Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa
Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa

Motorbike Trip to Pu Luong (Thanh Hoa)

It had been so mild a winter in Hanoi that I felt as if it had been in late spring and that summer would have been just around the corner.

It is amazing about climate change, isn't it? Sometimes I had a feeling that we would actually not have a winter in northern Vietnam anymore. I was surely not missing the gloomy wet winter days really. It was only that I felt the climate had changed dramatically nowadays...

Oh, why bother about it anyway, the day was extremely beautiful, I was going to to conclude my morning coffee and excited to depart for another adventure of life, a journey by motorcycle to Pu Luong Nature Reserve. It was dry and breezy, and the temperature was about 25 Degrees Celsius. The sun was so pleasant that made me linger a bit till mid morning. It was high time to hit the road now!

Scenic mountains at Hoa Binh
Scenic mountains at Hoa Binh

 The scenery by the road from Hanoi to Hoa Binh is too familiar to me I don't normally stop for photos here on my trips nowadays. Route 6 seemed to be in degradation, but it didn't make my ride any less smooth. Without stopping for photos every now and then, I could enjoy the landscape and the daily life more.

Mountains at Tan Lac, view from the Thung Khe Pass
Mountains at Tan Lac, view from the Thung Khe Pass

  Lunch at the favorite at Hoa Binh City was as sensational as usual. As I rode out of the city and climbed the Cun Gradient, the weather was like late in autumn. It was breezy and with pleasant temperature, and the sky was amazingly clear and blue. 

The Thung Khe Pass
The Thung Khe Pass

 When I was on the top of the Thung Khe Pass, the high mountain between Tan Lac and Mai Chau Districts, the blue haze on top of the mountains made the scene so captivating that I decided to have a stop. There was no one around, it was only the sound of the winds blowing through the mountain gorges and the forests. Normally it is foggy and wet here, but today was different. The air was clean and fresh,  the mountains were green and the stubbly fields in the valleys down below were dry. It made it really like a typical autumn day. It was mid in the afternoon now and there was quite a distance ahead to go, time to move on...

Scenic road at Mai Chau, Hoa Binh
Scenic road at Mai Chau, Hoa Binh

 After Thung Khe, the road went down and my ears were popping again due to change of altitude. Further in the distance, the little town of Mai Chau were coming into view. It could have been a great picture but again it was too familiar to me. I kept on riding past the town of Mai Chau heading to Co Luong in between Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa Provinces. Then, I left the main road for a small dirt road running in between two mountain ranges. And here I was at the entrance to Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

The Hang Village, Pu Luong Nature Reserve
The Hang Village, Pu Luong Nature Reserve

On the other side of the valley, there was a village with houses on stilts nestled in trees. It was quiet all around and I could not see anybody. The villagers were at work somewhere else. The fields were empty and farmers left them flooded ready for the coming growing season. Pu Luong is surely a photogenic spot during the rice season. I didn't like the rain that much on my trip, it was fine for me to miss great photos here then.

Lost in meditation for a while I realized the sun was disappearing quickly behind the mountains. It was good time to move on and look for a shelter for the night. Following a small path across the fields, I came to a small Thai village. At a house, there were a few ladies and kids chatting. I came over and asked if they had accommodation available. A young girl said I could come in and wait for her father to come home to know, but it should be ok. They did offer homestay here but not quite used to it yet. People seemed shy and the kids were curious at me.

A house on stilts at Hang Village
A house on stilts at Hang Village

I followed the girl and climbed the staircase leading up to the main house. There was a smaller house adjoining the main one for the kitchen and for the family when they had guests staying overnight. I left the luggage at a corner and told the girl I wanted to have a walk around the village and that I would have whatever the family had for dinner. I didn't want to make it difficult for them. I'm flexible, used to adventure trips without prior reservations, and happy to expect the unexpected really.

It was not much around the village to see. There was nobody on the road. I went to the empty stubbly fields and found the sun had disappeared, only glowing lights cast up from behind the mountains. When it was dark, there were a few people going back to the village in groups.

A kilm for making lime at the Hang VillageA kilm for making lime at the Hang Village

Coming back to the house I found a gentleman had been waiting by a tea tray. A lady who might be his wife was going about in the kitchen. I said hello to both of them and joined the man for the tea. Our conversation went brief and cozy. Then, Mr. Phuc showed me to a corner where a sleeping pad with pillows and blankets had been laid. All looked so clean, fresh and warm.

I have had quite a few experiences with ethnic people in the mountains in northern Vietnam and what I love most is the simple life, genuine folks and the amazingly cozy ambiance during each stay. After a few days staying with them, I go back to the city fully recovered.

Twilight at Pu Luong
Twilight at Pu Luong

The evening with the family passed by as nice as my other trips. After dinner, we had hot tea and talked more of the daily life, the difference between life in cities and here,... The family had a son and a daughter. The son was married and the young couple just had a little baby and the daughter was waiting to join a college in Thanh Hoa City. The girl who I had talked to in the afternoon was the daughter in law. Phuc said his wife and he was getting old and the boy had to get married so that the family would have someone to take care of the farms. Community-based tourism had been introduced to this area recently and they hadn't had many visitors yet. Phuc hoped there would be more and that tourism would help to change their life. The family went to bed early and I had a walk around the yard. It was chilly later in the night and there were some dogs barking breaking the silence...