Luang Nam Tha Details
Luang Nam Tha is a small quiet town, consisting of a local market, guesthouses and tour operators that make up most of its main street.
Most foreigners come to Luang Nam Tha to visit the neraby Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA) which is exactly what Chase and I went there for. Tour operators offer customised tours including trekking, kayaking, mountain biking, home stays and more. Most operators have highly similar tours, offering slight differences such as location, sleeping arrangements and difficulty. Chase and I decided to sign up to a moderate to difficult 3 day trek, sleeping in jungle camps apparently going ‘very deep’ in the jungle.
Day 1 of jungle trek
We met at 8am at ‘The Jungle Eco-Tours’ office. Then we got on a bus for an hour and half to a village at the beginning of our trek. We were in a Khmu tribe. The kids were cute. Very shy and curious. We began the trek by crossing a river in a really narrow and shallow boat which felt like we were going to tip if we moved an inch.
The first day of the trek was taken up by a good portion of crossing rivers, which also meant switching between thongs and boots. Lunch was a delicious Lao picnic consisting of a tomato sauce based dish, and some stir fried meat and veggies served with a very generous handful of sticky rice. Little did I know that these very generous handfuls of sticky rice would come to make up the main portion of the next 6 meals I was to eat.
I spent the most part of the morning and early afternoon quite nauseas from what I conclude to be due to taking my malaria tablets at the wrong time, or my body still adjusting to them. Once arriving at our wasp infested jungle camp, our guides began to make a tasty dinner consisting of a very similar meal to lunch time, including the sticky rice, while the rest of us went for a swim in the river to cool down.
As it got darker moths began to infest the camp, making home to our clothes that were hanging up outside. Gross. On the upside, our mattresses inside where really thick, which helped keep us comfortable and warm while we slept.
Adding a little excitement to the evening, our fellow trekker Dave was adamant that he saw two eyes looking at him through the bushes while he was brushing his teeth. And so began a mission to sight and identify the creature that was living in the bushes.
For about an hour we kept looking into the bushes with our torches and headlamps, but the animal was too smart for us and kept well enough hidden while we were out there looking. After keeping the spotlight away from the bush for a while, it had come towards us again, and I was able to see these bright glowing eyes no more than 5 metres from where we were standing! I was pretty excited with that and we wondered for a while what it was. Our attention was drawn towards the opposite side of camp where we heard some ruffling in the bushes. There we were able to see a face of another animal which to me looked very cat-like, and within seconds, although I didn’t see it, a raccoon like animal ran out in to the open for a split second before scurrying into the bushes again. We were so excited and very happy to have seen some wildlife in the famous “Nam Ha National Protection Area” which is supposed to be one of the most populated NPA with wild tigers, elephants, leopards and more residing within however rare it is to see them. Satisfied , we retired to our cabin for some much deserved rest.
After about 30 minutes of us lying down to sleep, we heard a scuffle outside the cabin, a loud growl and a few hissing and screeching sounds! It took us all about 2 seconds to decide that this had to be seen and before you could say tiger we were all at the door to the cabin, dying to get a glimpse of the affair that had just taken place not more than a metre from where we were standing. Sadly, we missed the fight outside the cabin, but the scuffle continued in the bushes. We all crept outside, shining our torches to the bush to see and hear some of the fight between the two creatures. After a moment of silence we saw the victor – a clouded leopard – striding through the bushes with is long body and bushy tail, totalling about 2 metres in length. We were stoked to see such a thing! We found out later than what we thought was a raccoon was probably a red panda or a civet cat. It is extremely rare to see anything out in the National Protected Area, let alone a clouded leopard and the already rare in the wild red panda both in one night! We then all went to bed so happy. I could not get the smile off my face!
Day 2 of the jungle trek
In short, 3 straight hours of steep incline. I was feeling better than the first day but didn’t eat a lot for breakfast due to fear of feeling sick again. This caused me to run out of energy very quickly, and I was really struggling during the second half of the morning. I took my time and went at my own pace, much slower than the rest of our trekking group who powered on a few hundred metres ahead of me. I was definitely pushed to my limits. I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath, and psyche myself up again to continue further.
