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Things to do in Vietnam

Ecolodge Panhou: ethnic villages and wild mountain scenery

I launched Ecolodge Panhou Village in 2007 as a base for my trekking company in the remote Ha Giang Province in far north-west Vietnam…

Michel Galey
Owner of Ecolodge Panhou Village

I launched Ecolodge Panhou Village in 2007 as a base for my trekking company in the remote Ha Giang Province in far north-west Vietnam, which is home to 23 ethnic groups. I wanted to make it a local development, so we built it in the style of a village and now employ only ethnic minority people from the surrounding area. Guests usually stay for a few nights because the lodge is six hours from Hanoi, north of the Red River in the beautiful High Song Chay mountains.

Up until 10 years ago, foreigners weren’t allowed in the province and even Vietnamese people don’t know the area well. The mountains act like a big wall, which means the local communities haven’t had much outside influence, so their culture is very well preserved. However, Ha Giang is now becoming more famous for its wild nature and vast rice terraces, as well as its diverse ethnic villages.

Our staff come from the surrounding Dao, Tay and H’mong communities, which traditionally make a living farming rice, medicinal herbs, spices and tea; especially shan tuyet, a type of white tea. To reflect this local culture, at the ecolodge we built 26 houses, each with three rooms, set around a garden which is designed like a terrace but with flowers instead of rice.

I added solar panels to make the lodge eco-friendly, we also have a real jungle forest and organic vegetable garden, which is full of native plants and trees. Guests really appreciate the garden and beautiful mountain landscapes at Panhou, which they can experience on a trekking excursion. We offer day trips with a local guide, or even treks for as long as 13 nights, which include homestays with Dao, Tay and H’mong families.

Day treks begin around 9am with a local guide, who’ll prepare a meal for you at a Red Dao house. You’ll walk for up to four hours in total, with stunning views of cassava and rice fields. Guests are often amazed by the sheer scale of the terraces and how much work they take to maintain. The trek also takes you through bamboo and white tea forests to a Tay and Yao village. When you arrive back around 4pm, most guests enjoy a traditional Dao bath with medicinal herbs, which relaxes the muscles.

You can also visit Hoang Su Phi market, where all the region’s ethic groups gather to sell food and plants, which are often sent to China for medicines. At the market, you’ll spot lots of people wearing traditional clothes, which vary by ethnic minority group. For example, the Dao women wear short trousers and a long, embroidered tunic which is plant-dyed indigo. I often chat with guests in the bar after their excursions and people say how much they enjoy the interaction with the local people and that they’re surprised by how authentic the cultural experience is at Panhou.

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Alfred & Michel Galey

Michel Galey is from France but moved to Vietnam 31 years ago to establish a trekking company in the far north of the country. He built Ecolodge Panhou Village in 2006 to share the beauty of this untouched region with visitors after launching Whale Island Resort in Nha Trang.
Michel Galey

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