Saturday, 12 September 2015

Luang Namtha

The last place we were to visit in Laos was Luang Namtha, a small town close to the Chinese border. We came here to break the long journey into Thailand up, and also to experience some of rural Laotian way of life.
On our first day we hired some bicycles and set off on a 25km route that would take us around the perimeter of the town. On the way we cycled through tiny villages comprised of bamboo huts found down dusty pot-holed roads, past innumerable rice terraces with tall green shoots growing under the sun, and all with the backdrop of the towering mountains surrounding the area. Along the way we also stopped off at some religious stupas, or small temples, which even in their simplicity were interesting to see. We got back to the hotel a little sunburnt and with aching muscles but happy with our adventures of the day. 
We had arranged to do a trek the following day so at 7.30am the next morning we were in a tuk-tuk en route to the starting point, a village home to the ethnic Lanten people. This is a small riverside village which we walked around and learnt about the traditional lifestyle of the native people, including their animistic beliefs which explained the farmyard style set up with pigs, cows, goats, dogs and chickens all running around, each of whom are used to appease the animal spirits that they believe in. 
From here we nipped across the river in long wooden boats to begin the walk through the Namha National Park. The first part of the climb was practically vertical and challengingly slippery after a night of constant rain. After it levelled out a little we could take in our surroundings of dense forest, mainly consisting of clusters of huge bamboo trees. In the rain, many had fallen across our path so we really had to be on guard watching our footing. During the walk we learnt about certain plants and their uses, how to set traps and ate some weird and wonderful things including red ants which are actually quite nice and sweet - providing you bite them before they bite you! After a few hours we stopped for a typical Laos lunch of sticky rice and noodle dishes. All this was served on leaves on the forest floor which we sat around shovelling the food into our mouths with dirty fingers, being bitten constantly by mosquitos and sharing our plates with ants intent on stealing the food. At first I was a little hesitant as the set up was so far removed from what we're used to at home but the food was tasty and enjoyable (if you try not to think about health and hygiene!). 
We continued to walk for a few more hours before coming to a farm with rice terraces and corn crops. The water for the rice is siphoned off from the river and flows through the cultivated tiered terraces keeping the crop under an inch or so of water at all times. From here we went back across the river in the dubious looking wooden boats and we're back on the way to Luang Namtha, desperately in need of a shower but happy with our day of exploring and learning. The town of Luang Namtha doesn't have much to offer but the surrounding areas are definitely worth a visit if you want to get off the well-travelled tourist trail for a while.