Homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Last updated September 2018 | Words, photos and film by Vietnam Coracle

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The homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve are some of the most dramatically situated, atmospheric, and romantic places to stay in Vietnam. About 3 hours southwest of Hanoi, in Thanh Hoa Province, the scenery in Pu Luong Nature Reserve is sublime: rice terraces cascade down mountainsides into clear rivers, beside which wood-and-thatch homes perch on raised platforms, with limestone peaks poking above low-hanging cloud all around. There are several clusters of homestays scattered about Pu Luong Nature Reserve, most of which are now fairly easy to access. Some are more rustic than others, and there’s even a new trend in ’boutique-style’ homestays. But they are all great places to base yourself while exploring this beautiful corner of Vietnam, and a refreshing antidote to the mass tourism that’s threatening to spoil neighbouring Mai Chau and Ninh Binh.

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, northern VietnamPu Luong Nature Reserve, just a few hours from Hanoi, offers sublime scenery & atmospheric homestays

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GUIDE: HOMESTAYS IN PU LUONG NATURE RESERVE


In this guide, I’ve written an overview of the homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, including a map, a video, and some information about the location, transportation, specific homestay areas, and things to do (see the contents below). As there are many dozens of homestays spread across a large area, I have chosen to highlight several homestay ‘clusters’ (areas where lots of homestays are located) on my map and, within those ‘clusters’, pick out one or two that I particularly like. However, there are lots of others to choose from, so you can be quite independent and spontaneous when ‘homestay-hopping’ in Pu Luong Nature Reserve. My favourite times to visit are March-May and September-October. The months December-February can be surprisingly chilly.

Click an item below to read more about it:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve & Around

View in a LARGER MAP

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VIDEO:

My (old) short film of Ban Hieu homestay area in Pu Luong Nature Reserve:


Watch this video on YouTube

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About the Location:

Pu Luong Nature Reserve is located in the northwestern corner of Thanh Hoa Province, which is roughly 160km southwest of Hanoi. Although only a few hours’ drive from the Vietnam’s burgeoning capital city, Pu Luong 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 almost 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.

Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa Province, VietnamThe landscape in Pu Luong Nature Reserve is close to most people’s idea of a Vietnamese Shangri-La

The nature reserve is bounded on all sides by national roads: QL15 to the west, QL12B to the east, QL6 (AH13) to the north, and QL217 to the south. The stunning QL15C runs straight through the reserve, offering access to many of the homestays. There are dozens of smaller paved and dirt roads criss-crossing the reserve, often linking remote hamlets and homestays. Several small towns surround the nature reserve: Mai Chau, whose wildly popular homestay villages put this are on the map, is to the north, and the seldom-visited towns of Quan Hoa (also known as Hoi Xuan) and Canh Nang (also known as Ba Thuoc) are to the west and south of Pu Luong respectively. In the last few years, Pu Luong Nature Reserve has attracted more and more visitors, especially domestic travellers and expats from Hanoi looking for a quick escape from the city, and French tour groups. However, the nature reserve is still very quiet (with the exception of weekends and public holidays) and nowhere near as popular as nearby Mai Chau and Ninh Binh, which have become, in my opinion, far too crowded.

Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa Province, VietnamPu Luong Nature Reserve is a great antidote to the increasingly crowded areas of Ninh Binh & Mai Chau

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Getting There & Around:

On a Tour: The majority of visitors to Pu Luong Nature Reserve come as part of a tour, usually through travel agencies in Hanoi. For some reason, walking tours in the nature reserve are particularly popular with groups of middle aged French travellers. If you have booked onto one of these tours, all the transportation and homestay reservations will have been arranged in advance.

Independently: For independent travellers, it’s relatively easy to visit Pu Luong without a guide or a tour. For anyone with their own wheels – motorbikes, bicycles, or hired car and driver – or for those travelling on foot, most of the main homestay areas and sights can be reached via paved lanes and dirt paths. However, some roads and paths can become flooded, muddy, and treacherous in wet weather. I’ve marked some bad patches on my map, but the access roads in Pu Luong are in a constant state of flux, with repairs, renovations, and resurfacing ongoing. But, in general, access is improving all the time, and it’s a lot of fun exploring all the little side roads and trails around the nature reserve.

