Pù Luông Nature Reserve is only a day’s drive from Hanoi and is located in Thanh Hóa Province. Looking for a little adventure, I decided to ride a motorbike out to the park. The road was smooth and the drive spectacular, passing through small villages and karst landscapes. Along the way, I stopped in Mai Châu, best known for its ethnic homestays and handicrafts. But continuing off the beaten track to Pù Luông was well worth the extra mile.
The traditional Black Tai (Tai Dam) villages of Pù Luông are postcard perfect, nestled between forested mountains and rice terraces. Most houses are still built in traditional style, raised above ground with giant wooden pillars and roofed with thatch. In the fields you can still see bamboo waterwheels turning and irrigating the rice paddies.
I stayed at Les Bains de Hieu Ecolodge—a gem not to be missed. This small, three-bungalow lodge located inside the park is operated by a local family. The accommodation is simple but fantastic, with a unique experience that mixes homestay hospitality with a tranquil, secluded getaway. Each bungalow has its own balcony overlooking a fish pond and a separate cabana perfectly designed for reading and relaxing. The family hosts meals in their house, cooking up excellent local cuisine (vegetarian friendly) from fresh ingredients. To get there, visitors typically trek in from the main road (see map), along a path that connects the villages within the park. It’s best to book the trip in advance from a tour company, as the lodge does not have its own website for direct bookings and room availability is limited.
Nearby on the edge of the park is the Pu Luong Retreat, a newly built ecolodge that has its own style and charm. The panoramic view of the surrounding rice terraces is not only breathtaking but therapeutic, especially while lounging in the infinity pool. There are two room options available: the dormitory, which gives a local feel with its decorated Tai Dam bedding; and the private bungalows, which are spacious and have excellent balcony views. When I visited in April, I was told that the lodge was set to open soon, during the rice harvest in May.
From Pù Luông one can make a loop back to Hanoi, visiting Cúc Phương National Park and its Endangered Primate Rescue and Turtle Conservation Centers; and on to Ninh Bình, internationally known for its majestic karst moutains that are the backdrop for many films and photoshoots. It’s worthy to note that the paddle boat trips in Ninh Binh support an entire village through the boat fees. For information on the loop, click here.
Laos can also be reached within a day from Pù Luông, crossing the border into Houaphan Province. Not to be missed are the Viengxay Caves, an important historical attraction where the leaders of the Pathet Lao operated during the Secret War under intense US bombing. From there, you can visit Sam Neua, Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, the Plain of Jars, Nong Khiaw, and finally on to Luang Prabang. The paved road is in good condition the entire way, and visa on arrival is available at the border.