Nam Tha NPA Trekking

Louang Namtha Travel Blog

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Ban Chamelsouk

Only opened to tourism in the last few years, the Nam Ha National Protected area covers 2,224 square km and includes many different ethnic hilltribes. The Nam Ha Ecotourism Project is a government-run initiative that allows trekking and rafting in the NP area with the intention of benefitting the villages and people within the area. It was to be my first taste of trekking in Laos.

I met up with the wonderfully cosmopolitan group demographic in the morning: two Belgian girls, a Scottish family of three and a couple from Barcelona - who I could add to the list of French and Russian-speaking people who say they can't understand me due to my thick accent?! In fact, I almost found it insulting that they could understand the Scots over me - surely that's not right?! Mind you, they seemed to be far more educated than any Scots I've ever met or knew could exist.

"Do you wanna paw in your face? Then get out!"
I didn't exactly endear myself to the Scots by dropping a big lump of chicken in the vegetable soup of in front of the vegetarian mum, but then they didn't exactly endear themselves to me by coming out with comments like, "I think blogs are a waste of time," and, "I can't see why anyone can like football." Clowns without make-up.

The trekking itself over the couple of days was good. Unsurprisingly, the surroundings were not too dissimilar to trekking I have done elsewhere in Southeast Asia and although nowhere near as challenging as trekking up Mount Fansipan, I was still pretty worn out by the end of; especially after the second day, when we didn't stop walking till around 7:00, when it was getting dark. Our two guides were good fun, eventhough the amount of breaks we were having did grate on me a little towards the end of day two.

"You didn't see me, right?"

Where this trekking really excelled over the other trekking I had done in Southeast Asia (maybe excluding Sapa in Vietnam) was with the villages themselves, which proved to be the absolute highlight. Tourism is obviously a new and very welcome thing to the hilltribes in northern Laos, especially seen as the villages have only recently allowed tourists to come and see how they live within the last few years. Chang Mai in Thailand it felt as if we were the billionth or more set of people to arrive as we stood almost unnoticed while the villagers went about their lives. Not so here, however; not for a while, at least.

On arrival at Ban Nalan village, we were welcomed into the school where we could see the limited facilities available to the kids.

"And this is me in Skeggy" "It looks absolutely rubbish"
The Scottish guys had the ingenious idea of taking some photographs of Edinburgh, their home town, to show the kids, who passed them round intentively. That night we even had a slap-up meal with the chief of the Khmu tribe who gave us a Q&A session about life as chief of the village. He told us he had been chief of the village for 21 years, having been elected chief when he was 24 and surviving elections every third year to remain in power. He told us that nearly every family had five children, that there was no doctor in the village and any medical assistance required the sufferer to be carried 20km to Luang Nam Tha town. He said that he welcomed the tourists who had started to visit his village and told us how the government had approached him and the rest of the villagers as to whether they would allow such a thing to happen.
Our feast
With our guide translating, our group took it in turns to tell him what we all did back in our home countries. I tried to skip telling him I had been a television subtitler - seen as the idea of television would be relatively new to him in itself, let alone subtitles. Instead, I talked of university, English weather and, of course, football. We all passed round some Lao whisky (called Lao Lao). Criminally strong, it's usually about 70+% alcohol. How I needed that on a student night to replace the throat-burning three litres of cider.

Heading off the next morning, if you were to believe the propaganda it was supposed to be the day when I would be reunited with an old nemesis: the leech. Our main guide even dubbed it, "The War Of The Leeches". Somehow the sequel to our showdown in Thailand never materialised.

Woman and child
The blockbuster will have to wait; I think I only saw about four in the whole of the two days we spent trekking. It might have been something to do with the magical cocktail of nicotine, soap and lemon juice that the guides told us to douse our shoes and socks with. I doubt it.

The best part of the trek was the ascent up a stream in some wonderful old forest of up to five hundred years old. Once up to the top, we climbed round a mountain face before heading down, down, down into another village. Here we were given a hand-made bag bearing markings specific to the hilltribe, before heading off to be picked up by our tuk-tuk. We had had to drink boiled water from the village we stayed overnight which was brown in colour, had little bits of dirt floating around in it and tasted of smoke. I had avoided drinking it as much I could, but by this point I was gagging for some water that didn't make me want to wretch and was looking forward to a relaxing shower back in Luang Nam Tha.

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Ban Chamelsouk
Ban Chamelsouk
Do you wanna paw in your face? Th…
"Do you wanna paw in your face? T…
You didnt see me, right?
"You didn't see me, right?"
And this is me in Skeggy
It lo…
"And this is me in Skeggy" "It l…
Our feast
Our feast
Woman and child
Woman and child
Ban Halan lady (waiting for her si…
Ban Halan lady (waiting for her s…
Spirit house
Spirit house
In the forest
In the forest
Lao Pampers advert
Lao Pampers advert
Head massage, 30,000 kip
Head massage, 30,000 kip
Back of the class, you
Back of the class, you
The photos are warmly received
The photos are warmly received
See the one you recognise, miss?
"See the one you recognise, miss?"
Ban Nalan kataw
Ban Nalan kataw
Time to get up you.
OK, in a m…
"Time to get up you." "OK, in a …
What are you doing? Youre not si…
"What are you doing? You're not s…
She on one again?
Yeah, every …
"She on one again?" "Yeah, every…
Louang Namtha
photo by: edsander