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Published: January 15th 2013
We knew that we were going to have a long travel day on New Years Day so we didn't get too out of control on NYE. That being said, we were still moving rather slowly at 7:30am. We grabbed a couple of fruit shakes on our way to the bus station and then found our seats and napped as much as we could. The bus to the Laos border was long with lots of stops. We were really happy when we finally made it to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong.
Crossing the border was really straightforward. We got our exit stamps in Thailand, took a 60 second boat ride across the Mekong River, applied for our VOA (visa on arrival), paid for the 30 day visa and walked into Huay Xai – our first look at Laos. Huay Xai is not a special town. It is just a border town with a few guesthouses and lots of tour companies ready to sell bus tickets or boat trips. Since it was to late in the day to catch a bus to our next destination we got a room for a night at a guesthouse run by a talkative friendly
old lady. We chose her place because while were walking past she didn't come out to greet us but rather yelled from her cushioned chair “Hey! You need room!?”. She was quite the character and business woman who explained that we could eat all our meals there and book our bus tickets through her as well - “no one else has better food, I give you good prices”. How could we say no?
The next morning we were on a bus to Luang Nam Tha, a perfect place to do a jungle trek from. The ride was less than 3 hours thanks to our speedy minibus driver and we found a nice big room for three at Manychan Guesthouse.
We didn't waste any time booking a trek through Khmmu Tribe Discovery just a couple doors down from Manychan. We aren't supposed to tell anyone that we got a discount –
he charged us the price for 6 people even though only 4 people had signed up so far. Tyler had unfortunately bruised his heel in Chiang Mai while playing a game that involves stomping on balloons attached to other peoples ankles (he missed the balloon and smashed his heel into the ground) and decided to opt out of the trek to let it heal. Once we had our rooms sorted out for the next few nights and had our trek booked, we found some great local food and had a nap to pass some time. For dinner we walked across the street to the night market and ate some meat skewers, noodles and a delicious papaya salad. Yum Yum!
The next morning Paul and Becs were up and out the door to go on a jungle adventure.
We met our guide Xay (pronounced sigh) and fellow trekkers – an Austrian guy and a couple from Bulgaria – then went to a market to get supplies. Xay showed us around the market while he purchased lots of vegetables and spices. Then we all hopped back in our mini van to a nearby village. We only stayed
in that village briefly because we were just picking up a couple of local guides and by about 10:30 we were walking off the road and into the jungle. Our first day of trekking was advertised as being about 6-7 hours of walking. The majority of the trekking was along a stream. We balanced on rocks and climbed over moss covered fallen trees. Along the river everything was green, lushes and soft. The moss was soft, the rocks were soft from water crashing through during rainy reason, the sound of the stream tickling through was even a soft background sound along with the sounds of bamboo growing, leaves falling from higher up and the birds that chirped in the distance impossible for us to see through the thick jungle. Xay took us to a small waterfall that seemed to come straight from the sun. The water fell over the 30m waterfall over a number of different levels. It was a great place to catch our breathe, wash our hands and re-apply bug spray. About half an hour later we stopped briefly for lunch by a massive tree. A huge banana leaf was our table cloth and plates. Each of us
were given a lump of sticky rice and no cutlery. There was a tomato onion mixture, green beans and some cooked beef. Before eating Xay gave offerings (pieces of food) to the jungle while he said a couple of prayers. He (and most rural Laoations) are Animist. They believe in the spirit of every living thing from a blade of grass to an elephant. Once a year they have a large celebration to remember their ancestors from decades if not centuries ago. The trick to eating this way is to make a small ball of rice then dip it in one of the other foods grabbing at a green bean or tomato chunk with your thumb as you shovel each morsel into your mouth. It was a really interesting way to eat and fun as long as you don't mind getting your hands dirty. As we climbed a bit higher, the atmosphere changed. At the highest point of the forest everything was dry. There was much less growth, the trees were even losing their leaves. The ups and downs of our trek continued through the lush green base to the sparse dry tops always with an abundance of bamboo nearby.
At one point we were walking through a bamboo forest with bamboo of every age, size and colour. It was really beautiful! Pandas should live in this forest, there is certainly an abundance of bamboo for them!
When we came out of the forest into a field the wind tried to dry our damp sweaty clothes while the hot sun gleamed off our shiny foreheads. We were very happy to make our way through the rice fields and rubber plantation to the village that became our home for a night. Before entering the village Xay reminded us not to take pictures without asking; he also informed us that married women shaved their eyebrows in the village so we weren't alarmed. Our house was one large stilted home with enough bedding and bug nets for the 6 of us. There was a small porch with a table where we ate our dinner and breakfast.
After breakfast we stopped by the school. We were much more of a distraction than anything but the Bulgarians had brought supplies that the school was very thankful for. In preparation for our hike the second day we had asked Xay a few questions: “How
long is today's hike?” about 6 hours “Is it easier or harder then yesterday?” same, but more ups and downs “will we be walking along the stream” yes, but not as much. With that knowledge we carried on following his lead back into the jungle. The start of the second day was really difficult; it was a steep uphill climb for the first 30-40 minutes and it didn't help that we had just eaten and didn't really have a “warm-up” section. When we made it to the top of that first segment Xay told us that was the hardest climb of the day. For the remainder of our second day we did spend some time walking along the slippery rocks of the stream and there was a few difficult ascents but it seemed much easier overall than the first day.
The real highlight of the second day was our lunch. Xay made everything from the jungle. Along our hike he was collecting large leaves, banana flowers and other plants we didn't recognize. When we made it to camp he quickly sparked up a fire where he made soup in bamboo. We dined on banana flower eggplant rattan soup with
spoons made from leaves. Xay is quite the chef and he does very well with such limited resources. That meal was one of the best parts of the two days not only because it was so yummy but also because it was so authentic. Everything was borrowed from the jungle and everything left over was given back. Now that's eco-friendly!
It didn't seem like a 6 hour trek on the second day but by the time we waded through the stream and got into our minivan it was almost 5pm. Back at the hotel Tyler was reading his book as Paul and Becs got back and we spent about an hour sharing stories of our time away from each other. The first day we were gone Tyler went to find food and ended up at a soccer club drinking with some local students (surprise, surprise) before filling up on some great eats from the night market and calling it a night.
We did the same thing our last night in Luang Nam Tha. The three of us sat in our hotel lobby having a drink before meeting up with our trekking friends for some dinner. We had an
amazing time with the Austrian and Bulgarians. The Bulgarians are extremely well travelled (their travels include a month in Dominican Republic studying Spanish, a month in India getting yoga certification, a round the world trip and living in many different countries) so we were all trying to absorb as much of their knowledge and advice as possible before we had to part ways.
Xoxo Ty + Becs
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