Luang Namtha now has a reputation as being one of South East Asia’s premier trekking destinations. Choosing from one of the many tour operators (12 at last count!) in Luang Namtha town and the many different tour options on offer can be a minefield…this article is intended to help you to make a good choice:
1. Decide exactly what you want to get out of your Luang Namtha trekking experience: the 2 big draw cards of this area are the impressive Nam Ha national protected area’s mountainous jungle and the different ethnic minority villages that reside outside (sometimes inside) its borders. So do you want the culture or the nature or a mix of both? Do you want to trek, kayak or bicycle (or do a combination tour)? How many days do you want to go for? Do you want to stay overnight in the forest immersed in nature or learn about a different culture doing a homestay? Once you have decided what you want to do it will be much easier finding a tour that fits the bill instead of being inundated by all the options.
- 2. Find a professional tour operator: In Luang Namtha (as in the rest of Asia) you get what you pay for; the cheaper tour agencies usually wont have equipment, guides, accommodations, food and itineraries as good as the slightly more pricey ones. Some operators try to cut costs by not actually going into the NPA. Ultimately shortcuts taken here to save a few dollars could jeopardise what should be a “must do” experience in Laos. Find out if your tour company supports local villagers, guides, and what they do to maintain their jungle trails and jungle houses. The best way to find out who should get your hard earned dollars is to browse sites such as Tripadvisor, Travelfish and travel forums to read recent reviews and recommendations from other trekkers as guidebooks go out of date very quickly.
3. Ask the right questions: To maximise your trekking experience you need to be informed; you should ask the following questions of the trekking operator:
- Does the trip go inside the National Protected Area? Get shown exactly what areas of jungle and villages on a map.
- Is there any primary forest in the area of the trail? How much will there be compared to secondary/bamboo/rubber/agricultural crops/rice paddy?
- How difficult is the trek? Remember; no trek in Luang Namtha is easy.
- Do you trek to villages or is it purely jungle? What is the ratio?
- How long do you walk before you get to the jungle? There are places that take you directly into the primary forest.
- What are the sleeping conditions (if staying overnight)? You should get mattress/blanket/mosquito net/pillow or a sleeping bag provided.
- Do I need to bring or carry a sleeping bag?
- How much water is provided? Most people need 3L per day at the least.
- What type of food is provided? There should be a large variety.
- Can they cater for your dietary requirements? They should be able to cater for any.
- How many hours of trekking per day?
- What kind of clothes do I need to take? Warm stuff? Wet weather gear?
4. Get a group together: If you go on your trip with a group of like minded individuals it will not only be cheaper but be a much more unforgettable experience. Putting you trust in a good tour agency you think is capable of attracting a group for your tour is very important. You can even be really proactive about forming a group by going around town yourself and finding out if nice people you meet want to join you. You can also check the group sign-up list, see where the people are from and how old they are to ensure it is a good fit for you, a good tour operator will give you the chance to meet them beforehand.
5.Knowing what to expect from your trek: One of the most common comments people make about trekking in the Nam Ha NPA is “that was harder than I expected” so, be prepared to challenge yourself on the steep uphill and often slippery (especially in wet season) downhill sections of the mountainous NPA jungles. A trek in Luang Namtha is definitely not a gentle walk in the park as some people expect, it is real trekking! Trekking in the primary (first growth) forest is the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Other things you should expect from your trek are:
- Insects; wear long sleeves and pants while trekking and at night.
- You probably will have to carry your own water (3 or 4.5 litres per day) for the duration of the days walking.
- Showering will usually be in a river or using a bucket of water; so bring soap. Girls should do as the local females and wear sarongs.
- Toilets will be of the squat variety, or a ‘dig your own’; BYO toilet paper is a very good idea.
Now you should be informed enough to have an outstanding trekking experience while in Luang Namtha. We recommend Forest Retreat Laos.