Homestays: Pù Luông Nature Reserve

Introduction  |  The Location  |  The Homestays  |  Travel Information  |  Map  |  Video 

Homestays in Vietnam offer some of the best value accommodation and food that’s available anywhere in the country. More often than not, homestays are located in parts of Vietnam that are ‘comfortably remote’: off the beaten track, but not too far from an easy transport or tourist hub. The homestays in Bản Hiêu, a village in Pù Luông Nature Reserve, are some of the most atmospheric and romantic you could hope to find.

Bản Hiêu Homestay
Atmospheric: Bản Hiêu homestays, in Pù Luông Nature Reserve

Back to Top  |  The Location  |  The Homestays  |  Travel Information  |  Map  |  Video 

 

THE LOCATION:

Located in Thanh Hóa Province, about 3 hours southwest of Hanoi, Pù Luông Nature Reserve would live up to most people’s image of an idyllic Vietnamese landscape and rural life. Jagged limestone mountains enclose a fertile river valley, dotted with small settlements of wooden houses on stilts. Luminous-green rice fields extend from the waters’ edge to the thickly-forested slopes, which are streaked with waterfalls. Women in conical hats tend the fields, men herd buffalo and goats from one pasture to another, and children play with domestic animals in earthy courtyards, or take turns jumping from bamboo bridges into rivers. It appears – to the casual visitor, at least – to be a landscape where nature is entirely benevolent; a land so fertile that it sustains each household throughout the year. If you can imagine how an animated Disney movie set in rural Vietnam might look, then you get the idea – kind of like a Vietnamese Shangri-La.

VIDEO: Bản Hiêu homestays in Pù Luông Nature Reserve:

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THE HOMESTAYS:

Mr Si’s Homestay  |  Mr Ba’s Homestay

Pù Luông Nature Reserve
Pù Luông Nature Reserve

There are many homestay options in and around Pù Luông Nature Reserve. By far the most popular is Mai Châu, located just outside the nature reserve. However, these days Mai Châu is a firm fixture on most travel operators’ version of ‘The Northwest Loop’, so it can get a bit crowded. Here are a selection on Mai Chau hotels on Agoda:



For a more isolated, rustic, and spectacular homestay, head into the nature reserve. Homestays don’t get more atmospheric than in Bản Hiêu, a small but spread-out collection of thatched bamboo houses on stilts, built on a steep mountainside. Bản Hiêu is situated in the east of Pù Luông Nature Reserve. The landscape here is superb: steep, jungled mountain slopes, gurgling fresh water streams, waterfalls and bathing pools, terraced rice fields continuing high into the clouds, dense, misty forests of giant tropical trees, and precipitous valleys. There are two homestays to choose from here: Mr Si’s and Mr Ba’s:

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Mr Si’s Homestay:

Mr Si’s homestay (01238180616) can be found at the end of a steep, dirt path, that winds up a sharp incline beside a gushing mountain stream. The clear water descends in stages; flowing quickly, then collecting in a series of perfect rock pools at regular intervals, as it makes its way down to the river at the bottom of the valley. These gin-coloured pools are great for bathing, and they give the impression that the course of the stream has been ‘terraced’ according to the contours of the slope; in the same way that the surrounding rice paddies have been terraced. The rock pools are dripping with foliage, as are the bamboo stilt houses that are scattered across the mountainside: it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Mountain stream at Bản HiêuMr Si’s homestay is a sturdy-looking wooden house on stilts with a thatched palm-leaf roof. Its location – on the mountainside, looking down into the valley – is fantastic. Considering its remote position (and compared to the standards of homestays in the area), the level of comfort here is quite luxurious. Downstairs, in the open-sided living room, there are cushioned sofas and swinging chairs with views over the valley. Upstairs is an ‘open-plan’ bedroom, with mattresses on the floor and mosquito nets hung from the roof-beams. Very clean toilets and showers are outside in well-made bamboo compartments. Food is all local, fresh and delicious (as with all homestays). Mr Si and his family are welcoming, polite and gracious hosts. Clearly, Mr Si – or someone in his family – knows what they are doing, because they’ve managed to incorporate a few modern touches and bits of furniture, without intruding on the ‘rustic’ nature of the homestay: this is as close as homestays get to being ‘boutique’. And, the family’s charm and attention to detail is working because they have a constant flow of guests; therefore it’s a good idea to call ahead.