With your own wheels, you can reach Pu Luong Nature Reserve from Hanoi in 3-5 hours, depending on the route and how you drive (see my guide to the Limestone Loop for some route advice). Another option is to hire a motorbike, bicycle, or car and driver from a nearby tourist hub, such as Mai Chau or Ninh Binh, and then travel on to Pu Luong Nature Reserve from there. To do this, inquire at your accommodation in Mai Chau or Ninh Binh: they should be able to help arrange it for you.

Riding over a bamboo bridge in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamGetting around Pu Luong Nature Reserve is fairly easy with your own wheels, but some roads are difficult

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Get the Map: There is an excellent map available of the nature reserve which has roads, paths, sights, and homestay areas marked on it. This is essential for independent travellers. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get hold of a physical copy of this map. But there are dozens of billboards dotted around the nature reserve with the map displayed on them: take a photo of the map on your phone or camera and zoom-in for reference.

*Note: At the time of writing, the road to Ban Hieu homestay area was under construction. Most of it was dirt and mud, but I would expect conditions to have improved at least a bit by the time you read this.

Map of homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, northern VietnamThis map of Pu Luong, on billboards in the nature reserve, is very handy for independent travellers

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Homestay Areas & Booking:

Bookings & Reservations: There are dozens on homestays in Pu Luong, most of which are located in ‘clusters’ in certain corners of the nature reserve. There’s now quite a broad variety of accommodation among the homestays: ranging from cheap and rustic through to mid-range and boutique-style luxury. For the higher-end homestays (which tend to label themselves as ‘retreats’ or ‘eco-resorts’), it’s a good idea to book in advance. For most of the others, providing you’re not visiting on a weekend or public holiday, you should be able to just turn up and get a bed for the night. In any case, because the homestays are generally in clusters, if one is fully booked, the one next door will probably have a room available. For the homestays listed below, I’ve tried to include contact information whenever possible. However, even with a phone number, making a reservation can be tricky if you don’t speak any Vietnamese.

Wood and thatch homestay, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamBooking in advance is advisable for the ’boutique’ homestays, but for others, you can usually just show up

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Prices & Rates: At the typical homestays (of which the vast majority in Pu Luong are), the rates for sleeping overnight are incredibly cheap: between 50,000-100,000vnd ($2-$4) a night. This is because the sleeping arrangements are simple (but comfortable): usually a mattress on a wooden floor under a mosquito net in a communal dorm on the first floor of a stilt house, often with curtains or partitions for privacy, and a shared bathroom. But food and drink is extra (see below for details). However, the boutique-style ‘retreats’ or ‘eco-resorts’ have much higher prices, sometimes upwards of $100 a night (although these rates often include breakfast and/or dinner).

Sleeping on a mattress on the floor, Pu Luong homestays, VietnamThe price for sleeping at most typical homestays in Pu Luong is incredibly cheap: a couple of dollars

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Homestays & Clusters: As there are dozens of homestays in Pu Luong, I can’t list them all. Instead, I’ve grouped some of the homestays into several ‘clusters’ (see below) and then picked out one or two specific homestays in each ‘cluster’:

Ban Hang Homestay Area [MAP]: In the northwest of the nature reserve, Ban Hang is accessed via a steep gravel road leading off the main QL15C road through Pu Luong. The road descends to the river valley and continues along the banks, where a cluster of homestays (including Hieu Yen Homestay: 0168 204 5782) offer beds, food, drinks, and local excursions. The homestays here are popular with young Vietnamese road-trippers and some tour groups. The general standard is typical of homestays in Pu Luong: wooden houses on stilts with access to the pretty river, forests, and surrounding countryside. Because its location is low (down in the valley) the views aren’t as spectacular as other homestay areas, and the local hamlet (Ban Hang) is perhaps not quite as tidy and attractive as others in the nature reserve.

Kho Muong Homestay Area [MAP]: Perched on a kind of mini-plateau in the southwest corner of the nature reserve, Kho Moung occupies a spectacular position with extraordinary views over a vast valley of terraced rice fields bisected by a glistening river with limestone peaks rising all around. The homestay area at Kho Moung sprawls from the side of road QL15C down into the valley. The most famous accommodation is Pu Luong Retreat [Book Here], an absurdly picturesque collection of thatched huts on a steep hillside dotted with areca palms. This is a luxurious ’boutique-style’ homestay, which, of course, isn’t a homestay at all, but a resort with a gorgeous, Instagrammable infinity pool. Rates are high but it’s worth it. However, continue further down the hillside and as the road deteriorates you’ll find Pu Luong Treehouse [Book Here] and Nature Lodge [Book Here] among other homestays, which are all fantastically located and excellent value for money. Many visitors come and never want to leave.

