Pu Luong – Beauty of a nature reserve

Only half a day of scenic drive out of Hanoi, there’s an area where a few travelers have ever made way to, largely due to poor infrastructure until the recent past. Pu Luong – as strange as the name may sound – turns out to be a heaven for photographers. Lush green scenery of a Nature Reserve, bucolic view, simple and authentic living style of the local, cool climate. All have made Pu Luong a place where photographers cannot afford skipping. Join us as we take you to the heart of this photography paradise.

The land for photographers

Pu Luong information

Back in the early 2010s, not many outsiders would have learnt of Pu Luong Nature Reserve, a jungle area without paved roads. There were small communities of minority groups, whose villagers struggle in the rainy season to move back and forth on the muddy trails. And there were surely no Vietnam photography tours operated here.

Several years ago, some fancy lodges were built in Pu Luong, following an infrastructure development, and more photos of Pu Luong were shot and posted online, and people started coming in.

The first thing that struck me on the way to Pu Luong was a winding road, making its way continuously upwards. It was an astonishing and thrilling experience riding motorbike here, with my camera bag on my back. The road starts from the foot of a mountain, making its way uphill, then went above the shrouded clouds and thread through small houses located sparsely along hillsides. 

When getting closer to Pu Luong, on both side of the roads, cascading rice fields form a strikingly scenic wall leading the way. Nestled in valleys or within mountain foot are small, grass-roof houses of the local Thai or Muong minorities. A peaceful countryside scene, yet so picturesque.

When is the best time to come to Pu Luong for photography?

Pu Luong is beautiful and peaceful all year round, a place that one can find a shelter from busy city life. As Pu Luong is located right in the heart of the Nature Reserve, pristine scenery of primitive forests is everywhere. However, there are 02 times that Pu Luong changes itself, making it ideal for a photography tour in Vietnam, which are the beginning and the end of each rice crop.

There are 02 rice crops in Pu Luong, first one starts in Feb and ends in June. The second one starts in July and ends in October.

For photographers who are looking for a photography tour to Pu Luong, you might want to come in one of the 04 mentioned months, if you want to capture the moment when Pu Luong is at its best. During these months, expect to see farmers working in the rice field with various activities for your photography. In Feb and July, when the water floods the field, Pu Luong looks like a giant mirror reflecting the sky above. In June and Oct, it changes itself to a gigantic golden carpet, covering the valleys and hillsides.

With that stated, we do not refuse the fact that Pu Luong is scenic in every time of the year and some photographers love the time when the rice fields are in green (the time the rice grows).

Where to stay in Pu Luong for photography purpose?

Multiple choices of accommodation are available at Pu Luong, thanks to Vietnam’s recent development programs in the mountains. You can choose to stay in fancier accommodations like: Pu Luong retreat or Pu Luong tree house. There is also a dozen of home-stays of the Thai and the Muong, where guests are accommodated in a large room with soft mattresses laid on the floor of a house on stilts. These are great places to base yourself for photography, since a walk of some minutes will reveal stunning scenery of mountains, clouds and rice terraces with farmers working. Best scenery is within a walking distance.

Which lens to pack along?

A tele lens is firstly needed, since the rice terraces stretch afar. The misty mountain tops, farmers working in the field are cases where you can’t miss a tele lens.

A wide angle lens can’t be lacked, since you will get to walk into the field and be with the farmers for close-up shots.

Yes, you should bring a tripod, there’s no need to risk the quality of your image while hand-hold the camera.

Equip yourself with all necessary gears, there’s simply no supply of photography equipment in this beautiful corner of Vietnam.

Which are the photography spots of Pu Luong

  • The rice terraces: Make sure you don’t miss sunrise and sunset time. The locals get to work in the field pretty early in the morning, starting from some 6:00 am. These terraced fields are everywhere in the area of Don Village and some in Hieu village.
  • Panoramic views from higher roads
  • The water wheels: From Don village, travel to Canh Nang area (17 km or 10 miles), you will get to see “the unseen”. The locals were truly creative in inventing giant wheels made from bamboos. These wheels spin, propelled by the running water from the stream. The “tread” of each wheel is a group of bamboo pipes, each scoops up little amount of water and dispenses it into an elevated bamboo tube leading to the rice paddies. No electricity or engine needed.

How long to be in Pu Luong for photography purpose.

Well, how often do you travel back and forth to a place, aiming for the best light and most photogenic scene?

Time-wise, a 2-day stay will let you cover most photogenic areas of Pu Luong in different lights, at least the area where the above accommodations are located. 

However, you might want to know, that Pu Luong is an area, and you can stay overnight in either Pu Luong retreat area (Ban Don) or Ban Hieu area. 

Map of Pu Luong photography tour

From Ban Don village, if you’re on a motorbike, aim for Ban Quan (a road of gravel surface starting from the U-turn to test your riding skill), pass Pho Doan and then continue to Hieu Village. This road is 31 km or 19 miles. In Hieu village, you can also stay overnight in one of the local Muong houses on stilts.

Long story short, if you have some good time for photography in Vietnam, save some 3 days in Pu Luong, with 02 days in Ban Don area and 01 day in Ban Hieu area.

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