Trekking in Phongsali

Trekking in Phongsali

Very remote

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Mountainous, remote and rich with ethnic diversity, Phongsali is Laos’ premier spot for authentic hill tribe trekking.

Travelfish says:
Above the dam. Photo by: Cindy Fan.
Above the dam. Photo: Cindy Fan

Almost everyone disembarks the bus at Hat Sa except for us. Locals and backpackers untangle themselves from layers of limbs, bottoms and bags wedged together, tumbling out one by one. The masses will be hopping on the public boat to travel down the Nam Ou but we remain in the bus with our guide from Amazing Lao Travel, along with an Akha woman. Though she’s wrapped a protective cloth around her heavy headdress, peeking out along the forehead is a row of shiny coins.

It feels strange having plenty of room on a local bus and to be going against the flow. The bus rumbles along the banks for a few kilometres until Dam 6, then drives across the grotesque concrete and steel structure, depositing us at a boat landing on the other side. The final leg is a 30-minute boat trip north. All up it’s a considerable effort just to reach the start of our “Akha Noukouy Trek”, an all day hike to reach three isolated Akha villages on the ridgetop 1,200 metres high. For us it’s a one-time journey up the mountainside but this is the reality for these villages: limited road access, the river their only connection to the outside world.

Up up up (the road we walked on is below us, to the left). Photo by: Cindy Fan.
Up up up (the road we walked on is below us, to the left). Photo: Cindy Fan

Phongsali has 15 official ethnic groups, though the many subgroups push the number to over 40. Groups include the Hor, Phunoi, Hmong, Khmu, Yao, Tai Lue and Lolo. Perhaps the most famous and fascinating of all are the Akha, the women in traditional costume heavily featured in photographs promoting the region. The majority of treks offered in Phongsali are centred on ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,800 words.)

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Reviewed by

Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.

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