Pu Luong Retreat – A true off-the-beaten-path experience in Vietnam
by Fiona Mai
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Pu Luong: A hidden gem in Vietnam
You might have never heard of Pu Luong before, though places which this place is often compared to such as Sa Pa and Mai Chau appear ubiquitous in the numerous travel agencies on the streets of Hanoi. A quite new destination in North Vietnam, Pu Luong lies serenely in the mountainous north west of Thanh Hoa province, approximately 160 km from Hanoi. In the local language, Pu Luong means “the highest mountain”. This whole area is a spectacular nature reserve which until last year was still unheard of among both foreign and domestic travelers in Vietnam. Pu Luong Retreat is built based on the trending concept of an eco-resort with wooden bungalows surrounded by pure nature. It is situated on the second highest mountain in Pu Luong, overlooking a broad green valley where terraced fields are beautifully cultivated. Your first glance at this place might give a mixed familiarity, suggesting a place lying somewhere between the famous terraced fields of Sapa and the green valleys of Mai Chau. However, do not be fooled.
Pu Luong Retreat: An eco resort amid one of Vietnam’s most beautiful terraced field areas
My boyfriend and I decided to visit Pu Luong last June after having heard about it only twice. One of Pu Luong’s co-owners is a member of the Vietnam’s Responsible Travel Club, lending credibility to the place among the many self-promoted so-called “eco” destinations in Vietnam. After around 5 hours of driving, we finally arrived at Pu Luong Retreat. The small welcoming sign somehow gave a false impression of the place at first because the whole resort’s area appears much more spacious as we went inside. Pu Luong Retreat’s restaurant and reception areas are combined into an open area overlooking the mesmerizing terraced fields below. There are 2 types of accommodation. The budget option is to stay in stilt houses designed similarly to a local Thai’s house. The stilt house can be occupied by approximately 15 people with shared bathrooms downstairs, which is suitable for large groups or those travelling on a budget but still want to enjoy excellent facilities.
Otherwise, you can opt for a private option in one of the beautiful bungalows like we did. Our bungalow was situated right next to the swimming pool. The inside was much larger than we expected, with a large and bright balcony viewing directly at the valley. There was no A/C at Pu Luong Retreat due to power shortage, as explained by the sales manager. However, even the blistering heat of June could not attack us inside this room thanks to a surprising cool atmosphere brought about, I believe, not only by the ceiling fan. The double bed at the center of the room was spacious and soft. The bathroom and WC were hidden behind a bamboo curtain, emitting a pleasant scent of wood and wild plants. It took me almost 15 minutes to decide what I should do next, rushing to the balcony to take photos of the gorgeous valley, taking a shower in that appealing bathroom, dipping in the swimming pool, or just succumbing to my sleepiness on one of the lying chairs outside.
And did I forget to mention that we also brought along our rabbit?
What to do in Pu Luong?
After a short nap to recover from such a tiresome drive, we started walking to the picturesque villages nestled in the valley. The paths were steep yet not slushy. Some locals, who belong to the Thai ethnic group, were working on the farm with their buffalos when we walked past. Others brought large bundles of woods on their shoulders back home. I was a bit embarrassed to receive smiles from the locals as we were walking past them, and was explained later by the retreat’s sales manager that they were among the friendliest people in Thanh Hoa province.
After coming back from the walk, we decided to check out the swimming pool. According to Pu Luong Retreat’s website, this pool was renovated from an old fish pond. The view from the pool was no less impressive. At sunset, swimming here strongly felt like being embraced in the warm cuddling arms of Mother Nature.
The next morning, we visited the local channel where water wheels were used to bring fresh water to the nearby villages. After getting lost quite a few times, we finally found this awe-inspiring landscape thanks to the help of the locals. (We could even park our car in front of one of the locals’ house for free!)
The landscape surrounding the channel was gorgeous! There were spectacular mountains and hills on one side, and vast fertile green fields on the other. We saw two local kids swimming and laughing in the channel while herding their 3 fat buffalos. As a person growing up in a big city, this scene really made me feel sorry for my boring childhood.
Soon the end of our trip came and we drove back to Hanoi with much gratification. Pu Luong Retreat will become a gem in the travel scene of North Vietnam for sure. Yet can tourism develop but still reserve the authenticity of the local customs and culture here? Will nature be spoiled by humans’ interference? The answer is still yet to know. Until that day, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this wonderful place.
Practicalities for a trip to Pu Luong during your holiday in Vietnam:
- For Pu Luong Retreat, check-in starts from 14:00 and check-out is at 11:00. Plan your trip carefully especially if you self-drive from Hanoi. If you start early from Hanoi, you can stop on the way to have lunch at one of the local restaurants.
- Best season to travel to Pu Luong: The new cultivating season in late May – early June and the harvesting season in September – October is the best time to visit Pu Luong. We arrived there in mid-June just a few days after the fields had all been harvested, so it was such a pity not to see the ubiquitous greenness of the valley.
- What if I don’t want to stay at Pu Luong Retreat? There are local homestays in the villages surrounding the valley, such as Ban Kho Muong, Ban Kit, Ban Nua (Ban means “village”). There’s no need to book beforehand. All you need to do is go there and ask the locals (some basic Vietnamese is necessary).