One of the main reasons that people come to this part of the world is to trek into the highlands where remote villages exist as they have for hundreds of years.
A far cry from other parts of Laos and Thailand, Muang Long is genuinely off the beaten track, with only a handful of foreigners making it into town every year. This remote and rugged district has incredible ethnic diversity and a wide selection of villages to visit, and you may well be the only foreigner to visit a particular village during that year. The Akha are the most populous group, but you will also find other ethnicities including the Lanten, Hmong, Lahu, Tai Lue and Tai Daeng.
There are two main ways to trek.
You can try do-it-yourself exploration, following the river and walking through villages situated along the Nam Long in either direction. You can also cycle or motorbike visiting villages along Route 17B. These trips would be visually stunning but you’d have difficulty interacting and understanding. Each group is unique and hiring a guide will no doubt be more rewarding and informative, and it should ensure you don't make any cultural faux pas. There are differences in what ethnic groups wear, how they build their homes, what they worship, what they eat and what they grow. The Akha are very recognisable – the women wear elaborate headdresses full of silver coins – but they are perhaps the most complicated to understand with a strict ethical code and animist religion that dictates their way of life.
To organise a guided trek head to the tourist office, about 300 metres along the main road towards Xieng Kok from the market. Ask for English and Akha speaking guide Tui Chiddala or try contacting him in advance T: (020) 5588 56 55 / email@example.com. He can arrange for treks into the highlands to remote mountain villages rarely visited by foreigners. There are some stunning vistas to be photographed, and staying overnight in the village will give you first-hand experience of a group’s daily life. And remember, a portion of your money goes to the villages.
Treks can range anywhere from five hours to five days. Cost depends on the number of people, distances and transport but in general, you can count on $50-80 per person per day. The price includes a guide, food, trekking permit and if needed, a local guide from the village who is familiar with the trails. Doing a multi-day trek so you can do a homestay is well worth the extra expense. This is the real deal and not a tourist trap.
If you do choose to go at it alone: stick to the major roads and pathways, and don’t strike off on jungle and mountain trails alone.
By Cindy Fan.