Trekking in Luang Namtha
“Alex I can’t really decide which trek to choose from” Tom looked at me utterly confused after flipping through the well designed, but massive catalogue of possible trekking options on offer. “How about we join these?” I pointed at the list with the two names: Anniek and Kai.
“We can do the two day trek with the Swiss family and these two, and on the second day split off so that you can continue with the jungle trekking on your own.”
“OK” he replied, relieved that a decision is just around the corner. “How about the Banana leaf bed?” Adrian added. “We can let you sleep in the jungle, whilst the rest sleep in the village.” The staff of The Hiker trekking tour office assured him with a smile, which couldn’t hide his amusement about the eclectic negations between the five foreigners trying to reach a consensus about which tour to go for.
“OK let’s do it!” I exclaimed before anyone else had a chance to raise another question.
Day 1 Trek – Through the jungle
The next day we all met up again at the office around 9:30 to begin our trekking tour into the Namha Protected Area of Luang Namtha Province. Our first stop was the local market where our guide Kird and his two assistants went out to buy us lunch, whilst the rest of us explored the market and took photos. I had a good time photographing the local vendors, one of whom thoroughly enjoyed photobombing my shots.
It was a short 20-30min ride out of town before the driver dropped us off on the roadside somewhere close to the National Park. “Let’s go!” Kird told us and off we went into the fields that quickly turned into a forest, and suddenly thick primary jungle.
It had rained the night before keeping the temperature comfortably cool throughout the entire morning. However it didn’t take long for me to start sweating, thoroughly drenching my T-shirt when we arrived at our lunch spot up in the hills. The vegetation here has changed once again becoming less dense with the occasional bamboo tree here and there.
Our guides prepared the table made from banana leafs to serve our meals on. We had a mix of steamed catfish, bamboo shoot salad and super delicious and spicy green aubergine paste served with sticky rice.
The rest of the journey down the mountain proved to be a slippery slope – literally. All of us made contact with the ground at one point or another, either because there was really no grip or I made Anniek laugh by giving out weird sounds every time I lost my balance.
In the end we survived the way down with some scratches as well as muddy buttocks here and there before making it to the final stretch through a patch of forest that has been slashed and burned to gain land for agriculture. It was a sad sight to see so much destruction inflicted on the forest, but the locals here have nothing else to live on than the land they work around their villages.
Homestay at the village
We were greeted by the occasional curios look from some villagers when we stepped onto what appears to be the main square, but the children quickly warmed up to us after I took a photo and showed it to them. The sheer joy was priceless when the girls started dancing in front of the camera and re-watching their performance on the screen. “And here we go again” I whispered to a French couple standing next to me as I filmed the eight or tenth take.
After a quick dip in the river I decided to try out the drone, but not without asking if it would cause some issues for the villagers. On the contrary the drone became the event of the day as the entire village gathered around us to watch what was making such a peculiar noise. It must have been the first time they saw such a thing, as some people were curiously watching over my shoulder to see what was being shown on my display, whilst others keept a distance, out of fear of the flying machine in front of them.
The moment I turned off the drone an earie silence took over the square whilst everyone was staring at me. I never felt so awkward before. “Have a look here” I pointed to my phone and showed the footage to children around me in order to avoid the stares of the rest of the village. That seemed enough to signal that the show was over and everyone proceeded to continue on with their business. We finished the day with a delicious Lao dinner and beer before heading to bed which were prepared on our host’s living room floor.
Day 2 Trek – Visiting other villages
I didn’t have the most amazing sleep, but still woke up early to watch the village come to life. I sat down around the fire and drank a coffee with the villagers and the other travelers and ran into Sonam and Reto whom I met the day, whom shared their travel experience and recommendations for China. Sonam (aka Sony) is originally from Tibet and has traveled some of the route I planned to take within China. He told me about other interesting places to see in Eastern Tibet (also know as Kham Tibet) which can be visited without a permit as some of it is situated within Yunnan and Sichuan province.
We began the second day of trekking around 9:30am after parting ways with Tom. We visited two other villages alongside the newly constructed road that had been opened 6 months prior. Today was noticeably hotter and all of us looked forward to escaping the sun by dropping by the local schools in both of the villages.
Starting from the second village the hardest part of the trek began as we climbed up a steep hill to get to the other side of the mountain. “Before the road, the villagers had to walk this way to reach the next town.” Kird said, before we continued on the trail towards the top of the mountain.
A cool breeze greeted us on the top, where we had our lunch surrounded by leafy forests. After lunch we were finally making our way down towards the last village. The prospect of an ice cold drink kept me going through the last stretch of rubber plantations, until we reached the village, where our driver came to pick us up to bring us back to Luang Namtha.
We said goodbye to Anniek, whilst Kai and the Swiss family took a shower at my hotel room. But even they eventually left to catch their bus to Nam Kiao, leaving me to stay in Luang Namtha one more night in order to catch my own bus to Xishuangbanna in China the following day.
PS: a big thank you to Rita for lending me your plaster so that I could continue walking without having to endure the pain from my blisters and Sonam for all the great advice which I will surely rely upon once I get to Eastern Tibet.