Hanoi to Pu Luong: 4 Great Route Options

a stilt House in Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Table of Contents

Pu Luong

Pu Luong is one of the most interesting and easiest places to visit from Hanoi for those who want to get out of town and experience a little bit of country life. The direct route from Hanoi to Pu Luong is some 150km and should take you 4 to 5 hours to drive on a motorbike. 

The whole area is a nature reserve and it was originally forbidden for the locals to engage in any tourism. Then, with the help of an NGO some community based tourism was set up with locals opening a few homestays in the reserve. This was just three or four homestays in the whole reserve and these were controlled. The money earned from these homestays was ploughed back into the community in the form of new infrastructure and services. 

After some time, I guess people realised what a resource they had and what potential for tourism there was. Even though the reserve is still a reserve and there are a lot of restrictions on how the forest can be used, there are now many many homestays, a lot of which are not run by locals but by investors from other areas. How much money now goes directly back to the local community, I do not know. 

The classic double edged sword of tourism is at play here and hopefully the authorities will keep development in check so as to not ruin the area. However, some of us are of the opinion that it has been ruined already. It is interesting that some areas are much more developed than others (Kho Muong / Thac Hieu) and this may be the control that is taking place. It is still an extremely beautiful and interesting place and should be on your bucket list of places to visit whilst in Hanoi. 

Exploring Pu Luong by Motorbike

You can, of course, take a car or minibus to get to Pu Luong and all of the homestays and guest houses can arrange this for you. You are, then, at the mercy of your hosts and might find it hard to explore freely. 

Obviously, we suggest taking a motorbike and we do not think you need anything too powerful or large. Our Honda Future is a great option as is the more powerful and comfortable XR150. 

This will give you the freedom to visit places such as Hieu Waterfall, Kho Muong Village, Bamboo Water Wheels, Bat Cave at your own leisure and, also, just generally get lost 🙂 There are lots of little back roads, BE CAREFUL, that lead in/out and around the park which you can explore. You are very likely to find friendly locals working in the fields doing interesting things. 

Google Map

These are just a couple of the possible routes that could be taken to Pu Luong. Get in touch if you would like to consider something different. Maybe you would like to come up from Ninh Binh? 

Route Descriptions

For headings, we use the Heading Widget, set to H2(this tells search engines that the heading is important, and that it shows what the content is about), and for body we use the text editor widget.

Direct Route

This route takes you out of the city on the CT08 Highway. You need to make sure you drive on the side road that runs along the main highway because motorbikes are not allowed on this and you will get stopped and fined if the cops catch you. 

You can either head for Hoa Lac and then take the main Hoa Lac – Hoa Binh Highway (you are allowed on this one. Don’t ask me why??) and then make very good time to Hoa Binh. 

From Hoa Binh you follow the main road AH13 over to Muong Khen and then a short way after town you turn off onto the road to Lung Van and over the ridge line to Pu Luong Nature Reserve. 

Road Conditions

 The road is good tarmac all the way and is mostly large highway. There are plenty of large vehicles and it is not until you turn off to Lung Van that the road becomes scenic and quieter. Any kind of bike can make this journey.

driving through golden cornfields into the sunset - Ha Giang - Dustin Silvey

Alternative 1

If you do not want to drive on large highway for the main part of this trip, you can turn off at Quoc Oai and take the smaller road that goes over to Xuan Mai on the AH14. You could then turn onto the AH13 which is quite a nice fast road but still highway. I would say head for the QL12 and Doc Cun before going over to Muong Khen where you join the route above. 

Road Conditions

This is still good tarmac road but once you turn off from the CT08 you will be on a smaller road. It is still quite busy but a little slower and more interesting. The stretch of the AH13 is a bit busy and it is a great road once you turn off and head for the QL12. 

Honda XR rider on dirt section of the Hoa Binh lakeside road on a Vietnam Motorcycle tour

Alternative 2

For this detour, you need to turn off after Hoa Binh and go past the Muong Museum. You will then wind your way along a rabbit warren of small roads. Most of them are tarmac and are great to drive on but you can find some challenging dirt if you want to. Good will show you a route and it is easy to follow.  

You can loop back down to Muong Khen, if you want or you can take the Pu Bin road and go through Lung Van. This is a bit more challenging so only do it if you are happy with driving and feel confident.

From here you join the normal route and head over the ridge and down into Pu Luong.  

Road Conditions

Generally, quite small roads, tarmac, easy to drive on but a very rural area so watch out for anything that could happen. The kids are friendly on this route. 

the road to trung khanh and ban gioc waterfall

Petrol on Route

I have marked a few places to get fuel on route and these are at key points. For example, near our shop on Lac Long Quan and at the start of the highway CT08. These are by no means the only places that you will find fuel. It is readily available all along the route in petrol stations as well as on the side of the road and at tea stalls. Generally speaking, it will be cheaper and better quality from the petrol stations. 

a petrol station in na phuc cao bang

Pit Stops on Route

On the Google Map, I have marked some general places that you might like to stop for a coffee, a drink or food. At these places there are generally quite a few options and that is why none are specifically marked. These places also serve as good points for everyone to regroup and check to see that everyone is ok. This is a good idea if you are travelling in a group. Just make sure people know where they are to meet next and off you go. 

local cafe in Buon Ma Thuot, a thriving Central Highlands town

Sights on route

Quoc Oai Cliffs

If you do not want to drive on large highway for the main part of this trip, you can turn off at Quoc Oai and take the smaller road that goes over to Xuan Mai on the AH14. You could then turn onto the AH13 which is quite a nice fast road but still highway. I would say head for the QL12 and Doc Cun before going over to Muong Khen where you join the route above. 

Climbing in Quoc Oai

White Cliffs

About 10km out of Muong Khen, you will start to catch glimpses of these cliffs. What has happened is that when the AH14 was expanded to allow heavy traffic to get to the Son La Dam that was being built, the road crew simply cut away the mountain and left the rubble strewn on the sides of the hill. This has created a distinct white mess that is now called White Cliffs. It is a popular pit stop for Vietnamese bus drivers and you will usually find it crowded with people. There are many small roadside stalls operated by the locals who are selling drinks and souvenirs. It might be worth a stop if your bum is sore.

White Cliffs Hoa Binh

Hoa Binh Dam

This is quite an interesting site and a good stop for an ice cream in Summer. Near the flume of the dam there are a few drinks and souvenir shops and you can also take a tour of the power generation plant if you would like. A good point to stop for a photo is on the Hoa Binh Bridge over the Black River. You might also like to get a picture with the Uncle Ho Statue that stands on the small hill next to the dam. 

the Hoa Binh Dam on a misty day

Muong Museum

This is an interesting place and it shows the life and culture of the Muong people that are one of the local tribes in this area. You will see artefacts and houses in the grounds which are quite extensive. It could take some time to see all of this so plan ahead if you think you would like to visit. 

Muong Museum 4

Hanoi to Pu Luong via Mai Chau

If you wanted to make this a longer trip, you could easily fit in an overnight stop in Mai Chau. We are great fans of Mai Chau Sunset Boutique Hotel but there are a lot of options there nowadays. As with Pu Luong the Mai Chau Valley has seen countless accommodation options open their doors and you will hardly ever have any problem finding a place to stay. 

Of course, this route could easily be taken in the opposite direction. 

Where to Stay

The main areas to stay in Pu Luong are along the central route through the reserve QL15C, around the Kho Muong area along with the Kho Muong and Nua villages. Then you could also stay in one of the two Hieu Waterfall areas. We wrote about the places we like to stay in Pu Luong here. 

a stilt house homestay in Ba Khan

What to do

In the park itself there are a few different things that you might like to do. Many people like to trek between the small villages, staying in different ones each night. Others like to go for a swim in the water hole up in Ban Nua or over to Bat Cave in Kho Muong. You can also see the water wheels and take a ride on a bamboo raft. 

on the way to Mai Chau by motorbike

For anyone who likes driving, there are plenty of small roads and tracks that you can go down but just beware that you might find yourself at a dead end. We list a bit more info on what to do in Pu Luong here. 

In a Nutshell

Pu Luong is easy to get to and has a lot to offer anyone who is either passing through or even staying 2 or 3 nights. You can arrange to trek between villages if you like and there are plenty of great homestays and resort for people to stay in. The air is clean and fresh and it is easy to get a little way off the road to see the locals going about their daily business. All in all, it is a great place to visit for a few days even if it is to sit and listen to the sounds of nature. 

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