Kho Muong homestays, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamKho Muong homestay area is very picturesque, with boutique-style & typical homestays on the hillside

Ban Hieu Homestay Area (1 & 2) [MAP]: Located towards the southeast of the nature reserve, homestay areas don’t get much more dramatic than the ones at Ban Hieu, a small but spread-out collection of thatched bamboo houses on stilts, built on a steep, jungled mountainside beside a gushing cascade with terraced rice paddies continuing high into the clouds. There are two distinct homestay clusters here, both reached via a muddy road which deteriorates into a steep pathway (although this route is currently being resurfaced). The first cluster of homestays (Ban Hieu 1) features about a half dozen cheap and atmospheric lodgings in wood-and-thatch homes, including Ba Yen Homestay (0167 978 1988). The second cluster (Ban Hieu 2) boasts a couple of higher-end, ’boutique-style’ homestays, including Les Bains de Hieu (notoriously difficult to contact) and Ban Hieu Garden Lodge [Book Here], as well as a couple of cheaper, more rustic options (try Pu Luong Holiday Homestay [Book Here]). Les Bains de Hieu, in particular, is extremely tasteful balance of rustic and chic. Hiking and biking are excellent here, but the centerpiece is Hieu Waterfall (thác Hiêu), which descends the mountainside in stages, flowing quickly at first, 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: it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Ban Hieu homestays, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamThe homestays in Ban Hieu are probably the most spectacularly situated of all the ‘clusters’ in Pu Luong

Lung Cao/Ban Nua Homestay Area [MAP]: Right in the middle of the nature reserve, Lung Cao and Ban Nua are little hamlets spread over a wide area around the flood plains of a pretty river valley. The homestays, including Ban Nua Homestay (0125 755 0703), tend to be very nice but basic. Some of the homestays can be accessed by the paved road along the valley, but others require a good motorbike, 4×4, or going on foot. I’ve not had time to explore this area for more than a couple of days, but I’m sure there’s a lot to discover if you have some time to spare.

Other Homestay Areas [MAP]: To the east of the nature reserve, at the top of an extraordinarily steep and fabulously scenic road, is Pu Luong Camping, including hammocks and tents. Unfortunately, the location on my map is not exact, but it’s somewhere before the intersection with road DT432A at Lung Van. There are also several other well-known and not-so-well-known homestay areas around Pu Luong Nature Reserve. By far the most popular is Mai Chau, located just to the north of the nature reserve. However, these days Mai Chau is a firm fixture on most travel operators’ tours, so it can get very crowded and feels a bit ‘touristy’, even though it is still a beautiful place to visit. However, in the same area, just northwest of Pu Luong, there are also a handful of homestays in the remote, peaceful area of Cun Pheo.

Homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa Province, VietnamThere are several different homestay ‘clusters’ within Pu Luong & several more outside the nature reserve

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Accommodation: When it comes to the level of accommodation, there’s ‘typical’ and ’boutique’. The former represents the majority of homestays in Pu Luong: sleeping in a wood-and-thatch house raised on stilts, in a communal room upstairs, with mattresses on the wooden floor under mosquito nets, with curtains or partitions separating guests, and a shared bathroom. Boutique accommodation is only available at a few places, including some of the ones mentioned above. These offer a kind of high-class, fancy riff on the traditional homestay style, usually incorporating some modern touches and a much higher level of comfort, including cushioned loungers on the veranda, and soft lamp lighting, for example. It’s very tasteful and very attractive.

Sleeping on a mattress on the wooden floor, Pu Luong homestays, VietnamAccommodation at the typical homestays is comfortable & simple: a mattress on the floor under a net

At the ‘typical’ homestays, there’s no fancy furniture: just a bench and a wooden table on the ground floor, perhaps with a pot of artichoke tea on it. The life of the homestay hosts revolves around their land and animals. Roosters, chickens, chicks, and dogs have the run of the living area and courtyard downstairs; 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. Toilets are usually ‘Western-style’, with separate shower cubicles. At the ’boutique-style’ homestays, however, the emphasis is on relaxation and accommodation: there’s no ‘real life’ to witness. 

