An example of ecotourism in Pu Luong
The region of Pu Luong and Mai Chau is known for its beautiful landscapes of rice paddy fields surrounded by high mountains. It is also a famous place to discover the life of ethnic minorities, such as Thai, which is the main population in the area, and Muong. Although Pu Luong and Mai Chau are very similar in terms of landscapes, the first one is more difficult to reach, making the place less touristic and, therefore, better preserved. It’s the perfect destination for ecotourism.
Pu Luong Nature Reserve
It takes some time to go to Pu Luong nature reserve, from Hanoi or from Ninh Binh. After a few hours of driving across small villages on a road with plenty curves, the stunning view on the valley is the reward of this journey. In Thai language, Pu Luong means “the highest peak in the village”. The Nature Reserve was established in 1999 and has surface of 17 662 hectares, between the provinces of Thanh Hoa and Hoa Binh. With its dense tropical forest, it is also the home of rich ecosystems, and the Reserve collaborate with Cuc Phong National Park, located 25 kilometers south-east, to preserve the biodiversity.
To contribute to nature conservation, the Reserve seems to have strict rules about house constructions. Unlike in Sa Pa or other touristic areas where the landscape is disfigured by big hotels, every homestay here is very well integrated to the surrounding nature and used traditional building techniques. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the homestays between the Thai houses. These wooden houses are also built with stilts and a roof of palm leaves. It probably wouldn’t be the same if the Thai people were not as involved in ecotourism. They found a way to generate income and to stay in harmony with nature. We can only hope that the tourist pressure will not raise in the next coming years.
Trekking or cycling is the perfect way to go along the valley to contemplate the rice fields. These are obviously made by the hand of human, but perfectly fit the slopes of the valleys. The main income of the region comes from agriculture (rice, corn, vegetables, fruits,…), therefore the numerous rivers coming from the mountains are used to their full potential. Especially, the rice culture demands a lot of water, so the techniques of water wheels made of woods and bamboo are very common in the area.
Visit a local market is a good way to soak up the culture, because you can buy everything from agricultural products to ethnic minorities traditional crafts. Thai weaving produces colorful clothes such as scarves and dresses. Taking place twice a week (Tuesday and Sunday), Doan market is a good example among others of a lively morning market.
Visiting the Thàc Hiêu waterfall can be a refreshing and sportive activity. In this hidden spot, you can go up the stream, climb and swim in small ponds. At the end of the ascent, the view of the valley is impressive.
Mai Chau district
Some local people say that 10 years ago, Mai Chau was very similar to Pu Luong. Now it’s an important tourist destination because of its proximity to Hanoi (2,5 hours). The villages may be less authentic and only designed to sell produces to visitors, but it’s still a wonderful location. The Ban Lac village for example has a lively and good atmosphere for visitors who want to buy some traditional Thai clothes and eat local food, such as sticky rice cooked inside bamboo.