Photo: A walk in the woods.

Trekking in Phongsali

Our rating:

Mountainous, remote and rich with ethnic diversity, Phongsali is Laos’ premier spot for authentic hill tribe trekking.

Travel better, travel smarter

Save money, receive our latest updates and get the most out of your travels.


Expect moderate-to-challenging terrain, difficult to access villages and memorable landscapes of tea plantations, rivers and forested mountains. Is it worth the time and effort to reach the northernmost province? Is trekking in Phongsali for you? Read on.

Above the dam. Photo taken in or around Trekking in Phongsali, Phongsali, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Above the dam. Photo: Cindy Fan

Almost everyone disembarks the bus at Hat Sa except for us. Locals and backpackers untangle themselves from layers of limbs, bottoms and bags wedged together, tumbling out one by one. The masses will be hopping on the public boat to travel down the Nam Ou but we remain in the bus with our guide from Amazing Lao Travel, along with an Akha woman. Though she’s wrapped a protective cloth around her heavy headdress, peeking out along the forehead is a row of shiny coins.

It feels strange having plenty of room on a local bus and to be going against the flow. The bus rumbles along the banks for a few kilometres until Dam 6, then drives across the grotesque concrete and steel structure, depositing us at a boat landing on the other side. The final leg is a 30-minute boat trip north. All up it’s a considerable effort just to reach the start of our “Akha Noukouy Trek”, an all day hike to reach three isolated Akha villages on the ridgetop 1,200 metres high. For us it’s a one-time journey up the mountainside but this is the reality for these villages: limited road access, the river their only connection to the outside world.

Up up up (the road we walked on is below us, to the left). Photo taken in or around Trekking in Phongsali, Phongsali, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Up up up (the road we walked on is below us, to the left). Photo: Cindy Fan

Phongsali has 15 official ethnic groups, though the many subgroups push the number to over 40. Groups include the Hor, Phunoi, Hmong, Khmu, Yao, Tai Lue and Lolo. Perhaps the most famous and fascinating of all are the Akha, the women in traditional costume heavily featured in photographs promoting the region. The majority of treks offered in Phongsali are centred on ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,900 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

Don’t miss the boat!

Please subscribe to to read the rest of this article, or log in here.

Subscribing to Travelfish costs A$35 per year and it gets you access to more than 200 downloadable guides to specific destinations, fabulous discount coupons and 50% off our personalised travel planning service. Sign up here.


Trekking in Phongsali
Offices in Phongsali and Muang Khua towns

Location map for Trekking in Phongsali

Popular attractions in Phongsali

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Phongsali.

Best places to stay in Phongsali

A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Phongsali.

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phongsali.
 Read up on where to eat on Phongsali.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Phongsali.
 Read up on how to get to Phongsali.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Phongsali? Please read this.
 Browse the web securely while travelling with TunnelBear. Try with a 7–day free trial.

Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Phongsali? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.

Top of page