I did say that this was an adventure trip, right? So after our first day spent exploring Muang Sing, this time around we set off to go Laos Trekking at the Nam Ha National Park, an ecotourism destination which brings tourists closer to the heart of the Lao spirit, allowing us to catch a glimpse not only to their fantastic natural resources and landscapes, but also the daily lives and routines of their ethnic people through a fun-filled, educational adventure trek. The park was 1 hour (30 km) away from Luang Namtha, but we were driving on rather rough and dusty dirt roads so the travel time can really vary depending on the state of the weather or driving conditions during the date.
The Jump-Off Point
It was cold and windy that early morning when we rode a tuk tuk together with our guide, setting off for our 6-hour Luang Namtha trekking adventure inside the Nam Ha Biodiversity Conservation Area established in 1993, one of the largest conservation spots in Laos at 222,400 hectares. We finally got off at a gasoline station at around 9:30 AM. There are many clean restrooms available at this jump-off point, and I suggest you go while you’re there as it’ll be the only proper restroom available ‘till you get to the village.
Starting the Hike
The trek finally began! We started from the Tasae Village, the old name of Namtha. It was quite the uphill battle, off into the rice paddies and cardamom plantations. I have to admit, I was beginning to be a bit worried at this point because my leg muscles were getting tight and starting to cramp…but! This was just the beginning and I thought to myself that I damn well better make it to the end. I’ve always said, if the spirit is willing, then I will always make it, no matter how tired.
The trail we hiked through was quite shaded and protected from the sun almost the whole way through, which was rather pleasant since we already had to deal with the rather tiring uphill nature of the trek in and of itself. Also, the guides told us that there can be leeches to add to your plights during the rainy season! But thankfully we went on our Laos Trekking trip during the dry season (in March, specifically) so we were safe from all the trouble.
Watch (and Learn!)
As we walked through the path, our short rests in between stretches of walking became much more than little breaks- they morphed into interesting demonstrations and educational experiences. We learned what cardamom are, which plants we could eat, and which leaves doubled as medical tools – to stop bleeding, for example. In addition, there are lots of rubber trees littered around the trail, from which sap is collected and sold by the locals to neighboring countries.
We went on an incredibly hot day, so the guide kindly decided to make us fans out of leaves. Surprisingly enough, it was quite sturdy and, in many ways, felt better than using paper and cloth fans, so I was very thankful. They also asked me if I needed a walking stick, but at that point I didn’t feel like it – the sentiment was still nice, however.
After around 2 hours, inclusive of all the proper rest stops, we finally arrived at the lunch area. The clearing was just beautiful, surrounded by a circle of huge trees while we sat in the open space smack middle of the scenery. While waiting for lunch to be made, I even took some pictures with the greenery.
Our food was made right on the spot, cooked inside a piece of bamboo which reminded me a lot of my Mad Travel Trek and tribe Tours in Subic and Mt Purro Nature Reserve in Rizal. In addition to that, I was quite surprised that they literally just took banana leaves from the forest and used them as our makeshift table. Hmmm. I guess, we’re often sticklers when it comes to cleanliness but here, they just wiped off the leaves and then, done – as they say organic. In the Philippines, we call this a boodle fight. The Lao version was just a bit different, but generally the same with the way they all put their food and sticky rice in the middle. And, just like with boodle fights, everybody shares their meals.
Prior to eating, we were also taught how to make spoons for the soup using leaves – it really did the trick! For this tour, you’re made to eat with your hands and I quickly realized that Lao food is so easy to eat this way, especially with how sticky their rice is. You grab some rice, dip it in some chili flakes, and then just wrap whatever food and veg you want with it.
Hike to the Campsite
At 1:30 PM, we finally finished eating our lunch, (we took two hours in total, preparation, eating, and cleaning included), and we were then told that we still had around 3-4 hours to go. But the great part is, from this point on, the trek just becomes easier since you’ll be heading downhill.
Still covered by the trees, you trek through small slopes or up rolling hills until you reach a point where you have to steadily walk down. This part is steep and slippery, so do be careful. We went all the way down until we arrived at the river, trekking across and following its path back into the jungle again. This time, the trek was easier since we were going through flatlands now, but it can be slippery and very narrow! I honestly slipped off the path myself, but luckily didn’t get hurt. You really do have to be cautious (as in any hike!). Finally, we arrived at a small campsite area which is very convenient for those who would like to do several-day treks. Here you can see bamboo skeleton structures which people place banana leaves over as a makeshift roof, according to our guide. Afterwards, we set off, continuing our trek into the village.
