If you don’t have too much time in Vietnam and want to get away from the chaos of Hanoi, you really should go trekking in the unspoiled Pu Luong Nature Reserve. I spent 3 days on this tour with 5 other travelers, trekking in one of the most unspoiled places in Vietnam. When I say unspoiled I mean this:
There are literally no tourists and hardly any tourism development. It’s just you, the rice paddies and the Black Thai Minority in the Pu Luong nature reserve.
If you’re starting your Vietnam travel in Hanoi, chances are you’ll want to head to Sapa or Ha Long Bay. It’s true that Sapa is uniquely beautiful and boasts the most verdant rice paddies and mountainous views, but Sapa is in the center of tourism. This means it gets really crowded and it’s likely to fall into a tourist trap. Pu Luong is very much undeveloped and sees fewer tourists, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the visit.
Find out below about my whole experience of this 3 day tour from Pu Luong to Ninh Binh.
Pu Luong Nature Reserve – Ninh Binh
Day 1 Leave Hanoi 8.30 am for Pu Luong | Relax at the Vuon Hong Cafe ( Rose Tea Cafe) in Hoa Binh | Visit the local market of the Muong Ethnic Minority | Check in the Eco Garden | Trek 6km to explore Kho Muong village and Doi Cave
Day 2 Easy 4km Trek to Chieng Lau, Yen, Ba villages | Bamboo rafting on Cham Stream | Check out of the Eco Garden and the board van to Ninh Binh | Check in the Ninh Binh Retreat.
Day 3 Go cycling to visit the Bai Dinh Pagoda and take a scenic boat ride through Trang An along the river that passes the dramatic karst peaks, rice fields, and caves | Cycle through the country and visit the Hoa Lu Citadel | Check out of the Hoa Binh Retreat and return to Hanoi.
Now read my full experience on this 3 day Tour from Pu Luong to Ninh binh.
Voun Hong Cafe
ROSE TEA CAFE
Our first stop was at the Rose Tea Cafe in Hoa Binh, a charming resting place where I enjoyed fragrant rose tea and the view of the mountains. The cafe really does live up to its name. The garden has many kinds of roses, flowers, and fruit hanging from the trees.
The Ethnic Market of the
The second stop was at the ethnic market of the Muong Ethnic Minority. I got to see the local women at work making crafts and selling to passersby.
At the Ethnic market of Muong Minority, I enjoyed drinking local tea with the view of the Thung Khe Pass (One of the 10 most beautiful passes in Vietnam).
Just 160km away from the bustling city of Hanoi, lies this peaceful Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Perched on top of the hill, Pu Luong Eco garden is a luxury hotel, offering a stunning view of the valley.
The Mountain Retreat simply speaks modernity and elegance. It’s really the perfect escape to connect with unspoiled nature and the wild.
What makes this retreat so impressive is the mountain backdrop covered by forest, jungle and rice field terraces. Pu Luong Eco Garden incorporates perfectly the environment and provides an infinity pool and luxury rooms that will make you feel at ease.
The infinity pool is filled with the clear water coming from the stream nearby the hotel. Decorations in the room are all from natural materials or from recycled one such as the wood on the wall coming from the roof of the old houses of the villages around.
The view from the restaurant balcony
I had the most delicious local dishes for lunch. This cozy restaurant is known for its gastronomy and only uses local products and as much as possible directly from their organic garden.
The eco garden rooms cater to all types of travelers from a cosy dormitory to the private luxury bungalow or the deluxe family and couple rooms. Main materials come from the local area such as wood, bamboo, and rocks.
Explore Kho Muong village and Doi Cave
After a hearty lunch and checking into our rooms, we began our 6 km trek through small roads through the terraced rice fields and crossed the stream. It was nice to visit the remote hidden village of Kho Muong and learn about the local people. One of the notable features of Kho Muong village is the agricultural system and the impressive bamboo waterwheels. The Kho Muong people are not used to seeing foreigners and so were thrilled to see our group snapping away!
Our tour guide Trung made sure we visited interesting spots and educated us about the Black Thai Culture.
Pu Luong is home to a diverse flora, with at least over a thousand plant species. With so many colorful flowers in sight, our group enjoyed making a bouquet of flowers.
The slow pace in Pu Luong is a striking contrast to life in Hanoi just a few hours away. Endless mountains, fertile valleys and pristine jungle are just a few good reasons to visit.
After a 6km trek, we finally reached Doi Cave (Bat Cave), which is the largest cave in Pu Luong. There really are bats in there and you can hear them making fluttering noises with their wings. It was getting dark, so we didn’t really explore the cave for too long.
We returned to the eco retreat in the evening where we enjoyed a wonderful meal and relaxed by the infinity pool.