We were walking through thick jungle. At some points we were walking through dense scrub, with no clear path to guide us. The guide even had to cut through bamboo that had fallen onto the path in some spots. There were so many bees in the jungle although only noticeable when we stopped for longer periods of time. When we stopped for lunch, three people in our group got stung. They were crawling in our clothes and we could not get away from them. After lunch, the steep incline of the morning turned to flat pleasant walking to jungle camp number 2.
1500 metres above sea level our camp didn’t have a door or full walls to the ceiling to protect us against the creatures of the jungle. According to one guide, there were no cats around this high up, according to our other guide, he saw one a week ago!! Luckily, we didn’t see it and we were safe in our cabin. All we heard was scuffling in the bushes and barking deer. Safe and sound.
Day 3 of the jungle trek
In short: really easy. 1.5 hours of practically running downhill to a field of rice paddies, then 30 minutes to the village where we got picked up by our mini bus. I was very happy with myself for completing the trek.
Our guides took us to visit another tribal village, but it was blocked off. Lucky we had a guide with us, otherwise I probably would have walked straight into what was a sealed off village which is a monthly ritual engaged in to ward off evil spirits and to keep in good ones. The entrance gate is decorated with chains made of leaves and signs in Lao either telling people not to come in, or possibly chants or prayers telling the evil spirits to go away. During this time no one in the village can leave, and no one from the outside can enter. If this rule is breached, the villagers and/or intruders risk death. There are ways around it, although at a cost. A large sacrifice must be made to the spirits, something big enough that will satisfy its hunger for a human life. This means a village must lose either one if its cows, buffaloes or pigs which provide a source of food and/or income. As I said, lucky we were with a guide, as I would have felt enormous guilt if I had entered, let alone fear for my life. After leaving the village with everyone very much alive, we drove to a nearby river for a swim before devouring a picnic lunch of vegetables, smoked buffalo and, you guessed it, sticky rice.
First and foremost, this trek was a physical challenge. I pushed myself to my limits. I succeeded. I feel very proud of myself to getting through it. In addition to the physical limits, I had to go deep into my mental state, to ensure that I pushed through and continued. There were times where I just felt like sitting down and not moving, but I didn’t and I owe it to my constant conversation with myself saying “you have to do it, if they can do it up ahead, then you can too. Keep going!”
Learning about the traditions of the local tribal villages has added to my respect of the Lao people. Although these people are not rich, they live self sustaining lives, they make do with what they have. They live happy lives and stand by their tradition and rituals. The determination and willpower that they must have is something that I am not accustomed to, nor will I ever be. I admire them for that.
I must say how happy I was to be in the natural habitat of many wild animals and to actually encounter two species whilst on this trek. It made me have a much higher appreciation for animals. It is something that we don’t think about all the time because we never see it. But each day, these animals fight for survival and live their lives. There is a beauty associated with it, which I can sort of liken it to the admiration when watching a documentary on their lives and definitely the opposite to what you feel when you see these animals in captivity.
Finally, it is worth noting the sheer strength and fitness of the local guides. We had a tour guide, from the tour office back in Luang Nam Tha, but also 3 other guides who were from the local villages. These were the three guides that carried our food, supplies, sleeping bags, and helped us through the rough patches. I cannot go without mentioning that one of these guides was a thirteen year old female, who never spoke a word and always smiled. She helped me cross a river by holding my hand as I stumbled across the rocks. On every single occasion, these guides started after us as they would be cleaning up our camp, and would overtake us to begin organising our next meal. I find this remarkable. They have grown up with the jungle, and to them it is like walking down the street to the corner shop.
Name – Adounsiri Guest House
Contact – (85620) 2991898
Facilities – double rooms with hot water shower and fan, family rooms, tour bookings, bus tickets and books for sale, free water, laundry service
Review – A very comfortable guest house, rooms cleaned every day. Water was not always hot as advertised. Owners are friendly. Good location away from the main street, much quieter than other guest houses which were located next to karaoke bars and wedding functions
Big Brother Mouse
A local owned and run organisation that not only publishes and distributes Lao books to villages all over the country, but also gives children the opportunity to learn how to read and write. An inspirational project which I urge anyone to donate to if they are able to.