Thanks to its location near Nam Ha National Protected Area (the first and one of the largest of Laos' 20 NPA), Luang Namtha attracts the backpacker and adventure activity seeking traveller in droves. The new town is modest in size - the main street can be traversed from end to end by foot in 10 minutes. It has one bank and one ATM that accepts international bank cards. Jungle eco-guide services and outfitters offering rafting, kayaking, biking and trekking tours are the primary drivers of Namtha's economy, ably supported by some guesthouses and hotels and a few restaurants and cafes.
Having arrived here from China, where we encountered few international tourists at any point in time, we were suddenly in the midst of a large number of twenty-something European, Australian and even a few South American backpackers. They congregated around the few small cafes whose breakfast menu listed all things familiar - toast and jam, fried eggs, muesli and even baked beans !
We paid a visit to a few of the outfitters to review our options. While adrenaline was not what we were after, we still wanted an experience that would take us into the thick tropical rainforest.
If you have been following this blog regularly, you will remember that V's shoes (lightweight hikers) were unceremoniously consigned to the trash can in Kunming as they were totally useless in the presence of moisture. So V has since been covering ground in his favorite sandals and that has worked well so far since we have had intermittent rain throughout. But would it be able to provide enough support and traction on what was described as "moderate to strenuous 1-day jungle trek" ? The town was not large enough to have a shoe store, so the only option was to do without. V optimistically felt he could manage with sandals for a day, so we reserved our spots for the following morning's 1-day trek into Nam Ha NPA with the agency just across the street from our hotel.
A Jungle trek was what we had signed up for, and that is exactly what we got!
Our group of 7 were herded into a truck to be transported to the trailhead, but not before making a stop at the local market to pick up a few vegetables and herbs that would go into our lunch which was to be prepared and consumed in the forest.
We also made a brief stop at a Lanten village where Lao Huay (or the Lanten) still maintain their traditional way of life. Luang Namtha province is rich in cultural diversity with more than 20 ethnic tribes living in the area. The Lanten are a self-sufficient people, growing their own food, weaving their own clothes and creating their own tools and implements. As we walked through the village, we noticed that many of the men had moved on to wearing western style clothes, but most women still wore traditional colors and designs. Weaving was a communal activity and we came across a group of women setting up the spindles for a large but simple loom by walking back and forth from one end to another!
We were dropped off by the Nam Tha river. A small rubber dingy had to make several trips to transport the group, our guide and a little local boy who served as his assistant, to the opposite bank where we started the trek - a straight uphill climb of several hundred meters through thick forest. The guide literally had to hack his way using a machete to create a trail. Things grow at such a pace here, that if a trail was unused for a week, you would not know that it ever existed. The entire forest was thick with bamboo, tropical fig and other large trees with few openings where the light filtered in. The ground was carpeted with large dead leaves, moist and slippery and the steady uphill had us all soaking wet in minutes. We had been warned of leeches and saw several, but managed to avoid being part of their lunch plan.
As we were making our way up, our guide made several stops to point out interesting facts about local plants and trees, their uses in herbal medicine etc. He was at the same time foraging for our lunch, hacking at rattan and extracting its core and collecting the 'heart' of plantain flowers.
After several hours of the uphill slog, it was time for lunch - picnic style. Getting even a tiny fire going in a moist forest is no easy task and takes a lot of persistence. A large bamboo was hacked down and a suitable section hollowed out which was the cooking pot for our rattan core, plantain flower, bamboo shoots and mini-eggplant soup garnished with an assortment of herbs! In the midst of the lunch preparation, rain (which was threatening right from the beginning) came down in buckets. But that did little to dampen our sprits as we huddled around the communal "table" that was laid out after almost an hour.
Descending was a lot more treacherous than the climb. The trail was completely absent in parts and and where there was one, it was a just a narrow foothold that was slippery from the rain. The only redeeming factor was that the ground was soft enough to cushion the fall, which happened to everyone at some point or another. A larger dingy transported us back across the river and the waiting truck brought us back into town.
With our clothes and shoes caked in mud, we wondered if we were going to be allowed back into our hotel in our current state or if they would first demand that we be hosed down. But we managed to sneak in to our room without attracting too much attention.
As it turned out, the sandals, while not ideal, proved adequate. The relentless climb down through slippery terrain put you on edge mentally, more so than just physically. A large BeerLao (the favorite local brand) with dinner helped take care of both.
Some adventure that. Especially in sandals. V is now going to buy shoes in India or somewhere like that, which were originally manufactured not far from Kunming !!
The pox on baked beans :) From , on Jul 14, 2012 at 01:49AM