Quick guide to visiting Pu Luong Nature Reserve, a hidden paradise in Northern Vietnam for hiking, homestays and nature.

After almost three years living in Southeast Asia, there’s one time of year I always look forward to: Green season.

Tourists usually do their best to try and avoid the rainy season, but in Vietnam and Cambodia at least, the occasional downpour (usually short-lived and confined to the late afternoon) is worth enduring for the fresh air, verdant landscapes and new life that the rains bring.

To celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of green season in Northern Vietnam, we spent a long weekend in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, one of the country’s lesser-known ecotourism and trekking spots.

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Remote, rustic and supremely beautiful, I think Pu Luong might be one of the last places in Vietnam where you can truly unplug.

A bamboo waterwheel in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, VIetnam.
Bamboo waterwheels are a common sight in Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

This quick guide to Pu Luong contains helpful tips to help you plan your visit.

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Plan your trip to Pu Luong

🎟️ SHUTTLE TRANSFER FROM HANOI: Door-to-door transfer from Hanoi to Pu Luong in a comfortable minivan. Check prices & availability here on Viator.

🌴 WHERE TO STAY IN PU LUONG: Pu Luong Hostel (budget); Duy Phuong Homestay (homestay); Pu Luong Natura Bungalow (private bungalow); Pu Luong Jungle Lodge (luxe).

🇻🇳 PU LUONG – MAI CHAU COMBO TOUR (1-4 DAYS): Prefer to go with a local guide? This flexible small-group itinerary is customisable for 1-4 days of travel, including transfers to/from Hanoi. Check availability here on Viator.

About Pu Luong

Pu Luong (Pù Luông) is located on the cusp of Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa provinces, about 160 km south-west of Hanoi.

All rice fields, palm groves, waterwheels and cascading waterfalls, Pu Luong is a popular weekend getaway for locals, but sees relatively few foreign visitors.

This makes a nice change from the nearby and wildly popular Mai Chau, which is overrun with tourists during the high season.

A woman plants rice seedlings in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
Transplanting a new crop of rice inside Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Khu bảo tồn Thiên nhiên Pù Luông) was established in 1999 to protect the area’s biodiversity.

Inside the reserve, you’ll find a mix of pristine forest and cultivated rice terraces. It’s a perfect landscape for trekking, and multi-day hikes are a favourite activity.

Rice terraces in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
A patchwork of rice terraces outside Ban Hieu village, Pu Luong.

A narrow highway bisects the reserve along the valley floor, connecting a series of small villages and hamlets. The southeastern corner of the reserve has a few clusters of homestays, making it a good place to base your visit.

Farmers tending the rice terraces in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
Shimmering rice fields in Pu Luong.

Best time to visit Pu Luong

I always recommend people come to Southeast Asia during green season. The weather is pleasant, there are far fewer tourists around, and best of all, the landscape is lush and green.

Green rice fields in Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Vietnam.
Pu Luong in early March: The beginning of green season.

We visited Pu Luong in early March and had perfect conditions (cool nights, sunshine, and neon-green rice paddies). The second-best time to visit would be harvest season, when the rice fields turn to shades of yellow and gold.

How to get to Pu Luong from Hanoi

Pu Luong is peaceful because it’s so remote. Transport options for getting both in and out, and around the reserve are thus pretty limited.

From my experience, I’d say having your own transportation is pretty much essential. We travelled in and out of Ban Hieu by private car, but you could also get around on motorbike.

The easiest option for getting to Pu Luong is to book a shuttle transfer from Hanoi. This door-to-door transfer in a comfortable minivan runs daily – check prices & availability here on Viator.

See more transport options and reserve tickets here on 12GoAsia.

A woman tending her rice crops in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
Trekking outside Ban Hieu village.

From Hanoi, the drive to Pu Luong takes around 4.5 hours on very windy roads. It’s best to break the journey in either Ninh Binh or Mai Chau.

We drove into the reserve from Ninh Binh and out the other (northern) end. Both stretches of road were scenic and offered interesting stopovers – mainly fields and waterwheels on the way in, and shimming rice terraces on the way out.

If you’re planning to visit Pu Luong and need help with logistics, Toan Duong is the best person to talk to. He can help with transport, accommodation, and also organise multi-day treks.

Getting to Pu Luong takes a bit of extra effort (and money), but it’s well worth it for the breathtaking landscapes, lovely homestays and solitude.

Pu Luong Nature Reserve is without a doubt one of my favourite places to visit in Vietnam.

Where to stay in Pu Luong

Ban Hieu (Bản Hiêu) is a small village in Co Lung district in the southeastern corner of the reserve. Shaded by dramatic mountain peaks and surrounded by rice terraces, it’s an idyllic little hamlet of thatched houses.

There is a collection of at least five homestays in Ban Hieu, each one a little further up the mountainside than the last. The village is only accessible by foot or motorbike.

A beautiful hotel in Pu Luong.
Our room at Ban Hieu Garden Lodge.

We stayed at Ban Hieu Garden Lodge, one of the first homestays you come to after leaving the main road. They offer dorm-style rooms in a traditional stilted house plus two bungalows. The host family doesn’t speak much English, but they are very kind and accommodating.

The bungalows are beautifully furnished and very comfortable, with private bathrooms and hot water showers. Meals – plentiful and made with fresh vegetables from the garden – are available at an extra cost.

Cabbage plants at a homestay in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
The cabbage garden at Ban Hieu Garden Lodge. Most of the food we ate in Pu Luong was incredibly fresh and healthy.

There is another collection of homestays in the Lang Bang area, west of Ban Hieu and closer to the highway. We passed this area on our way out of the park, and from the looks of it, the landscape is more mountainous.

