Northern Laos is filled with thick, untouched jungle. It’s a haven for those looking to enjoy an authentic eco-adventure. We made our base the town of Luang Nam Tha, set deep in the mountains. Our 2-day trek began at the local market where our guide, Xay (pronounced ‘sigh’), wandered around collecting supplies before we hopped in our minibus. We made one stop to pick up a couple of local guides then hit the “trails”. The majority of the hike was spent following a stream because clear paths have not yet been forged. We balanced on rocks and climbed over moss covered trees, trying not to slip into the water. Along the river everything was green, lush and soft. The moss was soft, the rocks were soft from water rushing over them during the rainy season, and the stream softly trickled beneath our mindful steps. After a few hours we stopped to catch our breath next to a 30 meter high waterfall (they seem to be everywhere in Laos!). Water crashed down over a number of rocky levels, while the sun shone through a small break in the canopy. The scene made for a fairy tale setting and I knew we were in for a special hike.
We continued on energetically to our next stop – lunch by a massive tree. A huge banana leaf was our table. We ate with no plates, no cutlery, just fingers, sticky rice and an array of different dishes. Before we could dig in, Xay gave offerings to the jungle while he said a few prayers. He is Animist (as are most rural Laotians). He believes in the spirit of every living thing, from a blade of grass to an elephant. This love and respect for the environment was emphasized throughout our hike and is something I try to keep with me.
The flora of the jungle was continuously changing. At times there was much less growth and the trees appeared to be losing their leaves. The changes in elevation on our trek took us from lush green valleys to the sparse dry tops of hills, but always with an abundance of bamboo nearby. At one point we walked through an entire bamboo forest. There was bamboo of every age, size and colour. It grows much taller, thicker and stronger than I ever expected. The way it clacked and creaked seamed to make the forest come alive.
Finally, our hike led us out of the forest and into an open field as the dipping sun signaled it was late afternoon. The wind was very welcoming as it dried our damp, sweaty clothes. Rejuvenated, we were happy to make our way through the rice fields and rubber plantations to the village that became our home for a night. Before entering the village Xay reminded us not to take pictures without asking; he also informed us that, in this village married women shaved their eyebrows, so we wouldn’t be alarmed by there appearance.
Our house was one large stilted home with enough bedding and bug nets for everyone in our group. There was a small porch with a table where we ate our dinner under the cheeky gaze of local children. By breakfast they were daring enough to come over and chat with us a bit. After breakfast we visited the village school. We were more of a distraction than anything, but a couple from our group donated some much needed school supplies.
The start of the second day was quite challenging – a steep uphill climb for the first 30-40 minutes. For the remainder of the day we continued along the slippery rocks of the stream, mixed with a few difficult ascents up to some spectacular lookout points.
The real highlight of the day was our lunch. Xay made everything from the jungle. Along our hike he was collecting large leaves, banana flowers and other plants we didn’t recognize. We set up camp and in no time Xay had a fire going. He combined all the ingredients he had been collecting and put them inside a long, wide piece of bamboo to cook as a soup. We dined on a banana flower/eggplant/rattan soup with spoons made from leaves. That meal was one of the best parts of the two days not only because it was so yummy but also because it was completely organic. Everything was straight from the jungle and everything left over was given right back.
Our second day ended by wading through a shallow stream followed by a short ride back to Luang Nam Tha as the sun was setting. A couple of rugged, long days of hiking left us weary but very happy to have seen a glimpse of Laos not many outsiders venture to.
Have you ever been somewhere you felt was untouched? Planning to travel to Laos? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!