Posted: under Laos.
Our trek into Nam Tha National Protected Area began at 9am. I got up at 8 and had breakfast with Marco (Spain) and Jenny (US) at Zuela Guesthouse/restuarant. We met again at the Green Discoveries office. We found that Jerome (France) had joined our group last night, so we got some of our $ refunded. I got along great with everybody and was looking forward to the trek. It was a gloomy and cloudy day but at least it wasn’t raining. We first had to take a tuk tuk about 30 minutes out of town to a small village that was our starting point. At the village we picked up two villagers that would help carry and prepare our food for the first day.
We branched off the main road and followed a skinny but well maintained tral along the river. Then the trail climbed and climbed and climbed! It seemed like the first day was mostly uphill but it wasn’t that difficult. I actually prefer going mostly uphill as to downhill. Sure, downhill is easier and you’re not sweating but it’s much harder on my knees and my legs sometimes get shaky after extended descents, so I didn’t mind the uphill. We stopped for lunch beside a river. Lunch consisted of a big ball of sticky rice and a cauliflower/mushroom mix and another meat mixutre with sides of a really spicy dish. It was all a free for all, I would pick up the rice with my hand and then the other food with my chopsticks and try to combine them at the same time in my mouth. It was all very good and filling.
Our first day was easy as we only trekked 6km and got to our camp for the night at 2.45. The jungle camp consisted of a communal sleeping hut raised off the ground and a small cooking hut all set on a high ridge surrounded by forest. It was a really nice spot and a stream was only a 5 minute walk downhill. I got settled in and then we all went down to the stream. I walked upstream for some privacy and bathed quickly. The water was only about 15C. I brought a book with me so I read for a while after that. Dinner was again sticky rice, veggies and meat but a different variation and really good too. There was always enough food to fill up. We had cardomum tea that was picked fresh along the way. After dinner, our guide, 24 year old Pet, produced a bottle of Laolao, the national drink of Laos after Beerlao. It’s strong stuff usually made from rice or maize. We each did a shot but that was about all I wanted.
That evening the two villagers took Jerome and Marco to catch frogs to eat for breakfast, along the stream. I wasn’t into this but they let me walk alone in the forest for a nightwalk. The forest here is home to many animals, tiger, gibbons, deer, pangolin, slow loris, monkeys, wild pig,etc. Though we didn’t see or hear anything on our trek, I hoped I might have some luck with some nocturnal creatures. The pangolin and slow loris are two nocturnal animals that are at the top of my nocturnal mammal wishlist. I looked hard and slow but only saw a giant grasshopper, almost 15cm long. I think I scared a few sleeping birds too as I heard some commotion but never saw any eyeshine.
I hung out at the dinner table for a while watching the stars. I saw an amazing shooting star, one of the best I’ve ever seen. It lasted almost 2-3 seconds. I saw it penetrate our atmosphere and then disintegrate into a fantastic burst of red, yellow and orange and finally disappear. It was really something special. I saw another later but this was like most shooting stars that only last a fraction of a second and then are gone. Everyone was in bed by 9am! We slept on a hard, thin mattress with a mosquito net and two blankets. The entire forest was a in a thick mist and the temperature was about 14C but the humidity was 90%!
When I woke up early in the morning I could hear the guides and porters talking and thought they would be waking us up anytime but I would sleep until they did. I woke up again later on my own and checked the time. It was 8.15. I was surprised and thankful that they let us sleep in. Most treks, you’re up at six or seven and then on your way an hour later. This was different and I liked it. I got up naturally, had a three in one coffee and waited for breakfast. The forest was still very misty. Breakfast was a big clump of sticky rice, an omelette and pumpkin soup, all very good and filling. I was ready to trek. We packed up and left at 10.