Wood and thatch homestay house, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamThis is what a typical homestay in Pu Luong looks like: a wood-and-thatch home raised above the ground

For me, the most romantic time of day in a homestay in Pu Luong Nature Reserve 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.

Wood and thatch homestay house, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamHomestays in Pu Luong can be incredibly romantic: at night, there’s a chorus of animal sounds outside

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Food & Drink:

Because Pu Luong Nature Reserve doesn’t have any sizable towns in it, and because most of the homestays are in fairly remote hamlets in the countryside, there are rarely any shops, food stalls, or restaurants nearby. Instead, the host families cook delicious meals – usually over an open fire in the household hearth –  for their guests. These meals, which typically include an enormous spread of different local dishes, using local ingredients, are a highlight of any homestay experience. However, it’s still a good idea to bring some snack food with you, to keep you going between meals.

Family-style meal at a homestay, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamHome-cooked meals, eaten ‘family-style’, are a highlight of any homestay in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

The price of sleeping in a homestay (see above) doesn’t include meals. In fact, because sleeping arrangements are usually simple – mattresses on a wooden floor under a mosquito net – the cost of meals is often twice or three times that of sleeping. But it’s well worth it, and there’s no real alternative anyway. Most guests choose half-board: dinner and breakfast. Prices range from as little as 30,000-70,000vnd per person for breakfast, to 100,000-250,000vnd per person for dinner. So expect to pay roughly 200,000-250,000vnd ($10) per person for half-board, which, considering the quality and quantity of food, is very good value.

Family-style meal at a homestay, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamMeals, which are very large, cost from 50,000vnd-200,000vnd per person for breakfast/dinner

The food is almost always excellent and extremely, um, ‘fresh’, which means that some visitors might find witnessing (or even just hearing) the preparations disturbing. (Yes, I’m talking about live animals being slaughtered for their meat, and the squealing of pigs and chickens before the knife falls: but this is still part of daily life for most people in Pu Luong, and, indeed, for millions of people across Vietnam.) However, once all the fresh meat and vegetables have been cooked over the wood-fueled hearth, the result is the best homestay food I’ve ever tasted. An example from one of my recent stays in Pu Luong is spicy, herby pork patties, delicate, aromatic spring rolls, fried fish fresh from the local stream, and an earthy cabbage soup, accompanied by some honey-infused, home-brewed rice liquor, of course. And, for breakfast, a very interesting kind of pancake made from rice flour and duck eggs and dipped in honey: just right for a chilly, misty morning in the mountains. Most hosts are accustomed to having foreign visitors, but they are still honored and excited to be hosting you. Generally, the hosts immediately strike a good rapport with their guests: sensitive and hospitable, and astute enough to know when to leave their guests alone and when to get involved. This, however, might not be the case once the rice wine starts to flow.

Family-style meal at a homestay, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamHomestay meals consist of multiple dishes & are typically eaten on cushions on the wooden floor

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Activities & Things to Do:

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, are all fascinating to witness, especially if, like me, you come from a big city.

Relaxing in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VietnamRelaxing in the rural surrounds & observing the life of your homestay family is fun & engaging

However, there is also excellent trekking, biking, mountain-biking, and motorbiking all over Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Some of the trails even reach as far as neighbouring Cuc Phuong National Park to the east, in Ninh Binh Province. Treks range from gentle strolls to scenic spots and caverns in the mountains, to multi-day hikes to remote waterfalls, peaks and forests, staying in different homestays along the way. Pu Luong and its immediate surrounds is dotted with some extremely picturesque waterfalls, cascading through the jungle and over limestone terraces, where the water collects in luminous pools that are perfect for bathing. Hieu Waterfall (thác Hiêu) is particularly striking and conveniently located close to the two homestay clusters at Ban Hieu. But, further east, May (thác Mây) and Mu (thác Mu) falls are also reachable on foot or bicycle or motorbike and equally beautiful. Most of the homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve can organize and advise on all of the above activities. Really, you could easily spend a full week in Pu Luong and never once get bored. (To explore the wider area around Pu Luong Nature Reserve, take a look at my guide to The Limestone Loop).