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Mr Ba’s Homestay:     

Mr Ba's homestayIf a ‘boutique homestay’ is not real enough for you, head further up the mountainside to Mr Ba’s house (01676406177). Accessed by a very steep, 2km dirt track, that runs along a spectacular (if a little scary) precipice, Mr Ba’s homestay feels even more remote than Mr Si’s, and it’s certainly more ‘rustic’, although still very comfortable.

The wooden house is in the same style as Mr Si’s: sleeping is upstairs on the wooden floor, and the living area is downstairs with views over the valley. But, unlike Mr Si’s, this homestay feels much more like a working farm. There’s no fancy furniture, just a bench and a wooden table with a pot of artichoke tea on it. Roosters, chickens and chicks have the run of the living area and courtyard; cattle reside in the bamboo cowshed and pigs squeal in their pens; vegetables are grown in the shadow of areca palms, jackfruit and clove trees; and bees are busy making honey in their wooden hives. The only obvious concession to foreign visitors is the separate shower cubicle and Western-style toilet, which Mr Ba has politely provided as an alternative to his squat-toilet facilities.

Breakfast at Mr Ba'sThe food is excellent and extremely, erm, ‘fresh’, which means that some visitors might find witnessing (or even just hearing) the preparations disturbing. However, once all the fresh meat and vegetables have been cooked over the wood-fuelled hearth, the result is the best homestay food I’ve ever tasted: spicy, herby pork patties, delicate, aromatic spring rolls, and an earthy cabbage soup for dinner (accompanied by some honey-infused, home-brewed rice wine), and then for breakfast, a very interesting kind of ‘pancake’ made from rice flour and duck eggs and then dipped in honey – just right for a cool, misty morning in the mountains. Mr Ba and his wife are good, sensitive hosts: they are astute enough to know when to leave their guests alone or when to get involved. Their house, land and lifestyle does not appear to have been ‘diluted’ to suit foreign visitors: this definitely feels like a home-stay.

For me, the most romantic time of day to be in a homestay in Bản Hiêu is at night. Lying on the thin mattress on the wooden floor, the mosquito net rippling in the breeze coming in through the open windows, staring at the intricate wooden rafters, and just listening: there’s magic in the chorus of life out there beyond the wooden house – the frogs’ low, throbbing croaks, cicadas keeping rhythm, high-pitched bird calls, cockerels piercing the night, gurgling water from the streams, light rain tapping on the broad leaves of an areca palm, the jingle of cow bells as the animals shift in their sleep, and numerous other, unidentifiable sounds from the fields and the forests, that seep in through the open windows as you lie awake, listening; enchanted.

Sleeping on the wooden floor under mosquito nets
Sleeping on the floor under mosquito nets: listening to all the sounds outside

Back to Top  |  The Location  |  The Homestays  |  Travel Information  |  Map  |  Video 

 

TRAVEL INFORMATION

Directions  |  Transport  |  Accommodation & Food  |  Activities

Directions:

Bản Hiêu is in the east of Pù Luông Nature Reserve. Most people come to Bản Hiêu homestays as part of a walking tour group, with a Vietnamese guide. However, it is possible to find and reach Bản Hiêu independently, either on foot or by motorbike. There is an excellent map available of the nature reserve which has roads, paths, sights and homestays marked on it. This is essential for locating Bản Hiêu. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a hold of this map. Try asking the host families of homestays in the Mai Châu area if they have one, then you can go into town and make a photocopy of it. The map is also sometimes available at the nature reserve headquarters, a couple of kilometres west of Cành Nàng town. Failing this, there are dozens of maps displayed on wooden or concrete panels dotted around the nature reserve. Take a photograph of one of these maps and just zoom-in on it for reference. (For more information on Pù Luông Nature Reserve and Mai Chau homestays read THIS)