Views on Arrival
For the last hour of the trek, as you near the village, this is the part where the path opens up and the forest clears into pretty views. Since you aren’t being shaded by the big trees at this point anymore, make sure you retouch your sunscreen! We were greeted with the lovely sight of rice paddy fields, flowers, banana trees and more! We were told that certain portions of the forest were burnt using the slash and burn method to plant rice, and they change it up every now and then.
So, all in all, our trek timeline went:
- 9:30: Start of hike
- 11:44: Lunch
- 1:30: Trek to the village
- 4:30: Village arrival
Village Experiences and River Bathing
When we got to the village, we were exhausted! But our faces immediately lit up when we were welcomed with smiles by the Akha village. We lived in the Na Lan Tai village, home to 208 people, 48 houses, 53 families, and 12 homestays all in all. We stayed at the Sambayler homestay, which is Khmu for “Welcome”. It was comfortable, but basic – really local living. There was no electricity but still, I loved the experience. We lived in a local Khmu house where the restrooms were spacious and big, albeit outside the house. Instead of the usual Western toilets, the locals also used squatting toilets – they were totally clean, however.
Then, we bathed in the river like the locals do it! Typically, the women and children bathe first in the villagers’ daily routine, then the men after they’re all finished. They lent us their sinh – pretty much a skirt or malong to be wrapped around your body while bathing to cover yourself up, since the cloth is long enough to cover everything. The river was clean and clear, but can be rather cold especially when it’s nearing sunset. So basically, enter the river with your sinh, dip yourself under the water, scrub with your shampoo and soap, wipe off with a towel and – tada! Feeling refreshed. Be sure to bring along your own towel and toiletries, and eco-friendly ones preferably too as to help preserve the cleanliness in the village.
After bathing, we had dinner with the locals the same way we had lunch – over banana leaves and eating with our hands. Dinner this time around was cooked over a small fire in our homestay hosts’ kitchen. Most of the Lao food we were served are made with locally-grown vegetables like bamboo shoots and different greens. I feel like I’ve eaten much more greens and healthy dishes during my stay in Laos, which is really good!
After dinner we watched a cultural show where the villagers performed their traditional dances dressed in ethnic wear – around three to four dances. 2 for the kids, 2 for the adults and then for the grand finale they invited us to join them in a Lao Boang (dancing in a circle with all the Lao people and guests). We were with four other guests during our stay here, mostly from Western countries. We retreated to bed shortly after the lovely show, resting early because we had a long day ahead of us the following morning (where we were awoken by the sounds of the chickens before the crack of dawn – as well as delicious local breakfast!)
Rates & Fees
Rates for trekking per person can vary depending on the length of your trek, as well as the number of people joining the tour – the prices tend to be lower the more guests there are. For a 1 day trek, prices range from $27 to $117 per person, and the rates get higher for each additional day. They have various options, depending on what type of adventure you want to experience.
- Registration fee: 5000 kip / 0.5 USD
- Local Guide fee : 60,000 kip / 7 USD.
Guides are a requirement when going trekking. When you book your tour guide, it’s one guide from a company and one local guide. Why? Because the local village guides do not speak in English and won’t know what kind of route of trek you want – it’s the company or agency guide that arranges it all and mediates between you and the locals.
Things to Bring
- Bottle of water – it was hot, and we were getting dehydrated by the second given the long trek!
- Sunblock and cap
- Mosquito repellant (a MUST)
- A swimming top (for kayaking and bathing in the river – the Lao are quite conservative so it’s best to cover up)
- A study pair of hiking shoes
- Flashlight or torch (important when hiking or getting around at night as there is no electricity)
- Soap and shampoo for bathing (preferably eco-friendly and biodegradable)
What to Expect
- No electricity! Aside from the solar-powered lights the villages are equipped with, you won’t find any of your beloved sockets here. Be sure to ready up with power banks and all if you need to stay connected on the go.
- Helping the local communities. Trekking in Laos ensures that the Lao ethnic groups in the Nam Ha Conservation are given another means of income via sustainable tourism – not only are we given the chance to explore their beautiful lands, but they are also able to further their community and agricultural development with the provided support.
Best Time to go Trekking in Laos
Laos has two seasons: dry and wet. The dry season lasts from October to May, while the wet season lasts from June to September. Generally, the dry season is a better time to visit (aside from the broiling heat of the sun!) because the wet season makes the trails slippery and dangerous at times – not very good, especially for beginners. Adding to that, leeches tend to be abundant.
Now that you have all these information. Are you ready to go for a trek in Laos? But hold on my friends, this is just Day 1. Read my next post about Kayaking Nam Ha River in order to know how we ended this adventure trekking in Laos.