As recommended by our tour guide, we woke at 5.30am to watch the sunrise from the Infinity pool. If you have been following my travels, you know I love waking up rooster hours just to see the beauty of the sun.
For breakfast, we had a selection of dishes from local to international selections to choose from. I actually loved this Banana pancake so much! The great thing is, the waiter told me it’s made from locally sourced ingredients!
At 8.30am, we departed on a jeep which was an interesting journey through the Chieng Lau, Yen and Ba villages. We enjoyed seeing locals wave at us and some of the travelers from the tour gave candy to the children. Starting our second trek, we followed a small road through the terraced rice and sugar cane field. We crossed a Hanging Bridge leading to remote rural villages of Thai Ethnic where we learned about the local agriculture.
Seeing the giant waterwheels was such a wonder. When you see them up close, you’ll realize how simple, but effective the waterwheels are. The wheel spins slowly by itself, initiated by the running stream.
The water runs through the Bamboo pipes and once at the top, it dispenses into the tube. The water then flows along the elevated bamboo pipeline. Once it reaches its destination, the water flows out from the bamboo and nourishes the paddies.
Sugar cane shavings
This was my first ever time and for the whole group to experience Bamboo water rafting. In fact, this exactly how local fisherman commute daily. The cruise down the calm Cham river on a traditional bamboo raft is nothing like the boat ride in Trang An or Ha Long Bay.
We felt we were the only ones there. No tourists. No other boats or rafts. Just the calm water and the beautiful scenery surrounding us.
Local dishes I cannot even pronounce.
The girls bought a bunch of Turnip looking plants (Jicamas) during the journey.
It was our last day at the retreat which was a pity because we enjoyed our stay there very much. Again, the lunch was delicious and all the dishes were different every time. Before heading to Ninhbinh at 2.30pm, I and the girls relaxed at the Infinity pool and said our goodbyes to some of the girls heading back to Hanoi.
Bai Dinh Pagoda at Night
Despite the 3 hour journey to Ninh Binh, we made a brief stop at a river where we were rewarded with a beautiful night view of the Bai Dinh Pagoda.
The Ninh Binh retreat is blessed with the view of the mountains and the rural countryside. I and the rest of the group really felt the genuine hospitality of the staff. You’ll really feel at home.
The villas are designed in an authentic style mix with rocks, limestone, and bricks, with air-conditioning and en-suite bathroom. The bungalows are built with bamboo, and also an en-suite bathroom, and electrical fan.
At night, the Ninh Retreat is a charming and cozy atmosphere. You’ll feel like you’re in an ancient home. The Ninh Binh Retreat really does give you a local experience in the most natural and peaceful surroundings.
The morning breakfast at the Ninh Binh retreat is quite an experience. We enjoyed a light breakfast with the view of the countryside and overlooking the scenic bridge. Before going on our Cycle tour, we had time to enjoy coffee and relax on our private balconies.
Water lilies are perched everywhere in the Ninh Binh retreat pond
Getting ready for the cycle tour
Boat ride in Trang An & Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Riding a boat to Trang An, we explored Kong Skull Island which was the movie set of the 2017 King Kong film.
Cave exploration by boat
A Vietnamese couple dressed in traditional dress.
The Trang An boat tour is a highlight in Ninh Binh. A gentle cruise down the river will take you through caves and to old temples. The dramatic limestone mountains popping out of the water create incredible scenery and it’s no wonder so many people fall in love with this place.
The last activity of our 3-day tour was a journey through Ninh Binh’s peaceful countryside and a brief stop at the Hoa Lu Citadel, which was a lovely ending to our 3 day tour.
Ninh Binh Cycle tour with Outlanderly
Would I recommded this tour?
Returning back to Hanoi, we felt so relaxed and blessed that we experienced the best weather. Being immersed in rural nature and enjoying local delicacies, we felt we were truly immersed in the local culture.
I cannot recommend this tour more. If you’re looking to get away from the busy crowds of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, this is for you. If you’re a nature lover and seeking more peaceful alternatives to Sapa and Mai Chau, this is for you. However, if you’re seeking a challenging trek, perhaps Sapa would be a better option.
Trekking in Pu Luong is more like a stroll in the wild countryside, where you’ll be undisturbed and there’ll be no pushy vendors to sell you anything.
The Pu Luong Nature Reserve Ninh Binh tour is organized to the finest details making your stay comfortable and easy, giving you a local experience in the most scenic backdrop.
I’d like to thank Moon’s Travel Agency for organizing this wonderful tour! I look forward to sharing more of Moon’s Travel agencies tours for their quality packages, off the beaten path tours, and excellent customer service.
Have a great week!