Waking early Mark left Chrissie asleep to explore the town. We had been told that the market was worth a visit but you had to go between 6 and 7 to see it at its best, so this was the first stop. Arriving just after 7 the market was still bustling with life selling all kinds of food. Picking up a bit of fruit he went back into town to check out what treks were on offer. Muang Sing is known for Eco Trekking. This means that all of the trekking is regulated through one governed organization, anyone else offering treks in the area are illegal. This allows them to monitor and limit the number of tourists visiting or staying at minority villages; it limits the number of people per group: it also means that all groups receive permission from the villages prior to leaving and with direct financial benefits going to the villages from the project.
It all sounded amazing so we booked on a 2 day one night trek staying in a remote village. We had 30 mins to pack before we were off.
However - things were not to turn out quite as
Leaving our bags at the office and being given our water rations for the trip we met the other two people on the tour, Simon and Sarah, and boarded our tuctuc for the first section of the trip to the first of 6 villages we would visit.
About 30 seconds down the road our guide, Ohn, stopped the tuc and ran back to the office. He had forgotten our lunch. Back on the dirt path we forded a river and pulled up at the village of the Hmong tribe. Ohn lead us through the village to a local house where we were invited inside by a fantastic old man in shorts and wellies, smoking the longest pipe we had ever seen and accompanied by some very shy children.
Ohn was not very forthcoming with information so we asked him about the village and the people whereupon we got short and not particularly informative answers. Ohn then left the house leaving us in a bit of an awkward silence trying to communicate with our Hmong host using hand gestures. On his return Mark asked Ohn if he could get our note book in which we had a
few phrase Laos phrases we'd been trying to learn so we could attempt some communication (it also gave Mark the opportunity to have a word with Ohn to tell him politely that this was not acceptable and he was here to both let us know about the village and help communicate with the local people - it didn’t really seem to sink in).
Back at the house we tried to swap names with our host after which things were a little more comfortable. On walking out of the village we gathered an inquisitive group of children before once again boarding the tuctuc to go toward the second village. We were ready to turn straight back to town and get our money back - but time and reason said that we should give the trip a bit more of a chance. Halfway along the road to the village the rain had damaged the route so badly that we had to leave the tuctuc and start walking. It was nice to stretch our legs but this meant no going back.
The second village was an Akha tribe village where we again had to interrogate our guide for any morsel of
information before it was divulged. As most of the adults were in the fields tending the crops, the village was predominantly children who in this case wanted anything we could give them. It was quite difficult and again another awkward situation we had been put in where Ohn had done nothing to defuse the situation.
Time for another word with Ohn. This time Mark made sure he got the message - yet there was still a slightly vacant look on his face. We hoped it would at least help.
We walked through the rest of the village and saw their New Year swing where each member of the village has to swing for good luck in the new year ceremonies and spirit gates to ward off evil spirits that could be found in all Akha villages. A little more information from Ohn was welcomed by us all.
This was unfortunately to be short-lived and after which we were resolved to accepting and making the most of situation and bringing it up when we got back to the office.
After a short but beautiful walk we arrived at our second Akha village where we stopped at the
Chief's house in the centre of the village for some lunch. The lunch was amazing and seemed to quash some of the resentment toward the guide situation. Refreshed and ready to go we set off destined toward the village we would be staying for the evening.
The walk took us through the Northern Laos jungle with some really interesting and pretty challenging sections where all of us slid over at least once. Dropping into the cooler damper valleys we picked up a couple of leeches along the way - although this was something we were prepared for and had doused our shoes in DEET to deter them.
Climbing further and further it was hot going and we quickly became aware that it was not only the gradient and paths we would be fighting but dehydration as well. Having only been given 2 litres of water for the day (and been told that water was included in the trip and we didn't need to bring our own), we were almost out and we still had some way to go. Rationing water and sharing out the remaining spare bottle we pushed on. Then to add another spanner in the works,
we were told that we were running out of light and it would be close as to whether we would make it there in daylight. There was really nothing we could do but push on.
Exhausted and all really feeling the effects of dehydration we turned the corner and saw the village. It was around 6:45pm and the light was really starting to fade. We were happy and tired but most of all relieved to be at the village.
We were really warmly welcomed in the village where tours come (at a maximum) once a month, so we were quite a novelty, especially for the younger children. We were given some cold green tea from one of the old guys there and rehydrated (in retrospect a bit too quickly) with some fresh bottles of water.
