Two long bus rides, 3 shorter ones, countless bends and turns, a few Tuk Tuk rides later and we finally made it over the border into Laos. We thought Thai drivers were crazy well they have some tough competition from the drivers of Laos!
On the bus ride we drove past all the villages on the way into Luang Namtha and saw (maybe) two brick houses, the rest were bamboo huts. The difference across one border was crazy. We arrived in Luang Namtha and it was definitely a culture shock compared to Thailand; there was absolutely nothing there. We ate in the one available restaurant and booked our jungle trek tour.
We originally wanted to do one day trekking and one day kayaking but when booking they told us that the two day trek tour already had other people booked in so we went for that one…strength in numbers we thought! Well….turns out that there may have been a slight language barrier as we arrived in the morning and there was in fact only me, Owen, an English speaking guide and a guide from one of the hill tribe villages! Despite being a little gutted we wouldn’t have any friends to share the experience with I guess some people would pay a lot of money for a private jungle tour!
The first day was a 5 hour trek deep into the jungle. I think the most difficult part was not moaning – I had read the itinerary and knew exactly what the tour consisted of but nevertheless it was hard!
Feeling the burn….
We were trekking through quite difficult terrain in full walking gear and the Laos guide ‘Pun’ from one of the villages was managing it in flip flops with twice the load on his back – I do not understand how he did it! He had less mud on his feet than were on our walking boots!
We stopped for lunch which was a whole fish cooked on a stick over a fire and our dinner table was made for us out of bamboo trees and banana leaves. The food was laid out on the leaves and Tom the guide said ‘enjoy’. Oh.. so we just eat with our hands?! Welcome to the jungle…
We arrived at our camp site by the river and I was looking out for the ‘bamboo hut’ that we were staying in as we had read about this in the itinerary. Pun came over with a bunch of bamboo sticks, banana leaves and palm leaves and popped them on the floor in-front of us…turns out the itinerary was missing one crucial piece of information…we were making the bamboo hut ourselves!
We managed to make the hut and then prayed that it would stay up for the evening!
As it got darker we had dinner (on a bamboo leaf plate) and got to try some famous Lao Lao whiskey which we drank out of a ‘jungle made’ bamboo shot glass. We did wonder if the guides bring this just to help people sleep!
As we were chatting around the fire we suddenly heard gun shots coming from deeper in the jungle – instantly I panicked. “Erm what is that noise?”.
“Oh don’t worry it’s just the hill tribes hunting, they usually hunt at night”. I am not sure I want the answer to this but here it goes…”Do they know we are here?”
“No”…Yep, I knew it I should not have asked!
So there are villagers hunting with guns in the middle of the night and they have no idea we are camping nearby…someone pass me the whiskey!
Camping as a girl guide must have prepared me or the whiskey I drank knocked me out, either wayI slept like a baby on my two banana leaves! We had survived sleeping in the jungle! I did cheat a little, I slept with a beanie hat over my whole face so nothing could crawl in my ears or in my hair! You can take the girl out of the city….
I definitely should not complain as we had sleeping bags and a mosquito net. Our two guides had no net or blankets! We did discuss asking if they wanted to get in our net but we weren’t sure about what was considered polite/weird in Laos!
We were having breakfast and Owen asked if I had heard the noise last night; I did hear something but I did not leave my beanie fortress as I figured out of sight out of mind! Apparently two people with flash lights, holding what looked like some kind of weapon walked through our camp, shined their lights on us and then carried on walking. Well I am definitely glad I didn’t open my eyes! I don’t care what Owen says in that moment he definitely s**t himself!
We had breakfast and a coffee in our new bamboo mugs and then ventured out for another day of trekking. The food we had on this trip was actually amazing, some of the best meals we have had since being in Asia! Our guide made a stew from ingredients he plucked straight out of the river next to camp and everything was cooked on the fire in a bamboo stick.
The second day trekking was NOT easy! We already had tired legs from the day before so the up hill portions of the day were an absolute killer! We must have walked up the steepest hill in Laos for what felt like 8 hours. If we had not been to the gym before we left the UK I genuinely don’t think I would have got to the top. We stopped for a water break and Owen said to me he was finding it difficult. Finding it difficult?! He’s done sport his whole life and is in shape – there was no hope for me…I’m not quite sure how but we finally made it to the top of the mountain! That was the good part, the bad part was we had to now go down the other side. Luckily we managed to make it down with no tumbles although I was banned from walking behind Owen as he was panicking I was going to fall down a mountain while he couldn’t see. I’m pretty sure he (and the rest of Laos) would have heard me if that had happened! On the way down we visited two hill tribe villages and got to meet the villages and see their way of life.
We made it down to the bottom and our guide Tom told us that we were earlier than usual and for that particular trek we were the fastest group he had trekked with. He informed us that during the up hill trek usually the group has to stop every five minutes….is he kidding me; if I had known that beforehand I would have done the same!
Booking the night bus the same evening we returned was a good idea in theory but we hadn’t thought about the fact we would have no-where to get ready! We managed to find somewhere to let us shower and prepared ourselves for the 10 hour journey ahead!
Next stop Luang Prabang…