Map of Pù Luông Nature Reserve
Indispensable: Map of Pù Luông Nature Reserve

Once you have a map, head to the modest market village of Phố Đoàn – this is easy to spot as it is one of the only villages in the nature reserve that consists mainly of concrete buildings, rather than wooden stilt houses. The road to Bản Hiêu is to the right, just after Phố Đoàn. The road quickly deteriorates: going from dirt track, to trail, to narrow pathway. This route is more suited to walkers than riders, but locals drive their motorbikes up and down the mountain paths and, in dry weather, there’s no reason why you can’t too. However, it’s advisable to take note of current weather conditions; heavy rains will make the steep, muddy paths almost impossible to drive up or down, and you’ll be stuck until they dry-out – mind you, there are worse places to be stranded!

Note: if you are travelling without a guide, after the Phố Đoàn turn off it’s very easy to get lost on all the dirt paths – you’ll need to have plenty of ‘travellers’ determination’ to keep asking locals (or using sign language) until you find the homestays. (For more information on how to drive to Pù Luông Nature Reserve, read THIS).

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Transport:

Walk or drive
Dirt roads become difficult in the rain

If you plan on walking through the nature reserve to Bản Hiêu then make sure you have a map (see Directions for details). If you’d like a guide, you can find one by asking around in the Mai Châu homestay area or at the nature reserve headquarters. (For more information on Mai Châu, read THIS).

You might be able to find motorbikes for rent in Mai Châu too, but you’re better off renting from a reputable place in Hanoi and driving down to Pù Luông Nature Reserve from there. Signs saying ‘Motorbike for Rent’ litter Hanoi’s Old Quarter, so you won’t have any trouble finding a bike. However, the best place to rent from is Rent a Bike Hanoi (www.rentabikehanoi.com): here you’ll find well-maintained bikes, friendly and informative staff, as well as useful extras such as saddle bags and good helmets. Generally, daily rental from most places is between 150-200,000VNĐ ($7-10) with significant discounts if you rent for a week or more. (For more information on the drive from Hanoi to Pù Luông Nature Reserve and how best to do it, read THIS).

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Accommodation & Food:

There are very few things you can do in Vietnam that come close to the experience you get from a homestay in this area. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Bản Hiêu has two very good homestay options: Mr Si (01238180616) and Mr Ba (01676406177). There are one or two other homestays in the Bản Hiêu area, as well as many more in other parts of Pù Luông Nature Reserve (see your map of the nature reserve for details). Because Bản Hiêu is quite remote, there are no shops or restaurants nearby. Instead, delicious meals are cooked for you by the host family. This is a highlight of any homestay, but it’s still a good idea to bring some snack food along with you to keep you going between mealtimes.

Home-cooked food at the homestay
Delicious home-cooked meal at the homestay

Prices are 70,000VNĐ ($3) for sleeping on a mattress on the wooden floor; about 100,000VNĐ ($5) for dinner; and around 50,000VNĐ ($2) for breakfast (all prices are per person). Generally, it works out at 200-250,000VNĐ ($10-12) per person for a bed, dinner and breakfast – this is among the best value you’ll find anywhere in Vietnam, and in one of the best locations in the country. One thing to note is that, although Bản Hiêu is off the beaten track and quite remote, it is part of many travel agencies’ walking tours of the area. This means that, unless you call ahead, you could find yourself without a bed for the night. Last time I was there, I felt as though I was in the middle of nowhere, only to be met by a large group of aging French walkers who had completely booked-out the homestays! However, it’s still only a handful of travellers that make it here, and, compared to the homestays in Mai Châu, Bản Hiêu is way off most tourists’ radar.

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Activities:

Taking in the views and observing the daily routine of a largely self-sustaining piece of rural Vietnam, should be enough to keep most people interested for at least a couple of days. The livestock, herb and vegetable gardens, tropical fruit trees, food preparation and cooking over an open flame, and the irrigation systems that channel water from mountain streams, through bamboo pipes, and into the wet rice fields, is all fascinating to witness, especially if, like me, you come from a big city. There are also some good treks in the area, including one to a nearby waterfall.

Great views from the homestay
Taking it all in: great views from the homestay

More hotels & resorts in this area on Agoda:


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MAP:


View ‘Bản Hiêu Homestays in Pù Luông Nature Reserve’ in a LARGER MAP

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VIDEO:

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Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats:  What's this?

