Not many western tourists make their way to PuLuong Reserve. They flock to Sapa in the very north western corner of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. Not only is Sapa known for their beautiful rice terraces, also motorcyclists love te curvy and beautiful country roads. As it’s 200+ kilometers from Hanoi, it takes a long time to drive there and when the weather forecast is not great (like it is for us), then you may only be cold, wet and miserable without a view.
We decided to visit Pù Luông Reserve instead, a hidden gem, only half that distance away from Hanoi and a popular vacation spot for the locals. In summer that is. So at the moment there aren’t many tourists at all going there.
We set out early again from Hanoi with Tam and Dong driving along a highway at first (with separate lanes only for scooter drivers) stopping several times for tea, buying oranges and mandarines and at a spot on a mointain pass usually famous for it’s sweeping vistas.
We were driving in clouds so thick that we could not see ten meters in front of us. What a pity. We kept driving over the pass, slowly passing lumbering trucks, hoping that their breakes will hold. We stopped at a viewpoint on the other side where the clouds were not as dense. At least here we could enjoy a nice surround view of a beautiful valley with a little town called Xuan Mai, where we had a delicious lunch.
We already have crossed into the Pù Luông Nature reserve and were amazed at how many little settlements and villages were located inside the nature reserve. Turns out many people of Thai origin were living here. Rice and fish farming are the two most observed activities here and everyone seemed to be out and about in the fields repairing, fishing, preparing the ground etc.
Lovely rice terraces line every corner of the valleys where possible and the fish ponds are full with Tilapia and Grass Carp. We stopped at a small parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Cars can’t go any further here and several scooter drivers are waiting for customers to drive them to the little village of Kho Mường.
We decided to walk of course, walking off some lunchtime calories. It is a 30 minute hike, mostly downhill to a small hidden away village at the end of a valley without exit on the other end nor any other road leading to it.
About 60 families live here in this very rural and picturesque setting. Houses are made of wood and are mostly on stilts. The space underneath the house is often used for storage or to house animals, while the upper floor is used for living quarters for the entire family. No house had more than one upper floor. The roofs are traditionally made with palm leaves, but as those need to be replaced every two years, corrugated iron roofs are used nowadays with a layer of palm leaves on top against the summer heat. Everything looks neat and tidy here. Kids playing on the little walkways, dogs and ducks running about, a very peaceful and idyllic looking village.
We walked further to the end of the valley, through rice fields where people were fishing with a small net for little fish and crabs until we came to the entrance of a huge cave mouth.
The Kho Muong Cave, home to four different species of bats and very deep. Without a local guide that knows where to go and has powerful flashlights, we cannot explore the cave by ourselves. Esther felt a bit sorry that we could not go inside. Chris was glad. we still had a 40 min walk back up to the car and it felt like a good exercise after all that sitting in the car. We drove further into the nature reserve to our overnight location.
We have booked a homestay in one of the hillside resorts and were wondering what a homestay meant for the Vietnamese. In Bhutan it meant staying with a local family and we had expected something similar here.
Well not quite. We are staying in the Puluong Resort, a mix between a hotel and a communal hut. While it has all the amenities of a regular hotel (Pool, Pool bar, Restaurant, souvenir shop) it also has some communal sleeping quarters for up to eight futons in one big room.
That’s where we were booked into. The first night we were alone here, the second night a German/Irish couple moved in with us. The whole resort is beautifully laid out and blends in perfectly with nature. All guest huts are on stilts with palm leaf roofs and so it does not feel like a big resort at all. There are also only a hand full of guests here at the moment. After check in and getting settled with a drink at the pool bar, we had dinner ( yes also very good food) and turned in quite early for the night.
Woken the next day by dripping rain and loud roosters claiming their space, we headed to breakfast which was a large buffett with more good things to eat…
The rain had dwindled to just a light drizzle and so we set out on foot with Tam, walking from the mountain side of the resort to the valley and the little villages we saw from above. Meticulously maintained rice terraces line the hillside, carp ponds are plentiful and we saw gaggles of ducks everywhere, happily splashing in the shallow flooded fields.
While everything looks so peaceful and enchanting, it must be a hard life with lots of farm work and not much income. We saw guest houses spring up in multiple places as roads that cars can drive on are being built, but many of the villages are still very small and hard to get to.
We hiked a few kilometers between rice fields and on little paths until we came to a small village that specialized in weaving beautiful and colorful scarves, blankets, table cloths etc. Esther bought a colorful table runner there which we for sure will use at home. The old lady weaving those was absoutely adorable and we did not even want to haggle here, knowing that she spent hours making it. We said our farewell in Vietnamese and the ladies giggled with laughter. Saying good bye, thank you or simply ‘Hi’ in Vietnamese always makes the locals laugh when we are trying to get the pronounciation right. We must sound very funny to their ears, but we are trying.
It was nearly lunchtime and it started to rain in earnest. Not nice hiking weather. We found a small shop serving tea and some sweet treats and hung out a bit waiting for the rain to lessen.
We were a long way from the resort and walking back in the pouring rain was not something we were looking forward to. Tam decided to call the driver Dong and we got picked up and driven back to the resort. Yes a bit of luxury , we know….
As the weather forecast claimed that it’ll be raining for the remainder of the day we decided after yet another yummy lunch, to just rest and relax, catch up on our blog entries, take a nap and read a bit.