Quynh Nhai district in Son La province is regarded as an inland Halong Bay in the northwestern region thanks to a 10,000-hectre hydroelectric reservoir and magnificent landscape. Local residents living on the two banks of the Da river still preserve their colorful culture.
The first attraction for visitors to Quynh Nhai is a temple in Muong Giang commune worshiping a female general called Han. Legend has it that Lady Han expelled invaders on the last day of a lunar year and ordered her soldiers to wash their hair and bathe in the river to welcome the new year and salute their victory.
Since then, the hair washing ritual has become a tradition of the local white Thai people at year’s end to wash off all the difficulties, bad fortunes, and diseases in the waters while praying for a new year full of good luck, health, and bumper crops. Other activities are also held on the river for both visitors and locals.
Dieu Chinh Hien, deputy head of the Culture and Information Office of Quynh Nhai district, said “The Son La hydropower plant has created stunning views in Quynh Nhai which has been dubbed an inland Halong Bay. Tourists can take a yacht to enjoy the scenery of the Da river at the beginning of the year when we also hold festivities such as a boat race on the 10th day of the first lunar month”.
The Pa Uon bridge across the Da river links Son La province with other northwestern provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien, and Lao Cai. From afar, the bridge looks like a white silk strip over blue water background. Pa Uon bridge was recognized by the Vietnam Records Organization as the country’s highest abutment of 98.6 meters.
The most-awaited activity for tourists is taking a boat trip in the reservoir of the Son La hydropower plant, the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia. Dieu Chinh Hien elaborated “Before the hydropower plant was constructed, there had been only modest water flows creeping into the ravines. The plant, once completed, raised the water that flooded the ravines so we now can see only mountain peaks undulating above the water surface that look like islets in Halong Bay”.
The boat begins at Pa Uon wharf and sails up the Da river among the lime rocks, bringing tourists to a milestone on Cao Po hill which is surrounded by water and where the Quynh Nhai TV transmission station used to be installed. The islets along the way are painted by magnificent colors: the green of the forest, yellow of the rice fields, and red of the stilt house tiles.