Phongsaly Province


Located: in northern Laos 

Total area: 16,270 square kilometers

Population: 197,989 (2024)

7 Districts: Phongsaly, May, Khua, Samphanh, Boun Neua, Boun Tai & Gnot-Ou

Capital of the province: Phongsaly

  • Most northern province

  • Ethnic diversity

  • Trekking tours

  • Green tea produced

Farthest north in Laos is Phongsaly, which shares borders with Yunnan (China) and Dien Bien (Vietnam). Most of Phongsaly Province lies at a high altitude , resulting in  a climate that is pleasant and refreshing. The capital, Phongsaly Town, is the highest city in Laos PDR at 1,400 meters above sea level. 

The population includes 28 different ethnic groups, of which the majority are Khmu, Phounoy, different Akha, Tai Lue and Hor; each with their own culture, traditions, costumes, and language.

The forests contain an abundance of animal, bird, insect and plant life, and there are certainly many undiscovered species, new to science. Several trekking tours have been established by the Provincial Tourism Office Phongsaly (Mr. Khamphanh 020 2844 9939).

Unlike many other cities in Laos, Phongsaly Town was not destroyed in the American war. It features a remaining old quarter with Yunnanese wooden architecture, now rare to find in Yunnan itself. Most of the people living here belong to the Hor ethnic group, speaking Chinese. In the “Museum of Ethnic Groups in Phongsaly Province” you can admire the various local textiles, artifacts and handicrafts. The town itself is surrounded by rolling hills and is built into the side of Phou Fa Mountain (1,625 meters). The 45 minute hike up to its stupa on top 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 Province trekking to remote villages around the province, Boun Neua, Muang Khua at the Nam Ou River and in Boun Tai District’s “Nam Lan Conservation Area”.

The province offers a delicious variety of Lao and Yunnanese cuisine that consists of wild forest ingredients such as fragrant herbs, bamboo and rattan shoots. After dinner try a shot of the local Lao Lao, smooth, strong and tinted green! During the final stage of the distillation process this rice whisky is running over fresh picked raspberry leaves absorbing the green color.

The Chinese-style green tea of Phongsaly receives worldwide recognition for its high quality and superb taste. Tea leaves are picked by the Phounoy minority women from tea trees up to 400 years old tea, standing 6 meters high with a stem up to 30 centimetres in diameter. These precious tea leaves are compressed in bamboo cylinders and sold in cigar-shaped tubes. In this wild tea grove fertilizers and chemicals have never been used. Drinking a daily cup keeps the body in good health, reduces fat and preserves a clear mind.


The famous 400-year-old tea plantation is located about 18 kilometers from Phongsaly Town in the Phunoy ethnic village of Ban Komaen, which according to some tea experts has some of the oldest tea trees in the world. The large root system of the old trees extends deep into the mineral-rich soil and gives ‘Phongsaly Tea’ its specific aroma and taste. The oldest trees stand 6 meters high with a stem up to 30 cm in diameter. The Tea Pavilion’s exhibition provides a peek into the world of tea, from its legendary beginnings to its production and consumption, and explains how the famous 400-year-old tea is picked and processed by the villagers into “tea cigars”. From there, you can take an hour stroll through the ancient plantation: just follow the Tea Trail signs! The trail will lead you to the top of the tea mountain to enjoy the stunning view of Phongsaly and then to the village temple and its unique bigeared Buddha statue. Ban Komaen makes an ideal 1-day excursion, therelatively flat road passing through more recent tea plantations and offering a superb view of Phongsaly and surrounding mountains.
Town map and mountain bikes to rent (50,000 Kip/day) are available at the Tourism Office

The Museum of Phongsaly Ethnic Groups’ newly designed exhibition has been inaugurated in January 2013. It presents the province and its people, their origin and way of life. It also includes information and exhibits about different aspects of their daily life: clothes, music, agriculture, housing, social organization, their rituals and ceremonies, as well as about Buddhism. Don’t miss it, it is one of the best museums in Laos and you will not find this information anywhere else! You will need at least 1 hour to visit the exhibition. The museum is located in the centre of Phongsaly town, next to the Agriculture Promotion Bank and Lao Telecom, close to the post office. It opens Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 16:30. Entry fee is charged. For more information please contact Mr. Khoun: 020 56576050