About 300km from the capital, Hanoi, Son La is located on Highway No.6, which links with Highway No.279 and No.32 forming a touristic arc through the northwestern region connecting Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai provinces.
Son La province possesses mountainous terrain, divided by the Da and Ma rivers to form the Moc Chau and Na San Plateaus. The limestone geology and karst topography eroded over millions of years, have created wonderful caves such as Chi Day in Yen Chau district, and Ban On and Doi in Moc Chau district. The diversity in biology and terrain, which is divided into three areas, forms various sub-climates, with an average temperature of 21 degrees Celsius. Typically, Moc Chau Plateau is known as a cool land with favorable conditions for dairy farming, tea and temperate fruit trees, and is now emerging as a major tourist area in the northwest.
The province is home to 59 historical sites, including ten national and 29 provincial relics. Prominent among these are the historic museum and Son La prison on Khau Ca hill and King Le Thai Tong's stele in the Tham Ke cave in Son La city. Son La also has many other historical and tourist sites such as the platform in Thuan Chau where President Ho Chi Minh spoke to the northwestern ethnic minority groups, the Youth Volunteers' monument at Co Noi Junction, Muong Va, and Moc Chau Plateau.
Visitors have many chances to enjoy a variety of ethnic minority festivals, each with their unique culture. According to leading folklore and cultural researcher, Professor Dr. To Ngoc Thanh, Son La is the cradle of the ethnic minority culture in the Northwest. In recent years, the artistic and cultural movement has seen rapid growth and the province now has more than 900 art troupes that regularly perform to promote the image of Son La.
The number of tourists visiting Son La has increased remarkably to about 380,000 visitors in 2010, 2.4 times more than in 2005. The number of international tourists reached 32,000, nearly double that of 2005. Earnings from tourism reached VND 185 billion, contributing significantly to local socio-economic development. Hotels and guest houses have been blooming in number, and the province has now 105 facilities with 1,500 rooms including 28 hotels and 75 motels that met the initial demands of visitors.
Despite its great potential for tourism and relatively high tourism growth, the province has yet to live up to its potential. The local authorities are aware of the fact, but since there are many difficulties in the province, attention is not duly paid to developing tourism.
Dai Yem Falls in Moc Chau district, Son La province, a popular tourist attraction
Over the past 20 years, the province has registered, catalogued and designed plans for promoting many relic sites but little investment has been made apart from the Son La Prison and Moc Chau Plateau.
Against such conditions, the province needs to protect the sites and prevent encroachment that could result in difficult and expensive land clearances in the future. Calling for investment is important but the province should proceed with caution to find investors with real financial strength and enthusiasm.
“It is necessary to have a vision, as well as a sound plan and strategy to manage and develop tourism in the province,” said the Deputy Director of Son La Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Luong Van Dinh. Being aware of and overcoming weaknesses are critical for developing tourism to its fullest potential, he added.
The provincial authorities have decided to organise the 'Crossing Northwest - Son La 2011' tourism programme from August 27 to September 2 this year. It will be the biggest tourism promotional event so far in the four northern mountainous provinces of Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien and Lai Chau.
With its natural and cultural potential, tourism would be important for rapidly and sustainably reducing poverty. When the Son La hydro-electric power plant comes into operation, it will also be a highlight for the stronger development of ‘clean industry' in the province.