First thing first: Pu Luong Nature Reserve is not a sensation. It is the reality and reality is always threatening and by no means sensational.
There are loads of things to stereotype nature: untamed, untouched and devoid of human presence. Next are lush, friendly and captivating with bursting colours. Another side of the nature has been totally forgotten, or deliberately downplayed, or never exposed: It can be harsh, dangerous and intimidating – where living species, human included, struggle to survival and fight valiantly to prosper. That is the signature character of Mother Nature that Pu Luong Nature Reserve asserts.
Located in the north of Thanh Hoa province, Pu Luong Nature Reserve is surrounded by three districts of Hoa Binh – including Mai Chau, Tan Lac and Lac Son – to the north and Ma River to the west. It is situated along two parallel ranges of mountains running from the north-west to south-west. The reserve consists of two preservation zones whose value of biodiversity bear resemblance to and even rivals the more ubiquitous Cuc Phuong National Park. There has not been a formal and dedicated study into its flora and fauna system. The mountainous landscape renders this area mysterious and uncharted at large and the estimation of quantities may only reflect the tip of an iceberg of what Pu Luong has and is able to provide.
These two preservation zones are separated by a significant human settlement. This in-between human settlement, while not being incorporated to the proposed plan of the reserve, provides a window through which one can observe the near-primitive lifestyle of its inhabitants. The inhabitants of Pu Luong are made of Thai and Muong ethnics who speak a dialect that muses like sounds from a musical instrument and pitches as high as the sky. Their livings rely heavily on the generosity of the nature and not until recently have they conducted cultivation and farming on a grand scale. They are, nevertheless, knowledgeable of their home and passengers who will introduce visitors to this off-the-beaten-path land.
Thanks to its well-preserved, abundant and diverse flora and fauna landscape, Pu Luong becomes a heavenly land for nature lovers. The site covers approximately 17,600 ha, the largest area of forest on northern karst. It has three main types of forests: lowland forest, mountain forest and bamboo massifs.
The vast mountain forest that covers the majority of Pu Luong Nature Reserve are consisted mainly of plants reputed for resilience – palms, bananas and eucalyptus. Located on a steep landscape, the earth of this region is prone to erosion and malnutrition has it not been for the presence of these trees. Throughout the year, these plants hold the earth, prevent landslides and provide the necessary shade for lower plants to dwell. They are also the only ones to stand the scorching sun that leaves the land dry and unfit for farming.
The bamboo massifs are another landmarks of Pu Luong. Along the track that have been carved around the mountain of Pu Luong and all the way to the nature reserve, bamboos subtly declare in presence. Soft branches of bamboos hang and swerve in the wind. The leaves, which are originally green, are burnt into a yellowish green.
The spring is the originator of life in Pu Luong Nature Reserve. The water brings life to the lower forests which are inevitably denser than the upper part. High trees spring, lower plants and vines weave together and bar the sun. The paths through this section are largely rocky with huge boulders proving themselves to be significant obstacles. In some parts they become fairly steep, invaded by jungles. This is the most dangerous part that undoubtedly requires the company of a local. Colourful fruits and flowers dangle and entice amidst evergreen and only a local knows if these beauties are death in disguise. Some are warned to be deathly poisonous upon touch and a certain tree is rumoured to be the main vassal for suicide by many hopeless ethics. The stream crosses the paths occasionally, making them slippery. Despite appearing very adventurous, one can capture a romantic moment: local guides know a specific tree call “măn” whose sap resembles soap in constitution and can perfectly produce bubbles when blowing with an improvised loop.
Pu Luong is considered a "granary" with medicinal plants. According to the management committee of the reserve, Pu Luong counts 1,100 species of vascular plants of which four appear in the World’s Red Book. It is also the habitat of nearly 600 species of animals, birds and reptiles including 51 in the Red Books of Vietnam and the World. It is home to the second largest population of Delacour Langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) in Vietnam with some thirty individuals. This species, confined to the north of Vietnam, has fewer than 300 individuals in the wild.
Whether you are a nature lover, an adventurer, or one who want to uncover the authentic culture of Vietnam’s ethnic groups, Pu Luong never fails to satiate your sense of traveling. Discover the beauty of natural landscape, ecological forests with plentiful fauna and flora, learn the simple but interesting customs and habits of the Thai and Muong, embark on a wonderful trekking, or take part in some activities like cycling, rafting, or kayaking.
Trekking: The vast valley offers a lot of scenic trekking routes for you to conquer. Just thrilling in the nature when walking through colourful rice terrace, stunning hills and valleys, poetic hamlet with smiling locals. Depend on your interest and condition, you can choose from several trekking routes the most suitable: a thrill-seeker can take a gentle walk to nearby villages, the challenging one to the summit of Pu Luong or the hard trekker can embrace multiple-day trek through several villages and the less-visited paths.
Rafting: What can be more tempting than travel as a local fisherman, rafting down a tranquil river on a traditional bamboo raft. The local rowers prove to be versatile: they change from long poles to oars skilfully and effortlessly and boast to be well-versed in Thai, Muong, Laos and Vietnamese.
Local life observation:
Visitors may have been enticed by the ethnics of Vietnam donning in colourful attires so they will be somehow let down when coming to Pu Luong. The Thai residents of Pu Luong Nature Reserve don dark clothes and live in stilted houses that appear rundown and makeshift. The weather of the region is extremely harsh and prone to unexpected sweeping flood – they are poor and their houses may be swept away in the coming flood. They have not been able to command water flow like others have done in many places. The water wheels are only able to bring water to the lowest two steps of their terraced fields and the higher steps only receive enough water during rain seasons. That means the locals will have to sustain themselves on a limited food supply. Visitors to Pu Luong Nature Reserve will notice something that is not present elsewhere: huge black boulders spontaneously prop up among green fields. They are stones that cannot be removed while creating the terrace. The locals come up with another use: They dry sliced bamboo shoots on these boulders.
Living conditions are harsh but their point of view on death is not dampened. One may come across a prepared coffin for an elderly – carved out of a trunk and soaked in mud to prevent termites. The coffin is left to dry by the rice fields as the locals see nothing sinister from it. There was a time people in the rural areas of Vietnam prepared coffins well ahead and they served other purposes – a casket, a storage and a place for playing hide-and-seek – before eventually serving its rightful one. Sometimes coffins can be lent to ones who died before the preparation was done. They view death as an inevitable event and a coffin as a necessity so they do not fear it but prepare for it.