This week we may have found the most idyllic of weekend trips from Hanoi.
A place so beautiful the sweat on your face will be mixed with happy tears. A place so tranquil you will forget there is traffic in Hanoi. A place so devoid of tourists you will consider not writing about it so as to keep it a special secret, only passed along through whispers and hand drawn maps.
But sharing is caring, so let us tell you about Pu Luong Nature Reserve…
All great destinations start with an epic journey right? And in this case the journey and the destination combined to create travel perfection for our 3 days away from Hanoi.
To reach Pu Luong Nature Reserve you can choose to ride on the most famous road in all of Vietnam, The Ho Chi Minh Highway. This epic road, ridden by thousands of travellers every year, runs from Ngoc Hoi on the border of Southern Laos, up and along the coast and finally curving around into Hoa lac, just outside of Hanoi.
Riding this road anywhere in Vietnam is guaranteed to be epic and the stretch between Hanoi and Pu Luong blew us away. Elevated roads wind alongside gushing turquoise rivers and through valleys, looming in the shadow of Vietnam’s iconic karst formations. Google will tell you the route takes 4 1/2 hours, but the views and the roadside tea stops, complete with hammocks, make it a lot longer. In fact, once we’d turned onto the QL217 and discovered the beauty within the park, we were on our bikes for 9 hours that first day. It was so beautiful, we barely noticed our aching bums.
Even after experiencing 10 days riding in Northern India, Oli declared it one of the most beautiful roads he’d ever ridden.
Mai Chau is on the North Western edge of the Nature Reserve and you can reach Pu Luong through Hoa Binh in less time, but where would be the fun in that?
Entering the nature reserve from the Ho Chi Minh highway, you’ll discover a land characterised by low valleys, glittering streams and picturesque villages. This area is the most populated and traditional bamboo stilt houses fit snugly between deep green mountains and lush green rice fields. Everywhere you ride, you’ll be greeted by wide smiles and shouted greetings in English and Vietnamese alike.
People really seemed genuinely surprised, and pleased, that we were there.
The locals will also be more than willing to give you directions, even if you don’t ask for them.
It is this way that we found ourselves going straight through the center of the park on some of the craziest roads we’ve ever been on. Looking back I understand why this is where tour guides take people hiking because the roads are certainly better suited to feet than wheels. I still cannot believe we left without even a puncture.
Our slow progress meant we were able to really soak in the atmosphere of our stunning surroundings and the rural life going on around us. We finally found the main road through the park right at golden hour. On the map Pu Luong is small, but climbing those mountain roads, with ridges as far as the eye could see in all directions, it felt like the whole world.
While I will happily convince you to get lost, as we did, the more travelled route in this off the beaten path destination, the Duong 15 road, hosts some of the best views in the park. The rice terraces here are breathtaking and, considering the popularity of places like Sapa which is famed for its rice terraces, I could not believe we were the only tourists in sight.
For the entire 3 days we spent in Pu Luong, we didn’t see another person who didn’t live within the park. In South East Asia, that is becoming rarer and rarer.
Everything felt like an epic discovery and we were blown away again and again, at every bend in the long and dusty road.
Of course, a lack of tourists means a lack of tourist infrastructure and as such simple things like accommodation and food take a little forethought and travellers determination in Pu Luong. I’ll be devoting another blog post next week to the ins and outs of staying within the park and experiencing Pu Luong at each magical hour of the day.
There are a few more treats from this amazing location we can’t wait to share with you.
An epic journey with no tourists and beauty everywhere you look; are you ready to explore Pu Luong Nature Reserve yet?