Destinations / Vietnam

The Terraced Rice Fields of Pu Luong: Stairway to Heaven

The terraced rice fields of Pu Luong in Northern Vietnam are one of these paradise places relatively unscathed by mass tourism.

In the year before the pandemic struck, it had started to welcome travelers in search of an alternative to Sapa or Mai Chau. That’s how I discovered the area. The open views and the calmness of Pu Luong make for an exceptional opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of big cities like Hanoi, only a half-day bus drive away.

An retreat of peace in Pu Luong Natural Reserve

You arrive in Pu Luong after a 5-hour drive in a mini-van, boarded in Hanoi Old Quarter very early in the morning. After one or two stops on the road where you can just get a glimpse of what’s waiting for you there – you’re about to discover the landscapes of a natural reserve, so brace yourself – you finally make it to one of the few hotels or homestays – on a small mountain road in what is not even a village, but a few countryside houses.

Houses in Pu Luong in northern Vietnam
A few houses scattered near Hieu waterfall in Thanh Hoa.

I had the chance to spend a perfectly relaxed week at the Pu Luong Eco Garden hotel with a friend, a couple of months before leaving Vietnam. We didn’t have much to do apart from enjoying the breathtaking views of the mountains, which was fine since all we wanted at that point was a vast field of quietness… and an infinite pool, which the hotel happened to have.

After a swim in the morning, a few pictures taken – because, who would not want to pretend they’re a star, with a pool like that – we would plan for the day and either take a walk in the near rice paddy fields (honestly my favourite activity) or ask for a car to drop us in one of the tiny villages around, down in the valley, for us to discover the water mills and surrounding countryside, with its many streams and waterfalls.

Infinite pool in Pu Luong Eco garden hotel
Infinite pool at Pu Luong Eco garden hotel.

Climb up the terraced rice paddy fields

The temptation to stay at the hotel might be strong, but I strongly recommend stirring up energy and going exploring. All parts might not be easily accessible since the zone remains wild in most parts and agricultural in others, and the rice fields are still… well, fields, not exactly made for walking in city shoes. Yet, the landscapes remain breathtaking, so if you’re not afraid of mud on your feet, do wander in the paddy fields. I guarantee this will be like standing on top of a stairway to heaven.

Terraced rice paddy fields of Pu Luong in Northern Vietnam

Then, walking down the terraced rice fields also means that on your way up, you will come across houses of locals, some of whom work there. Chances are you’ll see a few animals – duck being the special treat in Pu Luong – and might even get lucky enough to have a moment with local children, who are always excited to see new faces. When I went there, I came across a group of kids who would show me how they helped their mother prepare the duck, by plucking its feathers. This might sound strange to the western city people we are, and it certainly was an unusual scene… that’s what life’s like there!

ducks in Pu Luong countryside, northern vietnam
A colony of cute ducks in Pu Luong.

Chase waterfalls in Pu Luong – and bathe in them

For those who love a swim in streams or rivers, Pu Luong is also a nice spot to do so. In many places, locals would actually use the river to do their daily washing (I mean body washing) and it’s completely acceptable to bathe in one of the many pools tucked in the jungle, after taking a nice hike around. Again, there’s nothing such as hiking trails there, so exploring would mainly be taking paths that have been put there because people need them for whatever reason outside of tourism. One of the most interesting spots is most certainly Hieu waterfall, in the area of Thanh Hoa.

Waterfall in Pu Luong
Bathe in Hieu waterfall in Thanh Hoa.

When I last went to this area in Northern Vietnam, it was still very untouched (I’m not sure how much it has developed since. Everything thrives fast in Vietnam, especially when it comes to business, but since we’ve had the covid pandemic since, that probably put a stop to it). Everything we saw had this rough-to-the-edges sensation to it, but also this supernatural calmness that you find only in very remote places nowadays – which doesn’t come without a feeling of isolation after a short while though. 

All in all, if you’re after nature and peace, and don’t mind having a lot of time on your hands to admire blue-green mountains detaching from a hazy sky (as is often the case in Vietnam), I would strongly advise for a few days in Pu Luong. If you’re a fan of terraced rice fields, then you definitely want to travel there – on top of Mu Cang Chai, the other rice field region you’d want to see. Now, choose your season and prepare to be taken to the skies!

Houses in Pu Luong in northern Vietnam
Terraced rice fields in Pu Luong.

Visit Pu Luong in Northern Vietnam: practical information

How to go?
Pu Luong is about 5 hours away from Hanoi by car. Book transportation in advance with any travel agency or your hotel. Mini-vans are the most common transport mode: travel agents usually arrange several groups of travelers going to the same place to be collected in Hanoi Old Quarter and then dropped off at their respective hotels. 
Of course, another possibility is to take the ride by motorbike if you’ve rented one and are not afraid of biking mountain roads. In this case, add another hour – and drive safe.

When to go?
April-May will be the first rice harvest, August-September is when the fields are flooded so you can admire a nice mirror effect.

How to get around?
If you don’t have your own motorbike and want to get further than the hotel’s immediate surroundings, you will need to call a taxi with your hotel. They are usually locals who get hired by the hotel to bring you to and from a point of interest. Make sure you agree about the fee in advance, and how long the driver will wait for you if that’s the case.

Where to stay?
A few hotels have popped up in the area lately, but my recommendation stays with Pu Luong Eco-Garden. Besides the amazing pool and the charming bungalows (mind you, a few insects might give you company if you go there in summer… it’s almost in the jungle after all), the food at the restaurant is extremely diverse and particularly tasty for a hotel restaurant. And that’s coming for somebody with high standards on food!

Points of interest
– Terraced rice fields of Pu Luong: everywhere around Dong Gieng, which is basically the area where most hostels with a view are.
– Valley views and water wheels in Thanh Hoa: in the middle of Pu Luong Natural Reserve, a walk between villages in the valley will lead you to water wheels built by the Thai and Muong ethnic groups, who live in Northern Vietnam.
– Hieu waterfall: a waterfall with a trek, and many basins to discover along the river, where you can easily take a swim.

Terraced rice paddy fields of Pu Luong in Northern Vietnam
A walk in Thanh Hoa, Pu Luong, Northern Vietnam.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply