Not many people travel to the North of Laos. In fact, during my six days in Phongsaly Province, I probably only saw three other Westerners.
This does not mean that Northern Laos or Phongsaly is a bad place to travel. Actually, quite the opposite in my opinion. I saw some of the most beautiful untouched natural beauty and met some genuinely wholehearted people.
While that’s the case, I don’t recommend Phongsaly for everyone. The infrastructure for tourism is pretty much nonexistent. You must essentially figure things out on your own since most Laotians don’t speak English in these remote villages.
But if you are up for the challenge, a trip to Phongsaly is unbelievably rewarding!
Here are five incredibly rewarding things to do and see in Phongsaly Province.
1. Explore the Mountain Town of Phôngsali
Situated near the top of Mount Phu Fa at an elevation of 1,430 meters amongst the clouds, the mountain town of Phongsali is a must during your Northern Laos travels. As the capital of Phongsaly Province, Phongsali inhabits around 6,000 Laotians.
Some things to do in Phongsali include:
- Hike to the top of Mount Phu Fa (AKA Phou Fa)
- Explore the Yunnan-style wooden buildings in the old quarter
- Eat cheap food and drink Beerlao at one of the many restaurants around the pond
Additionally, the Phongsaly Market is something you must experience. This indoor market was one of the cleanest, most-organized Asian markets I’ve been to.
2. See a 400 Year Old Tea Tree
While Ban Komen Kao does exist on Google Maps, there seems to be no roads going in or out. This just goes to show you how remote this Laotian village really is.
In reality, Ban Komen Kao is just across the valley from Phongsali; however, it’ll take you a good 45 minutes to navigate your way through the windy dirt roads on a motorbike.
You’ll know you have arrived to the edge of the village when you see the green stage-like area that says “400 Year Old Tea Garden” in yellow paint.
After taking some obligatory pictures on the stage, stop into the blue building across street. Here you will informally learn about how tea leaves are dried and roasted after they are picked from the trees.
Again, there is no tour or tickets to buy. The people working in Ban Komen Kao are genuinely proud of the work they do and extremely happy to show it off to you. Best of all, they’ll let you taste some of the freshest tea you’ll ever have for free.
Next you’ll want to stroll through the tea gardens to witness the hill tribes harvesting tea leaves. You’ll spot everyone from young children to old women climbing barefoot up the branches of the tea trees.
3. Get Lost on a Motorbike
One of the most vividly distinct memories I have from traveling in Laos are the endless rice fields. My travel partner and I spent two days motorbiking through northern Laos. During this time, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many rice fields we drove by.
Similar to a lot of places in Southeast Asia, you don’t rent from a rental company, but rather borrow someone’s personal motorbike for cash. We actually rented our motorbike from the son of the owner of Sone Laos Coffee Shop who worked at the Phongsaly hotel a few doors down.
Once you acquire a motorbike, the best thing to do is just get out there and drive. The sights you’ll see are incredible, and the places you’ll stumble upon will amaze you.
4. Visit the Northern Most Point in Laos
I’ll be honest. There isn’t much to see at the northern most point in Laos. The only point of interest is the Lantouy International Checkpoint to China. While this is cool to see, it’s a heck of a drive to get there from Phongsali.
We ambitiously must’ve thought we were superhuman and tried to make the trip here from Phongsali and back in one day. DON’T DO THIS.
Although we made the trip from Phongsali to the Laos/China border and back in two days, I still don’t recommend this.
Your best best is to take your time and drive to Yot Ou the first day. Spend the night here and then continue to the Laos/China border the next day. Finally, spend a second night in Yot Ou before venturing back to Phongsali the next day.
5. Soak Up the Untouched Natural Beauty of Yot Ou
One last memory of Phongsaly that will remain vividly engrained in my memory forever is the view of Yot Ou valley from above. You won’t miss this stunning mountainside view of the valley below as you approach Yot Ou from the south.
There are many spots along the road where you can pull off, sit back, and enjoy the epic view.
What I liked the most about the view was the fact that very few people have seen it before. First of all, not many people travel to Laos in genreal. Additionally, most of those who do visit Laos stick to the hotspots like Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There’s something truly special about having scenery like this to yourself.
While in retrospect they’re quite different, we joked that the view of Yot Ou was similar to that of the picture on the Hidden Valley ranch bottle.
If you have any specific questions about Phongsaly travel or northern Laos in general, let me know in the comments below.