Pu Luong Nature Reserve: a remote oasis amid Vietnam’s rice terraces

Pu Luong is a refreshingly secluded option for exploring Vietnam’s beautiful countryside

If you’re looking to get away from tourists and crowds in Vietnam, Pu Luong nature reserve is a perfect, low-key escape. With its lush green rice terraces and untouched natural setting, you’ll feel like you’re the only visitor around for miles. Pu Luong is more remote and much less well-known than the more famous Sapa, and therefore can make a great alternative to that tourist-heavy area. That does mean, however, that it’s a little harder to get to, and food/accommodations are more rustic. We viewed this as a plus, though, and would recommend this little enclave of Northern Vietnam to anyone looking for some quiet relaxation.

Why go

Northern Vietnam is renowned for its gorgeous green rice terraces spilling over its mountains and hills. The most famous place to see this scenery is Sapa, where we spent three days trekking around the mountains and rice fields. While we enjoyed our time in Sapa, it is definitely crowded with tour groups and trekkers, which can feel overwhelming at times.

Pu Luong, on the other hand, is barely on the tourism radar (yet). Our Lonely Planet guidebook didn’t even mention it! You can find equally lush, verdant rolling hills and rice paddies all over the nature reserve. It feels like life here hasn’t changed in hundreds of years–all you hear are the quiet sounds of cicadas and water buffalo, the babble of small streams, and the wind blowing through the rice stalks. If you prefer a more relaxing but equally beautiful experience in rural Northern Vietnam, Pu Luong is the place to be.

How to get there

The fact that Pu Luong is so remote means that it is a bit more difficult to get to than your typical tourist city in Vietnam. Public transportation options are limited. We traveled there from Ninh Binh, and we couldn’t find any direct ways to get there by bus.

The easiest way to reach Pu Luong is with your own wheels: motorbike or private car. We chose to hire a car, but be aware that not all the roads in the nature reserve are passable by car. We had to walk the last kilometer or two to our lodging, which we didn’t mind.

You can also organize a weekend tour to Pu Luong from Hanoi which will include transportation. Ninh Binh is the closest major city, and the ride took us about four hours. We gave the driver the name and number of our homestay so that he could call to get more specific directions once we reached the park. He had a bit of trouble finding it while navigating the narrow roadways in the park, so I’m glad we did.

Where to stay

There are many small villages dotting the nature reserve but no metropolitan center. This means you have a couple of options to choose from when looking for a homestay in Pu Luong. We stayed in the Lang Bang area, which has larger and more established homestays due to its proximity to the highway. Most of the lodging options are cabins with fans, although there are some new luxury options as well.

Pu Luong Treehouse, by JD Travel

We spent four days at the Pu Luong Treehouse relaxing, detoxing, and enjoying the natural surroundings. The grounds feature magical “treehouses,” sort of like small cabins on stilts, with beautiful views of the surrounding hills. We particularly loved the attention to detail there, like fresh flowers decorating almost every surface and lovely landscaping. They also provided delicious home-cooked meals and the friendship of a couple of dogs and a cat.

Pu Luong Treehouse by JD Travel

If you’re looking for a higher-end option, we’ve also heard good things about Pu Luong Retreat, located in the same area. It has a pool and ensuite bathrooms, with prices to match.

What to do

The best part of visiting Pu Luong is that it’s relatively undeveloped and has few tourists. We saw this as a plus, because it means you can enjoy untouched nature at your own pace. While there aren’t as many organized activities as in other more popular parts of Vietnam, there are plenty of ways to explore the nature reserve.

Hiking

Pu Luong offers lots of trekking options and hiking paths. We hiked around the hills near our homestay a few times. Parts of it were tough, because we were essentially walking through rice paddies, but it was interesting and the scenery was stunning. Not all parts of the paths will be well-trod, and sometimes it felt like we were hacking through the jungle to get through. But that just added to the adventure for us!

It’s great to wander through the hills around the reserve on your own, or some homestays can organize multi-day treks with camping options as well. It all depends on what you prefer and how much of a challenge you’re looking for.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is a great way to explore the trails of Pu Luong that are often narrow and not passable by car. Our homestay offered mountain bikes and motorcycles to rent by the day, but we didn’t choose to use them because they were pretty expensive. However, if you have your heart set on a biking adventure, many of the homestays here can arrange a rental for you.

Rafting/boating

Pu Luong has several waterways in the nature reserve, and it may be possible to arrange a trip on a bamboo raft or a river cruise on the water, depending on the season and availability. We didn’t go with this option either, but it sounds fascinating! A lot of the homestays in the area offer a rafting trips that they can arrange for you.

Relaxing

A huge part of the charm of Pu Luong nature reserve is its quiet and peaceful surroundings. We spent much of our time relaxing in hammocks overlooking the beautiful hills surrounding our homestay, doing a lot of nothing. Our homestay had a small collection of books which we took advantage of, and we enjoyed chatting with the owner and other guests. We also hung out with the resident cat and dogs, and checked out the frogs living in the small pond on the property. The beauty and calm of Pu Luong makes it a perfect place to relax and recharge.

Pu Luong, by JD Travel

Overall we had a lovely time in Pu Luong, and particularly enjoyed its remote location and quiet. If that’s what you’re looking for in Vietnam, we highly recommend visiting Pu Luong nature reserve.

One thought on “Pu Luong Nature Reserve: a remote oasis amid Vietnam’s rice terraces

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