Personally, I would recommend Ban Hieu because it’s quieter and the area looked more suitable for easy trekking.

Things to do in Pu Luong: The magnificent Pu Luong waterwheels

Part of Pu Luong’s charm is the bamboo waterwheels that dot the landscape. The rice grown in these parts needs to be submerged to thrive (unlike mountain rice, which can be grown in dry paddies) – which requires a large volume of water.

Bamboo waterwheels in Pu Luong.
A set of bamboo waterwheels. We spotted these on the way to Ban Hieu village and climbed down the hillside for a closer look.

Built by people from the Thai and Muong ethnic groups, the wheels harvest water from low-lying streams to feed the vast rice crops. They especially come in handy during the dry season and periods of drought when the water level is low.

You can find the waterwheels sitting all along the rocky streams that run through Pu Luong.

Bamboo waterwheels in Pu Luong.
Pu Luong’s famous bamboo waterwheels. Simple, but effective.

When you see them up close, you realise how starkly simple but effective the waterwheels are. The wheel spins slowly of its own accord, propelled by the running stream.

Lengths of bamboo pipe scoop up small amounts of water and once at the top, dispense it into a bamboo tube.

The water then flows along an elevated bamboo pipeline. This one was particularly complex, running for several metres through neighbouring fields.

Once it’s reached its destination, the water trickles out from the bamboo and tops up the paddies. If the rice field is terraced, any overflow spills over the mud dykes into the field next door.

I assume there’s a way to turn the wheels on and off by stopping them from spinning. Otherwise, they can just be left to run, delivering fresh water around the clock without the need for electric pumps or anyone to carry the water by hand.

Rice terraces in Pu Luong national park Vietnam.
Transplanting rice in Pu Luong.

The end result! Rice paddies full to the brim with fresh water. When we visited Pu Luong, farmers were still in the first stage of rice production: Transplanting their neon-green seedlings.

Trekking in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Most tourists come to Pu Luong to trek. Guided multi-day hikes through the park are popular – we saw a few trekkers passing through Ban Hieu and overnighting at the homestays there.

If, like us, you are coming to relax, small walks in and around Ban Hieu village will more than suffice.

Four people walk through a rice terrace in Pu Luong, Vietnam.
A family heads out to their field outside Ban Hieu village.

You don’t have to go very up the mountain behind the village before the dramatic rice terraces reveal themselves. Around the valley floor, you’ll find pretty hamlets, shallow waterfalls, and plenty of those famous waterwheels to admire.

Vietnam essentials

Here are the booking sites and services I personally use whenever I travel to Vietnam.

FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Vietnam using Skyscanner.

VIETNAM VISA: Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Vietnam and apply for an expedited e-visa online. Use OneWayFly to obtain proof of onward travel/hotel reservation if required.

TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: Pre-book a private hotel transfer from Hanoi Airport or Ho Chi Minh City Airport via Get Your Guide.

SIM CARD: Buy an eSIM and data package for Vietnam online before you go. My top choice is the Asia Link Regional eSIM by Airalo (10 GB for 30 days).

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best hotel deals in Vietnam on Agoda or book a Vietnam hostel.

TRAIN TICKETS: Reserve your Vietnam Rail tickets for the train to Sapa, Da Nang, Hue or Saigon via 12GoAsia.

BUS TICKETS: Buy your domestic bus or plane tickets in advance using 12GoAsia or Bookaway.

FOODIE EXPERIENCES: Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Vietnam on Cookly. Here are my top 15 Vietnam food experiences to help you decide.

DAY TOURS: Find the best city tours and day excursions in Vietnam on Get Your Guide. Check out my top 10 best Vietnam day trips for more inspiration.

HALONG BAY: Consult my comprehensive Halong Bay guide to find the best cruises & tours.

VIETNAM GUIDEBOOK: Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam.

Visiting Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Vietnam: Save it


  1. Il looks wonderful! I’m going in 1 month for 4 weeks to Vietnam and was thinking of going to Pu Luong. And I definitively want to go after reading this! However how did you organise this trip? Have you used a local travel agency or did you book everything by yourself? I’m having a tough time to know: if I have to organise it when arriving in Vietnam, or now while I’m still in France; who to contact to find a local guide, a homestay and a transport (Hanoi-Pu Luong: I haven’t found it on Toan Duong’s website).
    I’ll really be grateful if you have some time to answer my questionings.
    Thank you for your post and your beautiful pictures!

    1. Hi Mathilde,

      Glad to hear that! Pu Luong is a really beautiful place. I would definitely recommend organising in advance because Pu Luong is a bit more remote.

      The easiest option is to travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh independently (I have a post about that here: https://wander-lush.org/ninh-binh-from-hanoi-ninh-binh-itinerary/), spend a night or two in Ninh Binh, then organise with Toan to travel from Ninh Binh to Pu Luong. That’s what we did.

      I hope this helps!

  2. This looks amazing! Just looking at all that lush greenery is uplifting. I’ve never been to Vietnam but your photographs have inspired me.

    Also, I’m in love with your instagram feed 🙂

  3. Wow this looks amazing! We spent one month living in Nha Trang Vietnam and then traveled north through Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Vinh, and Hanoi but never saw scenery like this. Makes me want to go back to Vietnam already!

    1. Thanks Chantell! The landscape west of Hanoi is just spectacular. There’s so much to see in Vietnam—definitely warrants a return trip, I think. I haven’t been back to Hoi An or the coast yet, but it’s definitely on my list 🙂

  4. A little rain never hurt anyone! I could just imagine how it feels to walk in that mud. I would love to watch or even help (unless I was too much of a hindrance!). Great post!

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