I want to do some trekking while in Laos, and am not sure if I should go out of my way a bit and go to Luang Nam Tha, or if the trekking in LP is just as good. If I went to LNT, it would probably mean missing out on the mekong river slow boat cruise as well, which I had originally planned to do... but plans always change and I am open to suggestions!
Thanks in advance.
#1 svichy has been a member since 21/3/2008. Posts: 3
Just for the heck of suggesting an alternative that isn't LNT or LPB...
If you really must do that Mekong slowboat cruise...do half of it (one day). If you're starting from Huayxai, boat to Pak Beng then head inland to Udomxai, trek in that area & then continue to LPB. If you're starting from LPB, get to Udomxai to trek & then move on to Pak Beng to get on the Mekong boat to Huayxai. Treks from Udomxai: http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/activities/trekoudomxay.htm
http://www.samlaancycling.com/en/tour-offers/ (run by a guy who comes from a village along the Pak Beng-Udomxai road)
For a more beautiful slowboat cruise, try the Nam Ou river :)
I did some trekking in LNT, but havent done any in and around LP, so my answer may be biased.
Having said that, i'd recommend you go to LNT. The Nam Ha is an extremely diverse spot, offering some lovely views, diversity in plant and animal life (the number of colourful insects i found! Apologies for not being an etymologist, however that is spelt) and if you chose your trek you can also get to spend some nights in Khmu and Akha Villages. I did the 3-day akha trail, and spent one night in a Khmu village and the other in an Akha village. Rustic and enjoyable, if you are not used to the concept of Asian Village Life. If you are green, you can always do a pure forest trek. A botanist i met in LNT at the Boat Landing claimed he had the time of his life trekking through the Nam Ha. Green discovery's website has some treks listed in LNT provice which you can peruse.
I also thoroughly agree with wanderingcat, the Huay Xai LP trip is thorougly overrated. Hordes of people at Huay Xai discuss this trip, and signs all over the streets offer this slowboat package. One is supposed to come to Laos to Escape this commercialization which we find where we come from and live! That said, I met a Swiss person who was doing the trip on the Nam Ou from Nong Khiaw to LP, which should be do-able in the dry season, but you must research this. Nong khiaw should be 5-6 hours from LNT east by bus.
Also bear in mind that the Nam Ha NPA was one of the first "Scientifically crafted" eco-tourism regions in Laos, and the planet thinks it the best region for trekking in the north of Laos.
#3 the_tundraman has been a member since 18/3/2008. Posts: 11
I can second the recommendation for LNT/Nam Ha region. One spot that is recommended in the Planet is Vieng Phukha, one hour from LNT on the bus to Huay Xai. There are several tour companies in Vieng Phukha along the main road - this side of Nam Ha seems to get much less tourist traffic than LNT itself; I found it less commercialized, a good place to get a view into Lao village life. I went on an Akha/Hmong trek, but found this a bit strange, like I was intruding, so if I were to do it again I would want to explore wilderness. I saw some virgin, or at least very old secondary growth, forest in the western region of Nam Ha. Gigantic trees!
#4 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133
Interesting response RE-the intruding comment. I have my reservations about doing village treks for the same reason.
I was going to head to Muang Sing or Long for a trek but as those places involve a few bus journeys, and I only have a finite amount of time, I'm also looking for options around Luang Prabang. I have my reservations about trekking in heavily touristed areas.
#5 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20
"I have my reservations about doing village treks for the same reason."
"I have my reservations about trekking in heavily touristed areas."
I guess you could go where there are no humans... It seems options narrow quickly. For me personally, the whole fun of the experience in being in this part of the world is getting to know indigenous people. But to each his own.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
"I guess you could go where there are no humans... It seems options narrow quickly. For me personally, the whole fun of the experience in being in this part of the world is getting to know indigenous people. But to each his own."
Good point - if you're able to make a connection with the people you're visiting, this makes sense. If it's a situation where they're just taking the money and providing you a place to stay, then it feels like intruding...this latter case is what happened on one of the trekking nights I spent, and is why I mentioned it. I don't know how you could go about being sure the trek you're going on is going to take you to people who want to interact with you - actually, in the particular Hmong village in LNT province I went to, the people my guide and I were staying with didn't seem interested in talking with me, so I left them alone. Later on, after they went to sleep, my guide/friend invited a few teachers from the school over for some Lao-Lao, and we got some good interaction/exchange going on.
But in retrospect I agree with you Madmac, these are some fascinating cultures, Akha, Hmong, Khmu, Shan, and all the rest, and if you can manage to make meaningful interaction with them, it's certain to be an enriching experience.
#7 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133
What kind of "meaningful" interactions are we talking about here, and how well can you "get to know" someone from a village in a night or two? Discussions on books you've read? Movies you've seen? Hearing their philosophies on life? It's voyuerism, plain and simple. Kind of like someone from a village entering your home and watching you prepare dinner and do your chores whilst taking photos.
Anyways, each to their own. I've stayed in many villages over the years, but I haven't visited Laos yet.
Back on topic, can anyone recommend a good guide in the LP area?
