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Published: March 14th 2012
Trekking through the river I didn't think anything of it, but as we climbed out of the river bed I felt something crawling on my foot. I spread my toes apart and there it was. A thick black blood sucking leech clenching right in between my second and third toe. Welcome to the Jungles of Laos.
I had arrived in Laos a day earlier making my way from the Thai border town of Chiang Khong to Huay Xai in Laos. Crossing the Mekong in a rickety old bamboo boat, I could already feel myself being enchanted by Laos. Sitting to my right was Champion, a brown and red champion cock-fighter held by his owner. There's big money in cockfighting in Laos. Kids grow up training their prize roosters.
I wasn't expecting to spend much time in the Laos border town. From here most backpackers choose to take the two day boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Wanting to do some trekking in the north, and hearing that the boat was full of tourists, I opted for a bus ride up to Luang Namtha where you can find a national park and some amazing nature.
ride to Luang Namtha was quicker and smoother than I expected. While my handy travel guide said it would take around six hours, it took just three and a half. The road looked newly paved and talking with some locals I discovered this was actually the best road in all of Laos. It was paid for by both China and Thailand as used heavily as a trade and trucking route between the two countries. I guess I didn't realize just how close to the Chinese border I was. Traveling through the northern Laos you can see the heavy Chinese presence. They're coming in like leeches cutting down trees, building hotels, casinos, and dams. It's pretty wild and scary to see.
I'm here in Laos during February and March so its the dry season. The country is dry to the bone. During the daytime and most nights its impossible to see the color of the sky. Everything is hazy. Its a combination of the dirt being blown around and the fires being set on the countryside, burning the earth before planting new crops.
Getting into Luang Namtha I threw my bags down in a guesthouse and headed out to
find a group to go trekking with. Finding people was easy and there were six of us set to go on a three day hike through the jungles of Northern Laos.
We met our guides Tua and Khong the next morning. With a bag packed we headed by van to a local hill tribe village where we would begin. Crossing the river by boat we entered into the jungle. At this point, there was no turning back.
We spent three days and two nights trekking though the park. The group was great. Most of the first day was spent crossing rivers and hills, through rubber tree fields, and banana trees. The second day was spent trekking up the peaks through the jungle, grabbing on to vines, bamboo and trees to help get ourselves up the mountains. The third day we came down and out through a hill tribe.
Over the first two days I managed to be spared, only being sucked on by a single leech. The rest of the group seemed to be inundated with them. By the third day I had a hunch that I wouldn't be getting off that easy. To start, as we
approached a hill tribe I was stung in the chest by a bee. But that wasn't it as after all, all bad things tend to comes in threes. As we approached the start of the two hour decent I managed to roll my ankle and fell to the ground. “At least it'll take my mind off the pain in my chest.” I thought. Down at the bottom of the mountain as we prepared for lunch I had this feeling in the back of my head that I should check myself for ticks, and what do you know, I found a little guy digging into my thigh. Carefully I pulled him out of my leg and was happy to know that the trek was coming to an end.
From Luang Namtha I continued on south to Nong Khiaw and Mong Noi. Two slow paced river towns set on the river around peaks that reach up to the sky so steeply that you cannot climb to the tops of many of them. Here you can get a bungalow and relax in you're hammock for around $5 or $6 a night. I stayed there for four days enjoying the sunsets, trekking around
the area to neighboring villages, watching cockfights (chickens and roosters run around everywhere in Laos), and swimming in the river. I even managed to get invited to a Laos wedding in Mong Noi. We danced through the night to Lao music, sipped down Beer Lao one after the next and enjoyed some great eats. It was an experience I won't forget.
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