dishes of the Black Thais, for example Pia (meat sauce with different parts of cattle) or Ruan Can (wine with straw).
Pha Din Pass (Đèo Pha Đin) on the road to Dien Bien Phu.
Son La is a good place for stopover if you continue to visit Dien Bien Phu. If you will be travel to Dien Bien Phu you should not miss another beautiful pass in northern Vietnam – Pha Din Pass (Đèo Pha Đin). This pass is about 60 km from the town of Son La.
Visit a prison and museum from the time of French colonization (1908).
From this period one of the most famous monuments is the prison which was well known as “hell on earth“. It was known for the brutality the French colonists practiced on prisoners. You will find this prison on the top of Khau Ca Hill, Khau Ca street. At the Trade Union hotel in the north of Son La town is a good viewing point to the city. It is possible to rent a motorbike in this hotel, in the city you may have a problem with renting a motorbike.
You can visit Ta Xua nature reserve in Son La province.
About 3 km north of the city its a good idea to stop and look into the Tham Tet Toong cave. This cave is 150 m long with the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Above the cave there are the cliffs and hills covered with the green trees. West of the town of Son La is a small town – Thuan Chau, which hosts an ethnic market with different products (bags, pendants, materials…).
Ta Xua nature reserve is not easily accesible, but it is stunning.
Ta Xua nature reserve also belongs to the province of Son La, but is located about 90 km from the city of Son La. A beautiful and stunning place full of nature and a convenient place for „cloud hunters“. The best way how to get from Son La town to Ta Xua nature reserve, for example to the Dinosaur Backbone (Sống Lưng Khủng Long), is by a motorbike.
But there are some local buses between Son La and Phu Yen (Phu Yen is about 25 from Bac Yen), so you can stop in Bac Yen town – a starting point for exploration, rent a motorbike in hotel and start to explore this place on your own. From Bac Yen you can travel by motorbike to Ta Xua village (about 13 km), it is good to know, some road conditions in Ta Xua nature reserve are very bad.
Ta Xua nature reserve is suitable only for experienced motorbikers.
Some roads in Ta Xua nature reserve are not in a good condition and some stretches are destroyed. You can travel there only if you have some experinces with driving a motorbike. Because it is a mountainous area there is also the danger of landslides and it is not suitable to travel there.
However, if you are in Bac Yen town and weather is nice, you can make a beautiful trip through the Ta Xua village to Sống Lưng Khưng Long (Dinosaur backbone). The whole journey offers fascinating views of the surrounding area and you can see a bit of the reservation. Ta Xua Village (13 km from Bac Yen) offers also some food and snacks and some homestays. You can also stay right at Dinosaur Backbone, you can use Y Xoa Homestay.
If you want to visit Ta Xua Reserve or Dinosaur backbone go to Bac Yen town.
Bac Yen in Son La province is a typical small vietnamese town without tourists. There are various shops and several small restaurants in the town, as well as a town market to visit. The market in Bac Yen is visited by various ethnic minorities (mainly Hmongs), and ethnic residents also operate their businesses here. You can also buy their classic embroidered clothing and ethnic costumes.
Stay at Bac Yen town before exploring Ta Xua Nature Reserve or the surrounding area. There are some small guesthouses and hotels. This area is one of the places that foreign tourists do not visit, but that does not mean you should miss this place. It is the closest town to Ta Xua village and Dinosaur backbone.
The entire area is suitable for riding a motorcycle, the roads are in very good condition. Son La has a mild climate, so you can come here at any time. The best months are in the spring time. The weather is almost the same as in Hanoi.
Moc Chau district is a very good stopover in northwest Vietnam.
Moc Chau is a district of Son La province and its capital is of the same name. It is a large mountainous and hilly region. It lies about 140 km from Son La town to the south. It’s a very good stop between Son La city and Mai Chau city. If you come here, I recommend staying a while in this beautiful area of tea plantations, flowering fruit trees and flowers. Especially in the spring, this place is very beautiful and has a very good climate suitable for traveling. Moc Chau is a significant producer of high-quality milk and tea.
The area is inhabited by the people of different ethnic minorities. A lot of Thai and Hmong people live here but also other minorities are in this area – Dao, Kho Mu, La Ha Tay. More information is in the article about Moc Chau.
There is also no problem to take a local bus from the towns of Dien Bien Phu, Phu Yen, Lai Chau, Moc Chau, Mai Chau. Lots of buses run over Moc Chau and continue to Dien Bien Phu (eg. Hai Van bus from the My Dinh bus station). Son La is a good place for a stopover in the northwest of Vietnam. There is no train connection in Son La province. If you travel to Dien Bien Phu, you should not miss Pha Din Pass (about 65 from Son La town).
How to travel from Hanoi to Moc Chau:
from Hanoi to Moc Chau town you can travel by bus/minivan or motorbike
there is no train and there are no flights to Moc Chau, Moc Chau has no airport
travel time by bus or minivan is about 5 hours
bus tickets from Hanoi to Moc Chau cost about $8-10/pp
The offer of hotels, guesthouses online on the internet is rather limited but offers some of the very good quality hotels.
If you do not use the option of booking online, you have to find an accommodation in Son La city, cheaper accommodation options, cheaper guesthouses and middle-class hotels. Ta Xua Nature Reserve has mainly local homestays.
Hotels and homestays are also marked on the map below.
How to book bus tickets from Hanoi to Son La town?
You can book bus tickets from Hanoi to Son La town online onBaolau.
Is there a train or flight from Hanoi to Son La?
No, there is no train to Son La town, because Son La has no railway station. It is also not possible to travel by plane, there are no flights between Hanoi and Son La town.
How to move in Son La province?
You can rent a bicycle or motorbike in Hanoi and travel on your own. This option is a good idea only for the most experienced motorbike drivers. IDP is necessary in Vietnam. You can search and book motorbike online with Bikesbooking. Local buses are limited in this province.
Which mountain area in Son La province you should visit?
One of the most fascinating mountain areas of Son La province is Ta Xua Nature Reserve and Dinousar Spine. It is not easy to move there, you should definitely to travel on motorbike. Some roads in this park are not in a good condition, but you can travel on motorbike to Dinosaur Spine.
Travel distance from Hanoi to Son La town is about 300 km by tourist bus via Moc Chau town. Moc Chau is located between Mai Chau and Son La town and it is another interesting place of northern Vietnam.