I was lucky enough to travel to Pu Luong - one of under-the-radar destinations in Northern Vietnam. Isolate in rough off-road areas, Pu Luong has been overshadowed by more popular nearly destination – Mai Chau. This time I ventured a bit further to explore more hidden parts and authenticity.
A 4 hour drive took me to Mai Chau. I guess that the scenery is the first reason visitors flood to Mai Chau. Just imagine the beautiful scenery outside of the window as you drive along the windy cliff side road and the picturesque villages, surrounded by green rice fields gradually appear. I wish I can spend more time here to watch the colour transition of the rice fields and see the grateful eyes of every farmer for a pumper crop.
I took a short walk to visit the Thai here to learn about their lives and to see how tourism has transformed their lives. These people relied on agriculture in the past. But now there are many accommodation and services which are run by ethnic minority families. Many homestay are well equipped to ensure that the travelers’ stay is comfortable. Then lunch is served with such an amazing view.
In the evening, I set off for a trek to Pu Luong. I have fallen in love with the terraced rice fields in Sapa, however, Pu Luong was not disappoint me. Step after step and Pu Luong kept surprising me with its stunningly picturesque sceneries. In the late afternoon, I arrived at a Thai Stilt homestay in Don village. Making up the significant parts of Pu Luong are Thai and Muong people. The cultural diversity is not so much a highlight as Sapa. There are no uproarious markets and colorful traditional handicraft. but people here have wined my heart with pure tranquility and unspoilt local cultures.
Unlike Sapa or Mai Chau, rural life is still predominantly traditional in places like Pu Luong making it less attractive to young people. Hence, most of the young people move to big cities nearby due to the lack of interesting work. Tourism may help to revert this trend. The homestay experiences are fairly original without much influence from tourism. I had authentic connections with my host - Mr. Bong and his family while visiting their traditional stilted house. His kid played with goats in the courtyards while other kid made a box her playground. One of them told me that, when it was rain, a slippery dirt slope turned into their slide. Their pure souls are undoubtedly admirable.
We patiently waited for the wife to prepare meal for us, even though I was quite hungry after the trek. While his wife was in the kitchen at one end of the room, Mr. Bong shared with us the importance of the kitchen in their tradition. The cozy atmosphere in the homestay made me feel like home. Foods, cooked in traditional Thai Style, were very simple but organic with the garden-produced ingredients such as piper lolot, bamboo shoot and bamboo rice.
He shared with me that, due to the tough geographical condition, there aren’t much choices for foods here and he was truly sorry for the simple meal. At night we had a great time listening to music instrument performance and dancing with the local people. It was one experience I had been looking forward to for a long time.
We spent the next day to trek further and explore the hidden parts of Pu Luong. The trek gave me a feast for my eyes with its diverse scenery from pristine forests to the farmlands, from limestone to valley, dotted with the settlements of ethnic minority villages and traditional water mills of Thai people. Having a fair share of tourists, we only met a couple of tourists along our trek.
The indigenous hill tribes here sustain their livelihoods in much the same way as many other mountainous areas in Northern Vietnam by cultivating throughout the year. Hence, May and October are lovely in Pu Luong as the endless rice terraces all turn to the vibrant colour of yellow.
In the rainy season (September), the trek route will get slippery but are easily managed with proper shoes and expertise from our guides. One advantage is that you can explore Pu Luong’s breathtaking waterfalls at its best when they are rich in water and swim in the crystal clear and cool water.
There is nothing I enjoy more in my travels than the chance to meet locals in their day to day work. This period of the labour-intensive harvest marks the end of growing season. I had chance to meet the hill tribes along the way. We met a woman who hasn’t just finished harvesting the crop and made her way down to the hillside, through the fields. We were totally seduced with the rustic allure of people here. It seemed to be a bumper crop for her with the smile showing on her face.
I spent one more night there before heading back to Vietnam. Early morning walk around the village, to witness the morning routine, to hear the sound of a Vienam village. This was a quiet, peaceful moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
This post is written by Hong Anh. Hong Anh is a Marketing Executive.