Jungle Trekking in Laos
We arrived in Luang Nam Tha, Laos after a two day journey from Chiang Mai. After reading about what Luang Nam Tha has to offer here, we thought that it would be a great place to do some trekking. Originally we’d planned on doing a trek in Northern Thailand also, but with about a billion (rough estimate) trekking outfits trying to sell to us, we’d become overwhelmed and opted for the farm instead.
After some research on the different companies in Nam Tha, we picked Forest Retreat and headed over to chat about their options. We had planned on doing three days of trekking, but after some convincing settled on one day of kayaking and two days of trekking. The next day we took ourselves on a tour of the village and a few surrounding villages on cruiser bikes waiting and hoping that some other people would sign up on our trek to cut down costs.
Lucky for us two other couples signed up so the next morning we were off! The first day was kayaking and after arriving at our starting point (a small village) we were put in our double blow up kayaks and told to go! It took a few minutes to figure out steering etc, but luckily since we both have paddling experience we were fine.
Over the course of the day we shot a number of small rapids that were fun although a little nerve wracking. It was good that the boats were blow up because it’s on the tail end of dry season and there are still many rocks showing in the river (that we hit, many times).
About half way through the day we stopped for a break and our guides built a bamboo rope swing into the river. It was awesome! They had collected the bamboo earlier in the day and spent about 20 minutes rigging it up. Tanoi, our English speaking guide, spent a good chunk of time up the big tree getting it set up which was hilariously precarious. We had great fun tarzaning into the water cooling off before finishing our day of kayaking.
We spent the night in a village in a bamboo hut that Forest Retreat had built. The Laoation government has an eco tour program whereby villages apply to host trekkers and in exchange receive some infrastructure for the village (like an extra toilet and water pump) as well as some income as the trekkers buy weaving and other handcrafts. The village was very welcoming and we explored, watching the women weave and the children play. In the evening Tanoi talked about what it was like growing up in villages and what life in Lao is like.
First thing in the morning we set out to cross the river and start our trek! Two more guides from the village joined us, hilariously wearing flip flops (not so funny when they totally kicked our asses at hiking wearing said flip flops). From the get go we had a huge climb to get up the river bank – a taste of what was to come.
The jungle was incredible. The diversity of life reminded me a bit of our snorkeling trip on Koh Tao. I think that it knocks my socks off even more having grown up in the north in such a challenging environment where we have only a fraction of the life that there is here. I saw more bugs, spiders, ants, wasps and butterflies than I’d ever seen before in my life! And unfortunately got bit by a few more than I’d have liked!
After about 4-5 hours of hiking we arrived at our jungle camp. It was a bamboo hut for sleeping with a small cook shed and a small toilet beside a small creek in a gully. Pretty rustic and very dark thanks to the canopy of trees over head. We were all relieved to arrive as the final descent into the gully was long and very slippery. In fact everything was slippery all day even though it wasn’t raining!
We went to bed really early because of the lack of light and in the morning opted for the ‘easy’ way out following (or mostly going THROUGH) the creek back to the river. When we got back to the river we crossed on our own instead of waiting for the boat. I was up to my belly button in water!
Our guides cooked tons of good food for us (according to Tanoi – “No Spicy, no good!” even though the guides were the only ones loading the chillies on!). On the second morning they cooked up creek crabs and frogs that they had caught the night before. We were all pretty sick of sticky rice by the end though as it was a staple at every meal.
We couldn’t have had a better group to trek with and although I’m not hankering to get back into the jungle any time soon, we had a great time. I think I’ll take the Rockies any time over the jungle (my skin is crawling just thinking about it and my bug bites were still itchy almost a week later). If you are in Laos I definitely recommend checking out Forest Retreat and doing one of their treks!