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Playing in Thac May Waterfall, Pu Luong, VietnamThere’s plenty to see & do in Pu Luong, including waterfalls, hiking, biking, bathing & wildlife watching

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these homestays and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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44 Responses to Homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

  1. Nic says:

    Hey Tom, recently was going through the area and thought to stop in Ban Hieu, but feels like the vibe is a bit off because of all the road construction and new house construction in the village. I ended up going back to Kho Muong and staying at Pu Luong Treehouse. Such a great place! Not sure if you have stayed there as it’s recently opened, but definitely a lovely spot to spend a night or three.

    • Hi Nic,

      Sorry to hear about Ban Hieu. They’ve been meaning to build the new road for ages so the route there has always been a bit of a mess, but once you’re in Ban Hieu itself it’s usually still lovely. Although I’m sure that after the road is finished it was leading to quick a lot more construction.

      Great tip about the Treehouse – I was right in that area in November but didn’t see it or hear about it, but it looks fantastic. Thanks.

      Tom

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  4. 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

    • Hi Kimberly,

      Yes, the area and the homestays are fantastic, but please read the other comments on this page, because some of the homestays have evolved into boutique eco-lodges, such as Ban Hieu Garden Lodge. You can certainly book these places through their websites, but booking the ‘real’ homestays in advance will be more difficult. Again, read through former comments to find a bit more discussion regarding this. Try not to visit on a weekend as it can get busy then. If you have you own wheels you should be able to ride between the homestays to find one you like and stay there.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  5. 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.

    • Hi Fe,

      You can definitely get public transport to Mai Chau (or at least to the corner of Highway QL6 and 15). From Mai Chau you can hike into Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

      In general, Mai Chau is a good place to start your journey towards Ban Hieu.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

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  8. 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

    • Hi Rob,

      Great to hear that you enjoyed your homestay in Ban Hieu – it is indeed a beautiful area. Thanks for sharing your experience; I’ll take a look at Hoai’s homestay next time I’m in Pu Luong.

      Tom

  9. 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.

    • Hi Terry,

      Thanks for the updates of the road conditions there.

      It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the area. I agree, it is a special place indeed – let’s hope it stays that way.

      Enjoy the rest of your travels in Vietnam.

      Tom

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  11. 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

    • Hi Matt,

      Yes, cycling through the nature reserve would be nice, but it’s a steep ascent. I assume your referring to the Limestone Loop. If so that is certainly doable on a bicycle, but read the comments at the bottom of the post for an update about the state of the roads. Also, read the comments at the bottom of this post about the regeneration of Mr Si’s homestay.

      Enjoy your trip!

      Tom

  12. 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://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157649170310623/

    Best regards,

    Don

    • Thanks Don.

      Glad t hear you had a great trip. Yes, it is a beautiful part of the country. Thanks for your photos – they make me wish I was back in Pu Luong right now.

      You’re right, I think because this scenic area is so close to Hanoi it won’t be long before more travellers arrive. But it looks like tourism will be done sensitively and tastefully if the ecolodge mentioned in the comments above is anything to go by.

      Tom

  13. 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!

    • Hi Eva,

      Thank you for your updates. This is all very useful information for anyone who is thinking of going to Ban Hieu or other homestays in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, especially if they do not have a motorbike.

      It’s good to have both ends of the homestay ‘scale’ available there – The eco-lodge is high-end and Mr Ba is budget 🙂 Personally I like both, and I think that while the eco-lodge is the more comfortable of the two, many people would no longer consider it a homestay, so the more rustic nature of Mr Ba’s might suit them better. I can’t wait to visit the area again, but that probably won’t be until the summer 🙂

      Tom

      • Gun says:

        Eva, it’s really nice to hear that you enjoyed your tour with Toan as I’ve booked a three day tour to Pu Luong with him. He was mentioned in several forum posts on Tripadvisor – that’s how I found his contact data in the first place. If you have any recommendations concerning the tour, please let me know 🙂

        • Raks says:

          Gun, I’m also planning to book a Pu Luong tour for september this year but havent done any research yet. Can you give me an idea of how much it costs per person for a 3 day trip?

          Thanks, Raks

          • Gun says:

            Hi,

            if you’re going by motorbike it’s 48 dollars per day including everything except drinks. It’s a bit pricier if you want to go by car. We’re actually leaving Ninh Binh for Pu Luong tomorrow – I can give you more detailed information after that.

