Luang Namtha is the gateway for wonderful treks to hill tribe villages and spectacular rice-bowl valleys surrounded by mountainous vistas from every periphery!
Booked the trek up to the Lahu Village, which sits at about 1,300 metres high, through the Zuela Guest House in Luang Namtha (Namtha).
The actual company at Zuela is the Nature Life Tour and think the owner is related to the guest house somehow. The trek lasts for two days, with an overnight stay in the village.
On booking, there was supposed to be four on the tour but two people pulled out (the more people on a tour, the cheaper the price). Luckily, the tour company’s owner still honoured the four-person price (200,000K each) for only two of us, but the other two people lost their deposit.
Lahu Village Trek
The tour starts at 9:30 Hrs with a visit to the local market for the trek’s food.
I found this trip to the market much more fascinating with our guide (Kong) than doing this on our own, as he explains any questions you have about the local food offered in any stalls.
The Songthaew then drives for about an hour (South-east) to Ban Sing village, which is the start of the trek. From here, we pick up 2 porters, one of which only stayed with us until lunch, then walked back down the mountain.
A quick split of all the supplies between the guide and porters, and we are off on our trek through some fluorescent green rice fields draped by high mountains. This steadily becomes a steep climb that never seems to get any easier or shorter…we are definitely out of condition! Remember the village is 1,300 metres up, so it was never going to be an easy trek…
The guide and porters are amazing – they don’t even break into a sweat, although my clothes are ringing wet!
The impossibly high rice fields ascend all the way up the mountain and small thatched huts are dotted around. Naively thinking that these are where the workers live or stay overnight when working the fields at this height, Kong advised otherwise. Workers trek up the 1,300 metres each day, then back down to their homes in the village for the evening. The small huts are only for lunch breaks or rest spots, during the hottest part of the day.
We finally arrive at the Lahu Village at about 14:30 Hrs and the view from the top is nothing short of spectacular!
Surrounded by even higher mountains, the ever-changing panoramic vista is awe-inspiring.
The village site is quite dusty, even though it is the wet season and cleared of trees and grass.
There isn’t any running water, no electricity, no school, no hospital, no shop, or much food. The village is very isolated and basic. Although, the huts do have small solar panels for night power (puts Australia to shame!).
The village was moved here by the government some 16 years’ ago. About 114 people live here in 16 thatched huts with dirt floors.
The children don’t go to school. Rice is still pounded manually. Typically, the women of the village pound the rice using a huge heavy piece of solid wood onto a stone pedestal. This village is like stepping back in time 100 years or more.
There are a lot of babies, children, piglets, puppies, kittens, roosters, and chicks running around – everything here seems to be breeding.
As suspected, we are the novelty in the village.
The “Lodge” so aptly named by Kong and purposely built for tourists, is ‘rustic’ to say the least.
The thatched hut is one large room that sleeps up to ten people: eight tourists and two guides. The hut includes a table that doubles for food preparation, a dining table, and elevated hard rattan bed area.
Cooking over a fire is done on the dirt floor inside the hut, so it gets a little smoky. Food preparation is also on banana leaves on the bamboo raised area that doubles later as the sleeping area.
Bedding and mosquito nets are provided but as there are loads of animals roaming in and out of this hut including cats, the bedding comes with fleas, at no extra charge!
A squat toilet was built-in a side hut close by but this hasn’t seen a scrubbing-brush or cleaner in years. So, nature is your only choice…oh, and beware of the pigs, nothing goes to waste!
During our stay, many locals visited our hut, mainly looking at what the guides had brought with them and whether any scraps of food such as oil, garlic, or leftovers could be scrounged. So very sad.
I started to feel very guilty as everyone in the village is very sinewy. Had I known, I would have insisted on buying extras at the market for the village, which would have meant a harder trek up the mountain with the extra supplies but anything to help.
Apart from lunch on the first day, vegetarian food is cooked by Kong and our porter, every meal is delicious.
Both guys are excellent cooks, and work with a sense of humour! Kong speaks English very well but the porter couldn’t and I can’t remember how he spells his name…not good; he is super keen to learn and also wanted to become a guide as he can earn better money.
Lahu Village Drinking session
Tonight, there is a celebration on in one of the huts.
Kong said it is because the village had sold us a chicken to eat – weird as we never ate any chicken whilst at the village. Anyway, the locals bought some Lao Lao (whisky) from the town below and we are invited.
Feeling a little awkward, on entering the dimly lit ‘party’ hut, swirls of heavy smoke filled the air.
The men sat on tiny foot stools around a short table, drinking shots and eating.
Offered some food from the middle of the table, which is very kind but as we’d just eaten, we declined – something I don’t like doing in fear of offending the hospitality.
In the background, local music is playing whilst one of the villagers offered us Lao whisky. This tasted awful but we drank it smiling anyway, as not to appear rude.
A few guys were sprawled out on a bed and looked out of it, but not from alcohol.
The women sit together in one corner of the hut not participating, but watching everything as is the village Elder. It seems that the women’s job is to replenish the men’s table with sticky rice and soup, when required.
Only staying for about an hour as we wanted the villagers to enjoy the spoils on their own – slim pickings really – we left for The Lodge. Such a bizarre and surreal experience but it is very kind of the villagers to invite us and to share their scarce food and alcohol.
I still can’t believe someone trekked down the mountain and back for a five-litre bottle of alcohol only – Kong advised that food wasn’t purchased.
We learnt from Kong that if it rains here, the villagers just sit indoors not venturing out much to forage for food, or anything else until the rain stops. There’s a supply of rice pounded and kept in the huts so locals don’t need to trek up and down the mountain daily – I’m sure I would go crazy!
The torrential rain throughout the night (it is the wet season) didn’t clear by the following morning or in time for the trek down after breakfast. During the wet night, the hut did leak but not too much.
The trek back down the mountain seems harder.
Perhaps this is aided by the fact that every step you take ended in either ankle-deep mud or helping to slide down the track even further – everything is very slippery.
As it is raining so much, Kong decided to take another route but it seems that this is less traversed. So, we walk through thick undergrowth where the occasional hacking with machetes is required, or thorn-like branches catch and tear a part of your body or limb – nasty.
After about 3 hours, we arrive at Bang Tapong for a well-earned stop and a lovely lunch of sticky rice, garlic stir-fried broccoli, and stir fried Morning Glory with ginger. Kong and our porter prepared everything at breakfast time, then carried it all down the mountain. Rice was purchased from locals in this village – these guides are amazing and so well-organised.
After lunch, Kong took us around the village and explained what the locals were working on.
A very different mentality to the Lahu Village at the top of the mountain where if it rained, the locals stay indoors until the rain stops. The Lahu locals don’t even venture out looking for or collecting food, and would rather just kill a chicken and stay indoors.
Tapong is a much larger village, which also has a Primary school but the locals are actually busy working, whether it is weaving, blacksmithing, or otherwise. Although, Kong advised that the government assists this village, it can’t assist the Lahu village as it is too high up on the mountain, so the villagers of Lahu are completely on their own. A weird set up.
Back to Luang Namtha
The Songthaew collected us for the cold and wet ride back to Namtha, but not before we did a loop around the rice fields to absorb the breath-taking scenery…what a fantastic experience and well worth the price!
As it is the wet season and pretty much had torrential rain whilst trekking, I think the two days is definitely enough and lucky we brought along our super warm sleeping bags (no fleas in these either).
A longer trek would be better in the dry season. Depending on the available tour, I believe you trek to more villages or further into the jungle during the dry season.