#8 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20
Doesn't voyeurism require nude girls or something like that?
Now, I'm not a Laos, guy, so I'll let guys like Rufus comment in more detail on that element, but I travel around Issan a LOT on my motorcycle. And I really enjoy sitting over lunch in the middle of nowhere talking to some guy I just met. I have talked with them about work, about women, about life, about our children, about the war in SEA back in the day... bascially the same kinds of things I'd talk to an expat about over a beer.
#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Touche, Kurtz, but I think cultural exchange is possible in the right place...when I was a teenager my family hosted several Japanese students as part of US-Japan cultural exchanges, showed them our culture and land, and it never seemed voyeuristic, and in fact we both shed some tears upon returning them to the airport...but I guess it complicates things when some people are willing to take people in only for $, not interested in exchange.
I can PM you or anyone else the number of a good guide close to LNT; he was my guide on an agency-arranged tour but also does private tours (worthwhile having someone who speaks the languages and has grown up in the area) and could probably help you over the phone as well. I cannot help with LR, sorry.
#10 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133
^ Well that's a different context entirely and I agree 100%.
If you have the time, that would be great to hear a recommendation. If the trek is in the mountains with some good photo ops with the odd village thrown in, that would be dandy.
#11 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20
@MADMAC. The discussion was about staying in a village with bona fide village people. Such an activity would include being up close and personal with them, seeing them in the morning, doing their chores, seeing their habits, how they cook, how they eat; without an interpreter, not being able to talk to them.
This is miles apart from having a chat some people on the side of the road in Issan. But thanks for your contribution.
BTW, do you have anything to add on hiking in Laos?
#12 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20
@ Kurtz, I can't PM you, so I'll just post his info here. Name is Sing, he lives in Vieng Phukha, his numbers are 02096533133 and 02055791471. We went on a two-day trek in Nam Ha to an Akha and a Hmong village, also headed to LNT on a day trip, and were planning on renting motorcycles and heading up on a few nights' trip towards Muang Long district when I left the region...his main business is running a supply shop and he seems to really know the area well, languages and people, which is why it's worth paying him or someone like him for their knowledge...if you meet him, maybe you can tell him the American who stayed in VP a year ago for a few weeks sent you (unlike Vang Vieng or Luang Prubang, there's only one person who fits that description!).
#13 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133
"The discussion was about staying in a village with bona fide village people."
Who do you think I'm talking to, bona fide city people in Issan villages? Come on.
Yes, you have to learn enough language to be able to communicate. Of course you do. Until you learn to do that, you can only scrape the surface of any of these places- city or not. That's why I spend so much time learning Thai (and remminding the Issan village people I don't speak Lao). If you are a tourist coming here to "trek" through Lao, learn some Lao before you come.
As for "trekking" - well, I have only hiked here. In the Mountains of Mukdahan up to an old communist stronghold. Very interesting hike. I did it twice. First time was with a group of monks in the dry season. It was fun. Second time we tried in the rainy season, and after being stung by a nasty ass bee and almost bitten by a snake while hacking through brutally dense vegetation we gave it up as a lost cause after 250 meters.
So what did I learn from this:
1. Stay out of the jungle during the wet season.
2. Wear good footwear that protects your feet against things that bite.
3. Carry plenty of water (self evident I think).
4. Stay out of the jungle during the wet season.
#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
@Squarethecircle - Thanks very much, I just hope I can get enough days off work to get up there, otherwise it will be a trek in the LBP area.
@MAC - Well let's not get too much into this. But I will say is I'm not going to try to learn an ethnic minority language (as opposed to Lao) just so I can speak to them for a few days. I'll hire a guide so he can help me communicate with them. Speaking with some locals on the side of the road is not quite the same to hiking up to a mountain village and staying in their houses for the night and only being able to communicate via an interpreter. I'm more in it for the photo ops than any meaningful interactions.
#15 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20
I donb't care much about nature... I'm a people guy.
Of course if you are going to hit villages where Low Land Lao won't get you by as well as it would in a city. But most Lao (that is, people of Laos nationality), do speak Lao to some degree. The literacy rate for Lao language is about 73% (give or take). That includes villages. So within most villages at least some people do speak Lao, with whom you could discourse if you learned basic Lao. Lao is the official educational language.
In Issan where I live, a dialect of Lao is the normal spoken language here. But Thai is the official language and the language in school. It is also the language of that addictive device called TV. So everyone here, even the old ladies with almost no formal education, speak Thai. They don't do it unless they have to. But they can. In Laos the problem is more severe for a host of reasons, but the principal remains the same.
So yes, I guess we could add if you want to go trekking in Laos or spend any time really learning about the culture there, you got to learn the language. This is true of any country you go to. Most people don't want to invest that kind of time, which is why they remain on the superficial level.
#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I don't apperceive how you could go about getting abiding the expedition you're traveling on is traveling to yield you to humans who wish to collaborate with you - actually, in the accurate Hmong apple in LNT arena I went to, the humans my adviser and I were blockage with didn't assume absorbed in talking with me, so I larboard them alone
#17 mariajames has been a member since 29/9/2012. Posts: 57