Photo: Old shopfront in Phongsali.


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Bordered by Yunnan, China and Dien Bien, Vietnam, Phongsali is the northernmost province in Laos. Unforgivingly mountainous, sparsely populated, remote and mysterious, it doesn’t get much further than this.

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Draw a straight line due north from Laos’ capital Vientiane and it would intersect Phongsali. As the crow flies it’s 416 kilometres, yet by bus, if hypothetically driven continuously, it would take 24 hours of travel to reach. Clearly, getting to Phongsali takes time and effort—and a strong constitution to handle its serpentine mountain roads. The lure is some of the most authentic hill tribe trekking to be found in Laos.

Wandering the old Chinese Quarter. Photo taken in or around Phongsali, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Wandering the old Chinese Quarter. Photo: Cindy Fan

Resting on a ridge in the shadow of Phou Fa (“Sky Mountain”), the small provincial capital and former French colonial outpost is the jumping-off point for treks in the province, which was once part of the Ancient Tea Horse Road (also known as the Southern Silk Road). Since the 7th Century until as late as the mid-20th Century, tea was exchanged for precious metals, salt and horses on this caravan trade route that spanned southwest China and Tibet.

Tea is still grown here on the slopes—luckily bartering is no longer required and you may find yourself drinking buckets of it to keep warm. We’re half joking, half serious when we call Phongsali “Laos’ North Pole”. At an altitude of 1,400 metres, the town can experience four seasons in one day. In the winter months, nighttime temperatures drop to freezing. Indoor heating (other than a bucket of coals to huddle around) is rare. Come ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,200 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phongsali.
 Read up on where to eat on Phongsali.
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 Read up on how to get to Phongsali.
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