After saying hi to the locals we went up to our house. It was a traditional elevated wooden building split into two sections one with the fire in for cooking and the other with a raised platform for sleeping. It was fantastic.
Taking a trip down to the village tap (the picture will explain it better) we had a 'shower' and
changed into some fresh clothes instantly making us feel better. Ohn cooked us an amazing dinner after which we were joined by some of the local ladies who gave us all a traditional Laos massage. It was amazing and welcomed by our tired muscles.
Getting ready for bed with only our torches and candlelight to see with, we tucked in our bug nets and settled in for the night. It wasn’t long until there was a scream and the shadow of a HUGE spider climbing up Simon and Sarah’s bug net. Not sure what to do and unable to go to sleep with it there Sarah batted it across the room with a half empty water bottle. Just as the spider was flying through the air, the last light of the candle started to dim and gradually fizzle out. It was a scene right out of a horror film with giant spiders. The plan had both its merits and its downsides, the downside being we knew there was a huge spider somewhere, but we were now not sure where. It wasn’t long until the inevitable happened. After rehydrating so quickly we had to make the nervous walk to answer
a call of nature. Thankfully we returned safely to our mattress and tucked the bug net in very firmly before drifting off to sleep.
Up early again, Mark went for another wash at the local tap and an early morning walk around the village before going back to meet the others.
After we were all up we all went for another wander around the village where we met some lovely kids all of which seemed equally intrigued by us as we were with them. With a small group following us we went back to our house for a breakfast of Laos coffee and noodle soup before filling our bottles with boiled water (which strangely tasted of smoke from the fire) before leaving the village and starting the second day's walk. We had the choice of the longer and easier route or the shorter and harder route. After some deliberating we chose the longer and easier route. Climbing out of the village there was a really impressive spirit gate, with a second one a little further on which had a sacrificed dog pinned to the top. It didn’t take long until the path opened up to
some great views of the forest and areas of slash and burn agriculture the villages have used to farm.
After about 4 hours of walking with a stop at a local village for a rest we ended our walk at a Hmong village where there was an old lady selling a couple of her handicrafts. She was amazing. With only a couple of teeth left she looked like she was born over a hundred years ago (at the tender age of 70) but she had a great laugh and brought a smile to us both. Inevitably we bought a couple of things from her.
From here we jumped into the tuctuc and arrived back at the trekking office where we spoke to the boss of the trekking office and filled in the feedback forms to make sure that the same thing wouldn't happen to someone else.
Even though our guide was terrible and we felt like we missed out on some aspects of the trek because of it, there was so much we enjoyed and so many positive things we drew from the experience.
We got in a tuctuc and went out to a guest house
called Adima we had heard about situated 8km out of town for a bit of R&R. We chose a fab little bungalow overlooking the rice paddies and after getting some food and doing the washing we slept.
With sore feet from the past few days trekking Chrissie opted to sit on the balcony of our bungalow and take in the views while Mark went to explore a little village up the road. After setting off it wasn't long until Mark reached the first of the two villages on his planned walk. It was really nice with some of the local children coming to say hi - and sell some of their handicrafts - but really friendly with it. After rough communications Mark then carried on through the village to to go deeper into the hills along a narrower path where it would have been impossible for any motor vehicles to pass.
Up the hill and across the ridge of a valley Mark turned the corner and saw the village he was heading for across the other side of the valley. With time getting on he thought he would have to get there and back pretty
quickly so walked fast across the valley, en route bumping into three local guys carrying guns, a bit unexpected but they were very friendly.
When Mark arrived at the village he bought a bag of peanuts which he shared with the local children and chatted with a couple of local lads before making his way back to the guesthouse. Realisng that it was now getting really quite late, Mark decided to run back almost stepping on a snake along the way - ooops (think it was more of a shock for him than Mark though).
Back at the guesthouse we packed and had a bite to eat before getting a tuctuc into town to catch the bus. When we arrived, we had just missed one of the buses so booked our ticket for the next one and went to the market over the road to get a drink and buy Mark a new t-shirt. Mark forgot the first rule of buying clothes in Asia - they are all tiny - and bought a medium t-shirt which turned out to be a little tighter than expected.
A bus later and we arrived in Luang Nam Tha and booked
into a cheap but slightly dodgy hotel next to the bus station convenient for getting the bus the following day.
We had a wander to the market to get some food and went into town to find an internet cafe - unfortunately internet in the city was down so we had a beer before being able to check our emails etc.
With night closing in and still feeling the pace from all our exertions in the past few days we went to bed.
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