Luang Namtha is the gateway for wonderful treks to hill tribe villages and dramatic rice-bowl valleys surrounded by mountainous vistas from every periphery!
Where is Luang Namtha?
Rural Luang Namtha is the northernmost town in Laos and almost kisses the border with China.
Luang Namtha is fast becoming the trekking mecca for this stunning region in Laos. Check my post on Lazing in Luang Namtha for where to eat and sleep.
Organising a trek
Booking the trek to the not-so-traversed Lahu Hill Tribe Village through the Zuela Guest House in Luang Namtha (Namtha), the excitement builds.
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, the trek included four people (the more people on a tour the cheaper the price) for the duration of the tour but two people pulled out. Luckily, the tour company’s owner still honoured the four-person price (200,000K each in August 2014) even though only two of us are going. The other two people did lose their deposit.
At around 1,300 metres high, the Lahu Village trek is rated medium to hard. This will be an interesting trek as we’re in August, which is the wet season but also when the wet season reaches its peak.
Day 1 – Lahu Hill Tribe Village Trek
Anticipation grows as the trek to the Lahu Village starts at 9:30 in the morning. A Songthaew – adapted pick-up (or larger) truck used as shared transport in Laos – takes us for a quick visit to the local market to equip ourselves with food for the 2-day, 1-night trek.
The experience at the market is much more fascinating with our trekking guide (Kong) than I imagine if doing this on our own. As a local to Luang Namtha, Kong explains any questions you have about the authentic exotic food on offer in any of the stalls.
The Songthaew then drives for about an hour southeast of Luang Namtha to the tiny village of Ban Sing, which is the start of the trek. From here, another 2 porters join the trekking team – one of which only stays with us until lunch, then walked back down the mountain in his flip-flops, of course.
A quick split of all the supplies between the guide and porters, and we are off on our trek through some of the most amazingly fluorescent green rice fields draped by imposingly high stunning mountains. This steadily becomes a steep climb that never seems to get any easier or shorter…and forces one to ponder that we are definitely out of condition! Remember, the Lahu Village sits 1,300 metres high, so this was never going to be an easy trek…
The guide and porters are amazing as they don’t even break into a sweat, while my clothes are ringing wet!
The impossibly high rice fields ascend all the way up the mountain revealing small thatched huts dotted sporadically here and there on the ascent. Naively thinking that these are where the workers live or stay overnight when working the fields at this height, Kong advises otherwise. Workers trek up the 1,300 metres each day, then back down to their homes in the village for the evening. These small huts are only for lunch breaks or rest spots, during the hottest part of the day.
Finally, arrive at the Lahu Village at around 14:30 Hrs and the view from the top is nothing short of magnificent!
Surrounded by even higher mountains, the transitional panoramic vista is both humbling and awe-inspiring, but then again nature is, isn’t it?
The site on which the village sits is quite dusty, even though it is the wet season. The sparse area is cleared of trees and grass.
There is no running water, no electricity, no school, no hospital, no shop, and not much food. The village is very isolated, basic, and rustic. Although, the huts do have small solar panels for night power, which makes me think this puts Australia to shame as such an isolated village can use solar but the Australian government is not serious about renewables.
A little background on the Lahu Village
The Lahu people are one of China’s and mainland Southeast Asia’s ethnic groups, with China officially recognising 56 ethnic groups.
This Lahu Tribe village was moved here by the Laotian government some sixteen years ago. Currently, in 2014, only 114 people live here in 16 thatched huts graced with dirt floors.
The children don’t go to school. Rice is still painfully pounded manually. Typically, the women of the village use the archaic method to pound the sun-dried rice with a huge heavy piece of solid wood shaped smooth and worn by time, onto a stone pedestal. This cracks the hull of the rice. Women seem to do all the work in this village.
This village is like stepping back in time more than 100 years and while here, you need to remind yourself what century you’re in…
There are a lot of babies, children, piglets, puppies, kittens, roosters, and chicks running around – everything here seems to be breeding. The internet and TV are non-existent in the village so what is a local to do?
As foreigners and as anticipated, we are the novelty in the village, especially with the inquisitive children. Maybe as promised, this village didn’t see too many foreigners back in 2014 – I’m sure this has changed.
Where to sleep and eat
The “Lodge” so aptly named by Kong and purposely built for tourists, is rustic at best.
The thatched hut is one large room that sleeps up to ten people, typically, eight tourists and two guides, although it is home for only four of us on this trek. The hut includes a table that doubles for food preparation, a dining table, and an elevated hard rattan bed area.
Cooking over an open fire is done on the dirt floor inside the hut, so it gets a little smoky and smelly. Food preparation is also on banana leaves on the bamboo raised area that later doubles as the sleeping quarters.
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 cost!
A squat toilet was built close by in a side hut but this hasn’t seen a scrubbing brush or cleaner in many years. So, nature is your only choice. Oh and beware of the marauding pigs as nothing goes to waste and you may get a fright at night when nature calls!
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.
Starting to feel guilty because everyone in the village is very sinewy and visitors to The Lodge ogle at our food as though nothing nutritious touched their bellies in a while. Had I known, I would have insisted on buying extras at the market for the villagers, which would have meant a harder trek up the mountain with the extra supplies, but anything to help.
Apart from the pre-prepared lunch on the first day, all the vegetarian food is cooked by Kong and our porter. Every meal is simply delicious and it’s quite amazing considering where we are and how food is being prepared.
Both guys are excellent cooks and busily work with a sense of humour! Kong speaks English very well but the porter only knows several words and I really can’t remember how he spells his name…not great, I know. The porter is super keen to learn English and also wants to transition from a porter to a guide so he can earn better money.
Tonight we’re invited to a drinking session at one of the huts to celebrate the foreigners buying a chicken from the village. Check Part 2 for more on the Lahu Tribe Village and the continuation of the descent of the mountain on Day 2 of the trek back to Luang Namtha.