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Pu Luong: off the beaten path

The houses-on-stilts nestled between mountains, yellow terraced fields, and green primitive forests with plentiful and diversified flora create picturesque scenery. That is likely to be your first impression when visiting the Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
The houses-on-stilts nestled between mountains, yellow terraced fields, and green primitive forests with plentiful and diversified flora create picturesque scenery. That is likely to be your first impression when visiting the Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
The reserve, still little known to tourists, is located in the North of Thanh Hoa Province, Central Vietnam spanning over Quan Hoa and Ba Thuoc districts. The name Pu Luong comes from the language of the Thai ethnic meaning “the highest peak of the region”.

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The reserve stretches over two mountain ranges running from Northwest to Southeast with a fertile valley sandwiched in between and dotted with hamlets and rice paddies.
 
Classified as a national reserve in 1999, the 17,662 hectare Pu Luong is the largest low-lying limestone mountain forest area left in the North Vietnam. Three types of forest found here include thick forest on low land and low mountains, forest on limestone karsts and forest with a combination of bamboos, and bushes. It is one of the few places in Vietnam where the diversity of rare flora and fauna is still fairly intact. The reserve is home to more than 1,109 plants including 42 endemic species of Vietnam and four listed in the IUCN Red List; nearly 600 species of animals, birds, and reptiles including many endangered kinds such as gaur, tiger and clouded leopard. Most notable among the endangered animals inhabiting Pu Luong is the  Delacour's Langur (scientifically named Trachypithecus Delacouri) whose population is estimated at 31 -38 individuals.
Situated at a 1,000 meter elevation and surrounded by thick forests, this area boasts a typical weather pattern of shifting conditions within a day. However, temperatures here never exceed 20 degree Celsius. Compared to the extreme hot and dry climate of Central Vietnam, Pu Luong is very mild and comparable to Sapa, the famous tourist destination in Lao Cai Province, Northwest Vietnam.
The landscape of Pu Luong is also characterized by hamlets of wooden houses amid picturesque paddy fields. On the hillsides, paddy fields are terraced and houses become more dispersed. Though most of the fields are small, they add an elegant touch of color to the sight of tranquil villages by meandering streams with bamboo bridges and water wheels.
 
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Water wheels dip into the river and send water down irrigation channels to the rice.

For height conquerors, the 1,700 meter summit of Pu Luong, west of the reserve will be an unforgettable experience of climbing, hiking and camping overnight in the forest if the weather permits and you want to enjoy scenic sunrise on the mountain. The five hours of exhausting trekking through steep paths will be rewarded with marvelous panoramic view of Pu Luong valley.
After a day discovering the reserve, tourists can spend nights in wooden stilted houses of locals. Sitting by the fire, both hosts and guests enjoy local specialties such as sticky rice cooked on bamboo tubes and salad of banana inflorescence and rice wine in the jar with reed straws while watching traditional dances and listening to folk songs performed by local girls.
The nature reserve is mainly accessible only by foot, bicycle and motorbike. For this reason, a visit to Pu Luong is pretty much trekking and off-road travel. The best time for exploration is April when all paddy fields are lush green and June which is the harvest season when the paddy has changed to yellow. The weather on these two months is most favorable with the least chance of rain and storms. The rainy season lasting from July to October will pose a tremendous challenge with local dirt roads becoming muddy, slippery and treacherous. Some travelers in fact do not seem to mind as this challenge just heightens their sense of adventure for a backpacking Vietnam itinerary.
 
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Friendly inhabitants though tourism starts to develop here.
 
Separated from the outside world, full of adventures in wait and featured with breathtaking scenery and a harmony of people and nature, Pu Luong is a place to be for those seeking a tranquil hideout. It is truly rural Vietnam almost without the presence of concrete. And above all, it is only 150 km Southwest of Hanoi.