Trekking in the Hills of Northern Laos

I fell in love with hiking when I lived in Portland. Now, when I travel, I almost always search out a way to incorporate hiking into my trip. When I read about the Nam Ha National Protected Area in Northern Laos, I knew I had to go there.

Luang Namtha

The jumping off point for any trekking in the Nam Ha NPA is Luang Namtha. Luang Namtha is one of the northern most provinces in Laos. It takes a whole day of bus travel along some very picturesque, but narrow roads from Luang Prabang.

Luang Namtha itself is pretty small and cozy and there are lots of different outfitters that can arrange to take you on a trek in the NPA. It is definitely possible to just show up, and then walk around town to see what treks are happening the next day and sign up for the one most interests you.

I would highly recommend checking out Forest Retreat Laos. They are very involved in the local community and help to support the locals. Even if you don’t trek with them, they have possibly the best restaurant in town with great staff.

Beginning the Two-Day Trek

I opted for a two-day trek that included a night in a local hill-tribe village. My guide, Dan, was a young man who had been guiding trips for several years, in spite of only being about 20 years old. He was exceptionally friendly and good natured.

Before setting off in the morning, we went to the market to buy some fresh produce to make lunch. After getting all the necessary supplies, we set off in a 4×4 vehicle for the trailhead in the protected area. We were on the trail by 9:30.

Dan walked in front, occasionally swinging his machete to clear some overgrown brush and branches. The sun shone down through the banana leaves as we made our way up and down some small hills.

We cris-crossed a small creek several times until we came to a place where two creeks converged. Dan took us off what was clearly the main trail and along the creek bed. The jungle opened up around a beautiful waterfall. We had the choice to swim, however, I actually wasn’t prepared to go swimming, so we enjoyed to view as we took a break before continuing on.

We returned to the main trail and continued to follow the creek upstream. When we came to a place where there was a large, rocky area that floods in the rainy season, Dan stopped us. We all sat down and Dan told us to take a nap while he prepared lunch. We woke up to a large banana leaf laid out as a plate with the rice and main dishes served in halved lengths of bamboo. It was extremely delicious.

We hiked for another couple hours, and all the while Dan would disappear off the trail for a short time and then pop back out. He was foraging for our dinner that evening.

Spending the Night in a Lantan Village

Slowly, the jungle’s ecology changes more into a forest and then into cultivated forest. Soon, we were walked along the edge of a rubber tree plantation and could see a village in the near distance. That was where we would spend the evening.

We arrived at the hut we would stay in, which was made from thatched palm and bamboo. There were a dozen or so children who were eager to play with us and we certainly indulged them. Dan used this time to cook us a dinner that included mushrooms he foraged, banana flower soup and the trunk of a banana tree.

After dinner, we wandered around the village. A man invited us into his store where we shared a Beer Lao together before he dipped into his Lao lao stash to share. Lao lao is the locally made rice wine and this one was his own brew. There were lots of laughs all and fun had all around as the evening turned into night. Eventually we made it back to our hut and beds for some rest.

Finishing the Two-Day Trek

The next morning, Dan had made breakfast by the time we were up. We ate and set off, waving goodbye to the friends we made the night before. The hills this day were much steeper, with lots of ups and downs. I preferred to take my time and would stop to enjoy my surroundings.

At the top of the biggest hill, I arrived to lunch in the process of being made. There were some local villagers who were heading home who also stopped here for a mid-day break. We shared some of our lunch with them and they returned the gesture. Again, there was lots of attempts at communication with lots of laughs and smiles.

At one point, Dan went off and came back with a long piece of bamboo. He told us to take a drink, that it was special bamboo water. We each took a swig and a smile crept across our lips. He had filled it with Coca-Cola as a bit of a practical joke.

He then cut the bamboo up into a few pieces and kind of whittled the edges, creating a cup for each of us to take as a souvenir.

As we neared the end of our trek, we came out of the jungle and into gorgeous hills of rice fields, yellow and heavy, ready to be harvested. It was glorious.

We came out on a dirt road where the 4×4 was waiting for us and we were back in Luang Namtha by 4.

Recommendation

If you like hiking, I would definitely recommend doing a trek in the Nam Ha NPA. It’s well off the beaten tourist path through Southeast Asia and is some pretty great community-based eco-tourism. You can choose the length of time you want to go for and some of the specifics, such as where you go. Most every place offered options other than trekking as well, like canoeing and cycling as well if trekking isn’t your thing. If you go, let me know what you think!


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