Trekking in Luang Namtha
So we had no idea Luang Namtha or any town north of Luang Prabang even existed!
As we sat in a tuk-tuk on the Thailand-Laos border, ready to book our slow boat to Luang Prabang (like everybody else), we got speaking to a solo traveler behind us. She told us she was going up North into the mountains to a small jungle town. She then suddenly hopped off the taxi and we franticly started typing out the details on our phone.
That night we abandoned all our previous travel plans and booked a local bus straight to Luang Namtha. If only we could thank that friendly traveler that came into our life for that brief moment and changed our lives forever. Okay slightly dramatic sorry but it really was a once in a lifetime experience!!
Attempting to be responsible in terms of fitness:
The day before our trek, we had a very serious “adult” conversation about whether it was a good idea. A month ago we did a 2 day trek in Myanmar and I (Jen) literally died. I am really not the best hiker and the beautiful views seem to fade when legs start shaking and heads start pounding. “Babe, try and think realistically now – your body is more important than an experience – we must only do things we are actually going to enjoy”, Rudi continued to ensured me. It’s so hard because now when I look back on that Myanmar trek it was one of my favourite memories. I seem to quickly forget my silent mumbles up the hills of “don’t you dare put yourself through this again” and “hiking is the WORST”! I even told myself while walking to write myself a letter knowing that I would forget the bad and only remember the good.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve gathered that I forgot to write that letter! But to be honest – the conversation was more to make us feel responsible – there was no way we weren’t going to do this!
Our 2 day Jungle Trek and Kayak Trip
We were picked up from the main town and taken to the vibrant local market for supplies.
The trek is in the Nam Ha National Protected Area which couldn’t be more LUSH – although it really can be as this was only Dry Season! The entire trek was mainly on a single track trail where you’re constantly dodging banana leaves and ducking under fallen logs. Sometimes there was no trail at all and we just followed the streams. Scenically it was probably the best trek we have ever done!
We stopped at the local Namlue Village on our way. This small wooden town was filled with the biggest smiles and the cutest piglets. Here they believe it terrible luck to kill a “useful animal” such as water buffalo without also killing a pig in its honour – that or they just really love their bacon?
At the top of quite a steep climb we watched in awe as our guide and his local helper set out our lunch on a banana leave table. With our leaf-wrapped sticky rice we dug in to some of the best pork, ratatoli, herbed potatoes and fresh veggies we have ever had!
As the trek continued there were quite a few steep climbs where we occasionally had to get down on all fours – but completely manageable due to the shade bearing trees and plenty of educational breaks. Our local guide, Khong, was able to teach us so much about the trees, herbs and ancient myths of the jungle.
The sun started to drop so we starting looking out for a cosy spot to spend the night. The jungle was very dense at this point so we ended up settling on a rocky bank next to a stream. Khong immediately put us to work and set the Hungarian couple off to collect fire wood and Rudi and I to build the house.
Rudi (coming from the Roofing industry) enjoyed the simple pleasure of cutting down banana leaves and assembling our roof. Khong then blew our minds as he started carving bowls and cups out of bamboo and making origami spoons out of leaves! Our very own Bear Grills!
The blazing fire was the only sound during dinner. Literally no one even took a breathe to start conversation, the food was WAY too good! Khong collected most of the herbs and ingredients during our trek in the jungle and cooked it all in bamboo trays and pots on the fire. Later all the stars, old legends and bad jokes came out, ending off what was an INCREDIBLE day!
We were really proud of our Survivor home that we built from scratch. It was quite spectacular really to cuddle up in sleeping bags under the banana leaves and listen to the stream, birds and crickets softly singing us to sleep! We actually had to pinch ourselves that we were sleeping the the middle of a jungle in Northern Laos. But in the same breath, lets keep it real, sleeping on the muddy rocks with a bone chilling night breeze while wondering whether those gigantic spiders we saw during dinner had decided to join our little sleepover – not exactly a dreamy sleep!
Kayaking in the Nam Ha National Park
Day two lead us out of the jungle and into a kayak where we continued through the National Park for another 6 hours. The entire journey offered lush jungle views on both sides (remember to ask for this as some kayak trips are near the road). The views were stunning and a few small rapids were great fun. But we definitely didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the jungle trek! We would rather recommend the 2 or 3 day trek rather than this combination. Why?
Firstly, you join other trekking groups for the kayaking so it’s much less quiet and secluded. And secondly, they only pack enough kayaks so that there will be 3 people in one. We were pretty unhappy about this because of course we would prefer to just be the two of us and we both love to paddle. If these things don’t bother you then trust me, the paddles occassinsaly hitting you in the face will. The kayaks are definitely made for 2! Sorry to sound unappreciative but we did pay for this and unfortunately felt slightly cheated. But maybe anything would have felt disappointing after our jungle experience the day before?
Watch our quick GoPro Movie to see the highlights from our trip:
Which Trekking Company to Use:
Luang Namtha has one main road filled with trekking companies, restaurants, night markets and a few guesthouses/ backpackers. We felt overwhelmed by the choice. We chatted to almost all of the companies, spoke to returning travellers and read TripAdvisor comments. These are our views:
Forest Retreat (Eco Tourism Specialist): Ranked number 1 on TripAdvisor and seemed to be the best trekking company in Luang Namtha. However their tours are the most expensive and when we were there (end January) they were fully booked. They take bookings via email, therefore booking in advance is recommended when visiting in high season to ensure a quality trip. The price per tour depends on how many people are doing it. The more people the less you pay. Their cost for the 2 day jungle trek ranged from 90 – 120 USD per person. The guide and route you take is really NB so the extra cost is worth it!
The Hiker: Ranked number 2 on TripAdvisor with really good reviews. Forest Retreat actually recommended we go there when they were full. The prices were roughly the same.
Into The Wild: Ranked number 4 on TripAdvisor and the cheapest. We paid 65 dollars per person for the 2 day jungle trek/ kayak. We don’t know if this is the best company but we hit the absolute jackpot getting Guide Khong! He was the reason our trek was so incredible. We started typing out reasons why and then realised we were on our third paragraph – so just trust us, he is! When we went kayaking the second day and met up with the other groups from our company – we weren’t overall impressed with the other guides! So our recommendation would be to get Khong or go with Forest Retreat if he’s not available.
How to get to Luang Namtha:
From Bokeo (Northern Thailand/ Laos border crossing) – Daily bus service which departs at 9:00am or 12:30pm and cost 60 000 Kip per person. The tickets can be purchased at the bus station. However when we arrived at 08:45am the 09:00am bus was fully booked and we had to wait for the 12:30pm bus. It is a local bus service and will take between 5 – 6 hours.
From Luang Prabang – There are various busses leaving each day to Luang Namtha. The price and time varies as it depends which company you use. The best is to ask a travel agent or visit the local Northern bus station in Luang Prabang. The bus journey takes around 8 – 9 hours.
Where to stay in Luang Namtha:
If you looking for a budget option, we recommend you stay at Thoulasith Guesthouse which is situated on the main road. We paid 70 000 Kip per night for a two twin bed room. It had a tv, good WiFi, fan, ensuite bathroom with hot water and comfortable beds. Book directly on Agoda.com or on Booking.com
Do the trek – “there’s no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this“!