Today was our longest day but it the 11km we had to trek was supposed to be mostly on flat ground. The trekking was easy but the mist obscured some of the viewpoints along the way but it never rained. We all got to walk at our own pace and we rested about once an hour. There were many snacks of oranges, sour apples, apples and cookies and oreos provided by our guide and porters but also from within our group. I was never hungry or thirsty. They provided bottled water and boiled water but I brought my water purifier. I don’t like the burnt taste of boiled water and this way I could have fresh water whenever I wanted when we crossed a river. I was only carrying my small day pack with a change of clothes, camera, binoculars, book, portable weather station, towel and some personal stuff. It was really easy to trek with just this.
We stopped for lunch on the trail and Pet cut a bunch of banana leaves as a makeshift placemat and table. Lunch was again another variation of meat and veggies with sticky rice. We had also been eating a lot of Rattan, collected along the way. Rattan is a thorny vine/shrub type palm that is prized for furniture and basket making. I’ve seen it before a lot in Borneo but never knew that the inside of the fresh stems could be eaten. The taste and texture was like bamboo, I liked it. Sometimes they even roasted it. Our second night was spent at another jungle bungalow, except this one was more in the open. It was in the site of an relocated village. The government sternly enforced the village to move out of the middle of the NPA to near the road about 3 years ago. The only signs left of the village were some massive and very dead 4×4′s that we burned.
Pet told us there was a large waterfall nearby that we could bath under. We all got ready and were really looking forward to a good washing. We looked up a pitiful and vegetation choked stream for the waterfall but couldn’t find it. Turns out Pet was just bullshitting us! I didn’t find this funny though. The ‘waterfall’ was only about 30cm high. I still got naked though when everyone left and used a scoop to take a ‘bucket’ type shower. I read again after my shower. I was so full from lunch that I wasn’t that hungry when dinner was ready around 5.30. It was another delicious feast. The Laolao came out again after dinner but I only had one shot.We sat around a fire for a while before crashing at around 9. The sky was clear above us but the half full moon was too bright for any amazing stars.
Our last day was supposed to be the hardest, a lot of up and down but that still didn’t mean we had to get up early. I woke up around 7.30 and had a coffee. Breakfast was an egg/rice mixture with veggies and pumpkin soup. We were all full and ready for our trek. It was a lot of long ascents and descents but not too hard and we took regular rests. A local from a nearby village helped fetch water and prepare the food. He and his four year old son also helped set up and take down our beds and nets. The trekking got easier after a few hours. Most of the way, the four year old boy was leading the entire group, and barefoot at that! I must admit he kept up a good pace and knew the way and never complained. This was one tough kid.
Around 2pm we reached our finishing point in a small village. We had lunch here near the river. It was another giant feast with fresh forest made chopsticks from bamboo. The villages were used to tourists and ready for us. Little kids tried to sell us homemade bracelots and jewellery. We took a waiting tuk tuk back to Luang Nam Tha and our trek ended around 3pm. We all went our own ways but agreed to meet for dinner at 7.
Though I enjoyed the trek and being out in the forest, I was a little disappointed with the wildlife. I thought I would maybe have a hint of seeing or hearing an animal but nothing. We only saw some fresh tracks of a wild pig our last morning. After doing the trek I realized that we weren’t deep enough in the forest to see anything. All along the way we saw tiny encampments,some old, some new, used by the villagers while they are in the forest collected bamboo, rattan or other forest products. It’s illegal to hunt in the protected area but I’m sure it probably still happens and I think all the wildlife has learned to avoid any areas near humans. I hope to see more in Laos’s other protected areas.
We all met up for dinner and went to Yamuna Indian restuarant at my suggestion. Jenny gathered up the few people there that were eating alone and our group was eight people. It was a fun Christmas Eve night of drinking and merryment. Marco is a showman and a bit of a magician. He does some cool tricks that the village kids love. I must admit, I didn’t even know how he did some of his tricks. Some of our group left today but the rest of us are doing our own things during the day but will meet up for Christmas dinner. My Christmas gift to myself is a herbal sauna and massage that I will take later today. Tomorrow I head to Luang Prabang.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
Comments (1) Dec 24 2009