With Laolao and beerLao being the two most popular drinks I think it’s fair to say the Laotians aren’t the most inventive when it comes to naming things. They’re more focused on the consumption. An activity we readily adopted for full cultural immersion. Our first two weeks in Laos were taken at a pace similar to my pet (she is a tortoise). In other destinations I would be able to rattle off a list of activities that we would have completed during those two weeks but for Laos I can’t. Near the start of our time there we saw a sign stating this is Laos P.D.R. ‘please don’t rush’ and we fully adopted this mentality.
First view of Laos:
The scenery is stunning, with big karsts poking out of every corner, lush green rice paddies and fast flowing rivers. We entered Laos from Chiang Rai, taking the Transport Co. Bus direct to Luang Namtha for 500 Baht. It was the easy hassle free option, making up from our other border crossings. Luang Namtha is a stop that people make if they want to explore northern Laos or if they don’t really fancy the 2 day boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. With three weeks left before our flight to Kuala Lumpur we knew we had time to explore some of the slightly less trodden paths! That is not to say that these towns aren’t touristy, they are but there are less people visiting them than say the main backpacker route of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane.
There isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Luang Namtha itself. It has a daily night market where we whittled away a couple of hours chatting to some other tourists and drinking beer. There are lots of little old ladies who like to sell you bracelets, they are persistent! After months on the road our hardness was getting less and less, safe to say I am now the proud owner of many bracelets made from coke cans and little beads (sorry friends for spoiling your gift surprise).
Luang Namtha is the gateway to the Nam Ha National Park. It is home to a number of villages where a range of different hill tribes still live. A lot of the villages require a 4 or 5 hour walk to visit. We opted for a two day one night trip that involved walking to a village and then rafting back on 2 rivers. We were keen to avoid a situation where the villagers were treated like animals in a zoo by tourists and so spent a lot of time visiting the different operators spread out along the main road. We ended up going with Green Discovery, a Laos owned company with a friendly owner who didn’t push anything on us. The village that we visited had a big room set up where we could all sleep and apparently different families take it in turn to cook for the tourists who visit and they receive the money from the tour company.
Start of the trek, with a signpost just off the road:
The trekking started at the road side, which seemed a bit strange, but we were soon on a path heading up. There were a few sweaty up and down hills before we got to have lunch. Laotians love sticky rice and so there was lots of that for the next few days. We were soon heading down the other side of the hills that we had just climbed up. The company had made promises that we would not get soaked crossing any of the little streams, they didn’t account for my lack of balance and I was soon trundling along in soaking wet walking boots. After a number of crossings the forest broke and we found ourselves wandering through rice paddies and other farmland belonging to members of the village.
Pinion leading the way to the village:
Home for the night:
The village was home to a couple of hundred of people, and was pretty busy on the day we arrived due to a wedding. This village was almost in the middle of no where, it had no electricity or running water. It did however have a generator and a thumping sound system that started around 6am and didn’t finish until the wee hours. We crashed the wedding and joined in with some dancing, I felt like I had the dance moves down but still received a lot of giggles so maybe not. Some of the young guys provided us with shots of LaoLao that accompanied our beer well. Not wanting to outstay our welcome we headed back to our room for the night and got plenty of sleep before we spent the day rafting back to Luang Namtha.
Ivan and Yolanda conquered the streams better than me!:
The rafting was great fun, we didn’t really have to paddle all that much but there were a few trees to avoid that provided some excitement, and spiders kept jumping in making both Pinion and Yolanda scream whilst Ivan and I tried to flick them out with our oars. We stopped at a few villages on the way back, buying even more bracelets, and then got to swim in a bit with a slow current. It was a great way to spend a day, not sure Pinion and I would be any good on a river that flowed a bit faster though.