Ms. Nguyen Thi Hue, Marketing Business Leader from Diethelm Travel Vietnam shares how a new tourist region in Northern Vietnam is offering once in a lifetime opportunities for outdoor adventures and diving deep into local life.
The western mountainous area of Thanh Hoa Province with Pu Luong Natural Reserve at its core has long
been known for having great potential for developing community-based eco tours. However, due to limited road accessibility, the area has remained well off-the-beaten-track for most international travellers. Just recently, the chance for development in the area has opened up with new roads connecting the region with neighbouring tourist hubs and outside investments have helped improved homestay standards and support new eco lodges.
Three of us went to discover the delights of Pu Luong that we had heard so much about and, having driven on the scenic roads and hiked along mountain paths, we can sincerely say Pu Luong encompasses all the highlights of Northern Vietnam in one place. Here you can find the counterparts of Sapa’s magnificent mountain ranges, Mu Cang Chai’s stunning rice terrace fields, Cao Bang Provinces’ scenic rivers and waterfalls, and Mai Chau’s remote traditional, ethnic villages all in the same region.
On Day 1, we departed from Hanoi and arrived at Pu Luong at noon. In the afternoon, we went for a walk passing traditional water wheels and then rafted down the charming waters. That night, we stayed at a homestay in Don Village with an incredibly hospitable and knowledgeable host family. Their traditional stilt house accommodated up to 15 guests and was equipped with electric fans, mattresses, pillows, blankets and mosquito nets. A western-style toilet with a hot shower was built separately from the main house and meals could be ordered with the host. We enjoyed a quick swim at a nearby waterfall before being spoilt with a delicious dinner cooked by Mr. Ban’s wife. All of us ate together including the host family. We drank some rice wine and chatted the night away like old buddies, enjoying each other’s company. In Hanoi this probably wouldn’t have happened, there are too many pressures and rigid social structures at work, but here in the rural countryside, language, nationality and social groupings were no longer a barrier.
Waking up the morning of Day 2 to the sound of the cows and chickens, we had banana pancakes and hot tea before taking an enthralling trekking route of 4 km through villages and past rice paddies, friendly school children, water buffalo, people working on the fields, water wheels and much more. We were picked up by car and driven back to the lodge for lunch then departed to Hanoi for the night.
For me personally, it felt like I travelled through time. We were not only spoilt with beautiful untouched nature – mountains, rice paddies, clear waterfalls and endless butterflies – but also by the hospitality from the local people. We loved how we were able to stay with local families, eat together, converse and simply experience how they live.
The diversity of activities easily allows for a minimum stay of two days or even four or more days to combine the above mentioned activities with an extended adventure on to either end to Mai Chau, Ninh Binh or the coastal districts of Thanh Hoa Province. Guests can conveniently connect with other tourist hubs such as Ninh Binh, Mai Chua, Sam Son Beach, Hanoi, further north or even crossing the border with Laos at Nam Can border gate.
Pu Luong Retreat is the first of its kind in this area having just been put into operation by a group of tourism professionals. The welcoming resort features nine comfortable bungalows with stunning panoramic views of a lush green valley and a traditional stilt house dorm, while an infinity pool lies within reach of the terraced rice fields and a hidden spa overlooks a charming fishpond and rock garden. Located in the heart of Pu Luong next to the national road No. 15C, which runs through the area connecting Mai Chau on one end to Ninh Binh on the other, the lodge is an excellent base from where one can launch daily tours with such interesting activities as hiking through terraced rice fields, bamboo rafting past the waterwheels on the Cham River or kayaking on the hidden Nua River, and cycling along thrilling bike trails.
Besides the new lodge, the area has a number of homestays which can be found in Don Village (about 500 m from the lodge) or in Huou and Kho Muong Villages.
Pu Luong area can now be accessed by three roads coming in from different directions. The easiest way to reach the region is to drive from Hanoi following the Ho Chi Minh Road to Cam Thuy, Thanh Hoa then turn right on the National Road No. 217 through Canh Nang (the district town of Ba Thuoc District) and turn left to the National Road No. 15C at Lang Tom. Another way is to take the National Road No. 15C from Mai Chau with a scenic drive of total 180 km.
A more adventurous, but rewarding way with breathtaking scenery, is to take the newly built road through Son Ba Muoi. Drive from Hanoi to Tan Lac, Hoa Binh Province following the National Road No. 6 to Lung Van, a very beautiful area with a mild climate that’s locally dubbed as the “Sapa of Hoa Binh”.
We came back from Pu Luong with such fantastic memories and found it a magical place in the mountains where time seems to have almost stood still. If you’re looking for an adventure in unspoilt landscapes where farming is still carried out in the traditional ways and cars are uncommon, Pu Luong is definitely the place to be!
For more information on Diethelm Travel Vietnam’s new experiences in Pu Luong please visit here.