Trek amongst hilltribe villages in Phongsali

Remote, mountainous and utterly fascinating, Phongsali is the northernmost province in Laos, right up against the Chinese border and - like many border regions - aswirl with diverse ethnicities and cultural traditions. Here you’ll see an ancient lifestyle tinged with influences from throughout the history of IndoChina, meet members of rare tribes, and wander along some of the most characterful streets in Laos - not to mention taking a break from the tropical temperatures that will otherwise define your holiday in South-East Asia.

What to expect in Phongsali...

It’s tempting to call this sort of place ‘a step back in time’, but of course it isn’t - lack of time machine aside, there have been many subtle, diverse and lasting influences on the Phongsali region throughout the centuries.

The region’s remoteness, however, has served to preserve things that are lost in other places - Phongsali town escaped bombing during the Vietnam War, for example, so its picturesque wooden buildings remain intact, along cobbled streets that sit 1,400 metres above sea level, surrounded by gleaming green fields of tea.

The ethnic minorities who live in these mountains have long made a living from that oh-so-Chinese, yet oh-so-Colonial export. One tea plantation in the area is 400 years old, and just over the border is China’s Yunnan province, where some of the earliest tea was produced, with the treasured brew traded along the ancient ‘Tea-Horse Road’ from Yunnan all the way to India, Tibet and northern China.

Yunnan influence can still be seen in those ornate wooden buildings, which might be familiar if you can picture a Willow Pattern plate (the design was inspired by Chinese tea caddies imported to England during the 18th century). It’s also present in the descendents of Yunnan tea traders who still live in the province, and the unique fermented tea that is grown here and much prized in China. A few days in Phongsali is an excellent way to get a whiff of China in your Asia trip (without clambering through the red tape of organising Chinese visas).

Great tea country usually makes excellent trekking country too, and Phongsali definitely does not disappoint in this respect. If you need a goal on your wanderings, there are tribal villages to visit, or you can simply explore the backroads and absorb the stupendous scenery. During your stay you will also spend the night in a village homestay, with meals home-cooked by your hosts and chance to learn about these remote but very welcoming people.

Location: Northern Laos

Duration: as long as you like

Accommodation: village homestays

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Lionel says...

'Unquestionably one of Laos’ most interesting regions, and far less visited than most. Phongsali should sit high up the bucket list of any true adventurer'

Important to note...

The Phongsali region is the opposite of developed - do not expect luxurious accommodation.

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