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Saigoneer Getaways: In Pu Luong, a Verdant Dream Untouched by Development

There are many reasons to be grateful for living in Vietnam during the coronavirus pandemic.

One near the top of my list is that we have access to diverse cities, towns and landscapes without needing to leave the country. People living in smaller nations like Cambodia or, on the extreme end, Singapore, simply can't enjoy the same wealth of domestic destinations that Vietnam boasts.

I recently took advantage of the option to safely travel to visit Pu Luong, a collection of towns and hamlets in the mountains of Thanh Hoa Province. This place is not widely known, even among Vietnamese, judging by the conversations I've had since returning, and I hope this article doesn't have too much influence on it.

Morning must rolls through a valley in Pu Luong.

At the moment Pu Luong, which is roughly five hours from Hanoi by car, is in the early stages of tourism development. The final stretch of road to the area is tiny, though tour buses are still able to squeeze down it and disgorge wedding parties or tour groups.

They say death and taxes are the only certainties in life, but I'll add one more: in Vietnam, no matter how remote an area is, karaoke will find you. We were treated to a couple days of it blasting out over the valley starting around 7am and lasting until we fell asleep around 9pm. It wasn't loud enough to be truly disturbing, but you couldn't ignore it either. The manager of our eco-lodge explained that it was coming from a three-day wedding, and lamented how it often ruins the serene atmosphere of the rural area.

Anyway, back to the development. There is no "center" to Pu Luong, and no F&B scene to speak of. Guests eat at where they are staying, with options pretty wallet-friendly, while luxury digs have not made their way up this far yet. 

This is probably akin to what somewhere like Sapa looked like two decades ago, before bigger roads allowed in huge crowds of visitors and giant developers like Sun Group arrived on the scene. The optimist in me hopes that Pu Luong takes a different path as it becomes more popular, but the pessimist in me has seen many other parts of Vietnam that have gone the same way.

Outrageous shades of green.

For now, however, Pu Luong is absolutely stunning, with the north's iconic limestone karsts stretching across the horizon, while terraced rice paddies tumble down the side of seemingly every hill and mountain in view. It doesn't get much more rural than this, and on hikes or walks through villages in the surrounding countryside you're likely to see more chickens, dogs, ducks and water buffalo than cars and trucks. 

Just one of many adorable countryside puppies.

As a longtime resident of Saigon, that was the real appeal of hikes around Pu Luong: not so much the destination, but the journey of seeing how differently people live in other parts of the country, and also appreciating the clean air and dominance of shades of green.

For anyone sick of the concrete and pollution of a major city, Pu Luong offers the perfect antidote.

It wouldn't be northern Vietnam without terraced rice fields.

A spiderweb attached to stalks of rice amid the morning dew.

Luxuriant foliage.

A spectrum of colors as the sun sets behind the karsts.

Snapshots of rural life.

A very good girl.

Mountain peaks and a rock outcrop peek out from the mist.

Pure northern beauty.

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