  14. 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!

    • Hi Gun,

      It does indeed look as though that is the case. Thanks very much from bringing this to everyone’s attention.

      I was in the area in September 2014 but hadn’t enough time to make a visit to Ban Hieu to update this post.

      So that explains the higher prices! However, it does still look as though it’s very tastefully and sensitively done. Just looking at the photos makes me want to go back right now.

      There are still loads of other more ‘rustic’, cheaper homestays to be found in Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Obviously, you can still try Mr Ba’s from the post above, but also have a look at the map (pictured in the post above) for more options spread over the nature reserve. It’s a marvellous area around here; don’t miss it 🙂

      Thanks for your information. And please, if you have more updates for this post, do comment again after your trip to Pu Luong.

      Tom

      • Gun says:

        Hi Tom,

        I agree, the ecolodge does look beautiful, though it’s really expensive … I’d be glad to give you an update on Pu Luong after my travels.
        As you seem to know Vietnam pretty well and have visited a lot of places which are off the beaten track: Would it be too much to ask you for some input on my itinerary? I’ll be in Vietnam for 17 nights, travelling between Hanoi and Hoi An. As it’s my first time in the country, I’ll hit some of the tourist spots (Hanoi, Cat Ba and Lan Ha Bay, Ninh Binh and surroundings, Hue, Hoi An), but want to do some trekking in beautiful scenery as well. That’s why Pu Luong came to my mind, but I also have another three days left which could be spent in another area. As I can’t drive a motorbike and thus mainly have to rely on public transportation I’m considering Phong Nha Ke Bang or Sapa (I know it’s really touristy, but I’m interested in ethnic minorities), but I’m open to any suggestions. Ha Giang seems amazing but apparently it’s a bit of a pain to get to. Would really appreciate some advise!! Thanks again!

  15. Milan says:

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

    • Hi Milan,

      All the homestays in this area are with ‘real’ minority people. But, yes they are set up for tourists to visit – that’s why people know about them in the first place. If you want to stay the night in a minority house that’s not set up for visitors I suggest you just go trekking or motorbiking in this area and when night falls ask if anyone will put you up for the night. Most people in this area are very hospitable and will be willing to host you for a night if there is no other accommodation available nearby. Either walk through Pu Luong Nature Reserve or take a ride on the Limestone Loop.

      Good luck,

      Tom

  16. 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

    • Hi Duy,
      Yes, I think he must have meant 189,000vnđ! The only way it could be $90 is if the price included transport to and from Hanoi and all meals and activities, such as treks etc. But I think that’s very unlikely.
      Tom

      • Duy Dinh says:

        Hi Tom,

        I guess you made him too popular but he quoted me a room over $2,500,000 vd per night. That’s like some resort on Phu Quoc!

        I think that is sorta rediculous!

        Thanks for answering my questions.
        Duy

        • That’s absurd! The only thing I can think is that he thought you wanted to book a whole group of people to stay – otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense.
          Well, you can still go to Pu Luong Nature Reserve and stay at other homestays – most of which will be around 200,000vnđ a night, including breakfast. Just make sure you get the map of the reserve (the one in the photo in this post) which has all the homestays marked on it.
          Good luck,
          Tom

  17. 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

    • Hi Duy,
      I don’t think there’s a webpage for Mr Si’s homestay, but you can try the phone number listed on this page. He speaks Vietnamese, French and a little English. You should definitely call ahead because there’s a limited number of spaces and he’s popular! 🙂
      Good luck,
      Tom

  18. 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

    • Hi Sara,
      Yes, most homestay owners will be able to arrange treks within the nature reserve. The whole area is dotted with minority villages so you’ll have a lot of chances to experience their culture.

      Tom

  19. 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!

    • Hi Zoe,
      Thanks. Yes, it probably is possible to arrange a xe om from Mai Chau to Ban Hieu. You could try asking the family at your homestay (assuming you’re staying in a homestay), if not ask the people at your hotel or guesthouse. You could also try calling the homestays to see what they can do – the numbers are on my blog post about the homestays. However, if it’s been raining a lot the last day or two it maybe difficult to get to Ban Hieu because the last section of road is muddy and slippery.
      I hope you can work it out.
      Tom

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