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42 Responses to Homestays: Pù Luông Nature Reserve

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  3. Kimberly Gregg says:

    Hello!

    These home stays look amazing! I will be traveling to Hanoi in late November and would love to check out this area. We are planning on renting motorbikes in Hanoi and traveling to this nature preserve. However, I can not find how to reserve a room. Do they take reservations? What is the best way to guarantee that my friend and I can stay at one of these beautiful homes?

    Any information would be helpful! Thank you,

    Kim

  4. fe says:

    Hi Tom and fellow travelers,
    Me and my wife have been inspired by your post(s) and plan on heading to the Ban Hieu area when we are in Vietnam this November. We could hire a taxi to take us there from Hanoi but were just wondering if there is a bus or some form of public transport that we could use? Not fans of tour groups and guides – but we are big hikers, so don’t mind walking for up to 6 hours, especially within the nature reserve with offline maps. If there is a bus, where could we jump onto it in Hanoi, and what destination should we look for?
    Regards
    Fe.

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  7. Rob says:

    Thanks for this excellent guide! We recently rode to Bản Hiêu with the plans to try one of the Homestays, and ended up finding one that isn’t mentioned here. As we were riding through the village on the way to Mr. Si and Mr. Ba, Hoai waved us down from his motorbike and asked if we had a place to stay. Since we didn’t, we went back to his family’s house and ended up staying with them for the night.

    Hoai speaks English and lives in the one room stilt house with his parents. This is a true local house with no Western touches: there is only an outhouse with a squat toilet and no shower; you bathe in the river. Their house only got electricity less than 10 years ago and there is no wifi, but we did get vinaphone service. Hoai spent the rest of the afternoon as our tour guide, leading us on hikes around the village and showing us the local way of life. The village itself is extremely nice and we had a great time exploring.

    In the evening, Hoai’s mother cooked us a wonderful (and huge!) dinner with leaf wrapped spring rolls, meat, veggie and rice. After dinner we spent the evening with the family with some beers and their homemade rice wine. At night the family setup a (firm as expected) mattress on the floor of the house for us with a mosquito net, and the family members slept elsewhere so we had the house to ourselves at night.

    Overall we had a fascinating time for our day with Hoai and would recommend his Homestay to anyone looking to visit Bản Hiêu. The price for the night including the great dinner and breakfast was 300,000 VND each. Here is Hoai’s contact info:

    Hoai Pu Luong Guide
    Co Lung Commune – Ba Thuoc District
    Phone: 0125.651.2996

    Here is the location of his house: https://goo.gl/maps/jmigxGfC5T82

  8. Terry says:

    Tom,

    I asked my homestay host in Mai Chau about taking me to a homestay in Pu Long, and he wanted 1.5 million! So I wanted to try to find a homestay on my own. Riding through Pu Long on 15C was nice, but I figured I’d just pass through, based on your description of the road to Bản Hiêu.

    But from Phố Đoàn it wasn’t too bad. I asked people “Bản Hiêu?” and they understood and pointed me the right way. I wrote it down too in case they couldn’t understand. But making it easier is it is in Google Maps as Làng Chiêu, so that leads you right there.

    You have to ford a small river, and I would have turned back at that point, if there wouldn’t have been a guy there pointing me onwards. The road beyond is dirt, but it’s fine as long as it hasn’t rained a lot. In fact, it rained the night I was there, so it was slick and slippery on the way back. I just went slowly and carefully.

    Before getting to Bản Hiêu, and probably the worst part of the road, a young guy came out and offered to let me stay in his homestay. The area is really special, and it was an incredible place to spend some time. Thanks for writing this guide.

