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Phongsaly: Tea-lovers paradise for four centuries or more
Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and photographs inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

The sight of Phounoy ethnic women in traditional dress picking tea leaves among 400-year-old trees some 6 metres high is an indelible image that exemplifies the abundant natural and ethnic variety of Laos’ northern province of Phongsaly.  
The green tea from the province has received worldwide recognition for its high quality and superb taste including across the border in neighbouring China, the home of all things tea. 

View over Phongsaly from the Phou Fa peak lookout.

Phongsaly’s precious tea leaves are traditionally compressed in bamboo cylinders and sold in cigar-shaped tubes.
In this wild tea grove, artificial fertilisers and chemicals have never been used.
In addition to the tea, which is available in both green and black (red) varieties, Phongsaly is rich in potential for tourism thanks to its dramatic landscapes, cultural experiences, ethnic groups and historical places.
Everyone who visits agrees it is a province that one should not miss when in Laos.    
Phongsaly is in the far north of Laos and shares borders with Yunnan province in China and Dien Bien province in Vietnam.
Most of Phongsaly province lies at a high altitude.
The provincial capital, Phongsaly, is the highest altitude conurbation in Laos at some 1,400 metres above sea level.
The climate is pleasantly cool and refreshing, with seemingly endless mountains down to the canyons of the Nam Ou river, a significant tributary of the Mekong.
The population is made up of officially 28 different ethnic groups, of which the most significant in number are Khmu, Phounoy, Akha, Tai Lue and Hor, each having their own culture, traditions, costumes, and languages that together contribute to embody the multiethnic Lao nation.
The forests contain an abundance of animal, bird, insect and plant life, and there are undoubtedly many species that remain unknown to science.
Several trekking tours have been established by the provincial Tourism Office.
Unlike many other towns in Laos, Phongsaly was not destroyed by aerial bombardment during the Indochina war.
It features an old quarter with traditional Yunnanese wooden architecture, now very rare even in Yunnan province.
Most of the people living here belong to the Hor ethnic group, speaking a dialect of Chinese.
The town itself is surrounded by rolling hills and is built into the side of Phou Fa mountain (1,625 metres).
The 45-minute hike up to the stupa at its peak offers spectacular views of the town from above and the mountains in the far distance.
Although a bit off the main tourist circuit, visitors can spend plenty of time in Phongsaly trekking to remote villages around the province from Boun Neua and Meuang Khua on the Nam Ou river and in Boun Tai district’s Nam Lan Conservation Area.
In the northernmost district of the country, Gnot Ou, visit Vat Luang, a magnificent Tai Lue style Buddhist monastery dating back to 1445 AD.
In the future the Phou Den Din National Protected Area along the border with Vietnam will be opened for boat trips.
Wild animals including monkeys, elephants and tigers still claim it as their territory.
According to the Phongsaly Tourist Office, the province has 105 officially designated tourist sites, including 27 natural sites, 74 cultural sites and four historic sites.
Last year, the province attracted about 110,000 tourists, both domestic and foreign.
This year to August, there were about 70,000 visitors. 
Phongsaly has 11 hotels, 61 guesthouses, 81 restaurants and 117 registered entertainment venues.
The province offers a variety of Lao and Yunnanese cuisine that includes forest-sourced ingredients such as fragrant herbs, bamboo and rattan shoots.
How to get to Phongsaly
One can travel from Vientiane to Phongsaly province by plane four days a week with flights on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Alternatively, fly to Luang Prabang and take a boat from Ngoy district along the Nam Ou river up to Khua district in Phongsaly.
Those with more time can take a bus from the northern bus station in Vientiane on Road 13 North bound for Phongsaly.



By Times Reporters
(Latest Update November 4, 2017)

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