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  10. Matt says:

    Hey I love this post, I am in Hanoi now Aug. 8th 2015 with my wife and I am considering following your route as much as we can. We are traveling by bicycle and was wondering if the route through this national park is doable by bicycle. What do you think? what about the rest of your route to HCMC?
    Thanks
    Check out our blog at http://www.beforeitsgonejourney.com
    Matt

  11. Don says:

    Hi Tom,

    Better late than never. Following your description, i did a short hiking trip to Pu Luong last March. I had been in Dong Van, Meo Vac before and fell in love with their beautiful scenery. You introduced me to the new, unspoiled area. I met only a couple of tourists on the entire day of hiking. Rice farms were still green at the time, compared to extreme Northern areas. The people were nice and welcoming. We were not followed by peddlers like in Sapa (they are charming but never leave me in peace). I wish i could stay longer to take better pictures and spend time to enjoy the peaceful landscape and let the feelings sink in. I hope i can be back soon, before the onslaught of tourists and backpackers :-(.

    Here are some of my pictures, as a tribute to your travel stories that helped me enjoy my VietNam trip tremendously:

    https:[email protected]/sets/72157649170310623/

    Best regards,

    Don

  12. Eva says:

    Thanks Tom for describing Pu Luong reserve. I went there by chance with a local guide from Ninh Binh in April 2014 and slept in a homestay in the same valley, but a bit further down on the right hand side. I don`t have the reference, but if anybody goes there, it would be worth just knocking on their doors and asking if they accept people. In November 2014, I visited Pu Luong by myself via motorbike from Mai Chau. This time, I stayed at Mr Hy`s place. He has built a few bungalows, so the information in the last post above is correct – it`s now called Les Bain de Hieu Ecolodge. Hieu is actually his son`s name, he is managing the homestay / ecolodge. The place looks absolutely beautiful in reality too (I took some pictures if you`d like one). The bungalows are pricey and I haven`t seen them from inside, but for travellers who look for more comfort that might be the place to be. Mr Hy let my friend and me sleep in the common area for 100,000 VND. Another few friends did the same a couple of months back. Dinner was 180,000 VND if I remember well. The homestay of Mr Ba has the same prices, but the space is by far less beautiful, and the same goes for the toilet / shower. I stayed in both places, because Mr Hy had guests in the bungalows the second day and asked whether it would be OK for us to change. You would have to pay for snacks, drinks and other meals, so you can bring some of that yourself.

    If you can`t drive a motorbike, you can try to make your way to the small village of Pho Doan. You can either hire a car and driver from Hanoi, or go by local bus. Mr Hy’s son mentioned that there was a bus.

    I can also highly recommend the guide who took me to Pu Luong the first time. His name is Toan, [email protected], 0988895266 . He also picks people up in Hanoi. If you google Toan, Ninh Binh and the phone number, you will find more references from other people. His friend (an amazing cook!) and him took my friend and me on their bikes, so it`s ideal if you cannot drive. I`m sure he can also arrange cars. And the journey was lots of fun!

  13. Gun says:

    Hi,

    I’ll be travelling in Northern Vietnam in two months and thanks to your fantastic blog I’ve decided to spend a couple of days in Pu Luong. Mr. Si’s homestay looks really good and would be my first choice – however, having done some research online and having read the comment above about the high prices, I am wondering if maybe Mr. Si’s homestay is now Les Bain de Hieu Ecolodge?!

    Thank you!

  14. Milan says:

    Its possible to take there some real homestay from minority people?
    I mean REAL, no prepared house for tourists..

  15. Duy Dinh says:

    Hi Tom,

    How much was Mr. Si’s homestay? Someone called for me and was quoted as 1890000 which is $90 per person. That is extremely high. Maybe he meant 189000 which is $9.

    Duy

  16. Duy Dinh says:

    Hi There,

    I enjoy your blog a lot. I’m taking my nieces and nephew to VietNam and they are interested in staying in Mr. Si’s homestay. Does he have a webpage or anything? Currently we are in the US and want to make reservation but I searched the web and haven’t found much. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you,
    Duy

  17. Sara says:

    Hi Tom, thanks for this awesome blog.
    I would know if the homestay owner or someone else organize some trek to other local village for know some ethnic minorities. We will arrive from Hanoi by motorbike.
    Thank you

  18. Zoe says:

    Hi Tom, thanks for making this fantastic blog. Your description of the Bản Hiêu homestays are wonderful. I’m wondering if it’s possible to take a xe hom there from Mai Chau? The problem is I don’t know how to ride a motorbike.

    Thank you!

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